Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pajarete and the wine treatment

Foto de  Subida al cerro Pajarete para visitar las ruinas del castillo de Matrera.
The ruins of Torre Pajarete
Castillo de Matrera, Villamartin, Andalucia, Spain
Originally pajarete (paxarete, paxaret, paxarette, pacharetti) meant the Paxarete vineyards of Cartusian Convent of San Hieronomo near Jerez de la Frontera, probably east towards Villamartin and Prado del Rey. The vineyards were planted with sweet grape varieties Millar and Pedro Ximénez grapes along with some Moscatel and Palomino. After phylloxera there is no evidence of the dark and sweet Millar variety. Sherry wines called abocado, vino seco and paxarete were made in the monastery. The first grapes to ripen were picked first and set on esparto grass mats to dry. Palomino (Listán) was picked last and pressed usually on the same or the following day. The harvest lasted for 1-3 weeks allowing the Millar, PX and Moscatel grapes to dry longer, usually about 10 days. As a result the early ripening grapes became raisined and produced natural sweet wine of 8-15% abv and about 300-400 g/l of residual sugar, which was often fortified with brandy de Jerez. Abocado was a dry oloroso style oxidized sherry (sometimes sweetened with Palomino Dulce) and Vino Seco (or Fino Seco) a dry fino/amontillado wine, both of which could be still referred as (dry) Paxarete wines in the 19th century. Similar sweet wines were made in Rota from dried Tinta grapes producing bitter-sweet dark Tintilla de Rota. Color de Macetilla or Mistela was an oloroso, which had been fortified before it fermented completely, leaving it sweet, in the style of port wines. Another similar product was mosto apagado, which was done by adding sweet mosto into the wine producing partially fermented sweet wine and usually used only in blending of sweeter sherry styles. Dulce was made by fermenting must from (mostly palomino) grapes in a cask that contained brandy; the higher alcohol stopped the fermentation before all the sugar was used, producing sweet high-alcohol white wine.
Pedro Ximénez grapes dried on grass mats

The sweet paxarete was valued highly in Spain, but in the early 19th century Britain sweet sherries were considered more of a ladies drink, men preferring drier fortified wines, beer and spirits. During the 1830s the sherry trade boomed the first time and in 1838 there were 43 registered shippers of sherry. Paxarete was one of the most expensive types, costing up to 7 times more than the cheapest real Jerez sherry (probably raya) and usually a bit more than a good aged amontillado or fino. Sherry trade reached its peak of the 19th century in the 1870s as the French strugled with vine diseases. At the same time the branding and marketing of wines by the shippers really began, which made it easier to blend different wines to be sold as sherry, including those from different regions. Blending wines with mosto (grape juice), brandy, sugar and colourings was very common and not just in the sherry business. As dried grapes were easier to transport, some paxarete was often made from grapes imported from other areas. Málaga and Montilla became major producers of pajarete sherry in the late 19th century.

Malaga Pajarete-malagaviinietikettejä; Turun Kivipaino
Malaga Pajarete from 1968,
Imported by the Finnish church
for sacramental wine
During the latter part of 19th century the English taste shifted towards lighter drier wines, partly because of the taxation and the flood of French wine into the market after 1860 as the customs embargo was dropped. Paxarete was still imported regularly and it was one of the most esteemed "malmsey" wines in Victorian Britain. Sherry barrels were used for whisky maturation probably from the early 19th century and as the blending and branding became common towards the end of the century. Sherry casks, and most likely also sherry as an additive, were used to give body to especially the lighter and younger grain spirits. Oxidized and sweet sherries such as pajaretes, olorosos, rayas and cream sherries were preferred because they gave the darkest colour and an agreeable flavour.

Pajarete was not a legally defined until 1999, so some producers from for example Málaga and California were selling pajarete/paxarete wines of their own, sometimes consisting of Pedro Ximénez wine, but quite commonly of caramel coloured, sweetened, oxidized and fortified wines. A notable imitation sherry was the very affordable Hamburg sherry, which consisted of potato spirit, caramel and spices. It was was banned in 1870 due to "health reasons". Most big sherry shippers had their own paxarete, PX or dulce brands; The Brown Bang Sherry (Sandeman), Gran Orden PX (Garvey's), Pio IX (Pedro Domecq), Delage Dulce, Osborne Paxarete and MacKenzie's Pajarete Solera. Some producers turned their raya wines (lower quality olorosos) into paxarete by maturing them outside in the sunshine, producing more cooked and concentrated wine. Vino de color, arrope or sanchoco were commonly used in blending of paxarete and cream sherries. Vino de color is any wine cooked and sometimes additionally sweetened with mosto. Sancocho is very sweet and concentrated wine boiled to one third of the original volume and arrope is thick syrup boiled to one fifth of the original volume. The tradition of boiling wines into syrups probably comes from the Moors, as they did not drink wine for religious reasons.
Arrope syrup
In the USA the boiled sweet fortified wine was classified as "Spanish-type blending sherry" by law in 1949 and manufactured mostly in California spesifically and exclusively for the whisky industry. The blending sherry was often sweetened with sugar or caramel, cooked to a reduction and infused with oak chips. It was not taxed nor was it possible to sell it as wine for consumers. Málaga and Montilla became the biggest producers of PX Pajarete wines in the 20th century Europe and Chile has its own DO Valle de Huasco producing pajarete wine. Cyprus made numerous bulk imitation sherries; the popular Cyprus Cream sherry was even sweeter than the natural paxaretes, probably due to added sugar. Imitation sherries were often colored with vino de color or caramel and fortified with industrial alcohol. The imitation sherries really stormed into the British market in the 1950s mainly in the lower price segment by agressive pricing.

Pajarete from Tarragona,
made of Moscatel and Garnacha
In 1999 Pajarete became a protected wine variety of DO Málaga and defined as "wine liquor, or natural sweet wine with a total sugar content of 45-140g/l produced without the addition of syrup [arrope], being aged and amber to dark amber in colour.". The Málaga pajarete is usually be made of Moscatel, but some Pedro Ximénez is also used. The pajarete style wines from Jerez are nowadays called PX, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel or Dulce sherries and most of them are made according to the original soleo method.

Pajarete probably evolved from high quality sweet natural dessert wine to the blended, sweet(ened) and fortified bulk wine in the early 20th century. An affordable sweet brown sherry wine was just what the Scotch distillers were looking for, as it made possible the fast rejuvenation of whisky casks and enabled faster maturation.

WP Lowrie?
William Phaup Lowrie (1831-1916) pioneered the whisky cask management in the late 19h century. Lowrie was a merchant for both Port Ellen whiskies and González Gordon sherries, a cooper and later a co-founder of Glentauchers distillery. He was supposedly the first blender to use (sherry) wine finishes for whisky and the first cooper to import American pre-cut staves for UK cooperages. The brewers had used steam washers for new casks for decades. The process was automated already in the 1870s and it was common to use salt, hydrochloride acid, bisulphate or bicarbonate soda as additives when rinsing beer casks prior to refills. WP Lowrie introduced the steam pressure treatment to whisky industry primarily to test the integrity of casks in 1888, but soon after the steam was used also to remove harsh tannins from the fresh wood and to impregnate the wood with wine.

The wine-treatment of new casks became common in early 20th century and in 1929 it was reported that all of the new casks to be used for Johnnie Walker whiskies were seasoned with approximately 35 litres of sweet dark sherry per hogshead for 6 weeks. The casks were stored in an individual warehouse and turned regularly for even distribution of sherry into the wood. After the seasoning the casks were lightly pressurised ("with 0,2kg pressure", probably per one square inch?) and after that the remaining sherry was poured out. About 20% of the casks were said to be new, all of which apparently were UK-coopered wine-treated hogsheads made from import oak staves from the US or the Baltic. Older UK-coopered puncheons and Spanish-coopered butts were still being used as refill casks at the time.

The use of wine-treatment was introduced to save coopering costs and to ensure the availability of fresh casks as the sherry shippers had already started their own bottling plants in Spain in the early 20th century and the availability of home-emptied sherry casks was insufficient for whisky industry. Pedro Domecq started their bottling operations in Jerez in 1920 and González Byass were to follow gradually during the interwar period. Despite that, only 20 percent of sherry imports were in bottles during 1926-1940. Sandeman bottled some of their sherries and ports in location as early as 1880, but the bottling of sherry in UK by Sandeman ceased in 1969. Harvey's were the last big shipper to bottle all their sherries in England, as they bought a winery in Jerez from MacKenzie in 1970 and since then have been bottling all their sherries in Spain. In 1983 most (54.4%) of the sherries exported were bottled in Spain. The markets of EEC were easier to reach from Spain than from UK, especially after the preferential trade agreement with Spain and the EEC in 1970 and Spain's accession into EEC in 1986. Bottling of sherry is nowadays done almost exclusively (96.5% in 2000) in Spain and full sherry casks are no longer imported.

Harvey's bottling hall in the 1960s
As imported sherry casks became scarce due to the second World War in the 1940s and especially due to the increased bottling of sherry in Spain during the 1960s and early 1970s, the distillers rejuvenated the exhausted casks with pajarete. According to Philp in 1989 "a typical cooperage procedure was to add 500ml Paxarete per hogshead or 1 litre per butt, pressurise at 48 kPa / 7 psig for 10 minutes and then disgorge any absorbed paxarete.". Until 1972 the DCL also coopered their own sherry casks, which were made of American oak to a size of a puncheon (~558 l), wine-treated with paxarete and then used primarily for grain whiskies before used for malt whiskies. The American ex-bourbon barrels often received the same treatment; first fill with grain whisky, then after wine-treatment refilled with malt whisky.

Whether the Scotch distillers used real natural pajarete wine or sweetened imitations or even arrope or sancocho for seasoning is not clear, most likely they were not too fussy about the right provenance or traditional production methods concerning their "blending sherry". The typical seasoning paxarete of the 1980s was rich in tannins, esters and especially acids. A chemical analysis of different sherries by Philp in 1989 indicates that paxarette used at that point was very likely boiled and/or sweetened with arrope or sancocho as it contained 3,2 times more sugars (375 g/l), 5,7 times more tannins (4,7 g/l), 3,6 times more esters (278 g/l) and 6,9 times more acids (22 g/l) than an ordinary sweetened oloroso. In comparison the current version of Harvey's Bristol Cream has only 3,1 g/l acids and 130 g/l sugars and the naturally very sweet Don Guido 20yo PX sherry from Williams & Humbert has only 4,5 g/l acids despite of whopping 400 g/l sugars.

Photo: Albert Watson
As the Spanish sherry producers shifted from the traditional cask fermentations to use of modern steel tanks, the properties of casks changed. Fermentation was thought to remove many unwanted flavours from the fresh wood, especially bitter and sulphury off-notes. A special Gomez treatment was invented in the 1960s to simulate the effects of fermentation in the cask. It consisted of steaming the cask with ammonium hydroxide steam at 55 kPa (8 psig) for 60 minutes, which stripped much of the tannins and colour from the inner surface of the cask. This produced very neutral casks suitable for especially fino sherry maturation, but when subsequently used in Scotland they tended to produce light-coloured and slow maturing whiskies. The Gomez treatment was used from about 1965, but during the 1970s most of the Scotch distillers stopped buying these casks and began ordering their own spesified casks for whisky maturation. The casks were used for fermentations and maturation of sherries in Spain before they were shipped usually as empty standing casks to Scotland. According to the distiller's order, both American (Quercus alba) and Spanish (Q.robur) oak were used, as well as fino and oloroso sherries.

According to a rumour the Scotch Whisky Association banned the use of paxarete in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but there is no official evidence of that. The Scotch Whisky Order from 1990 bans the use of additives other than water and caramel E150a, so the blending of whisky with sherry wine including pajarete was indeed banned at that point. PX sherry casks are still quite often used especially for single malt production, but the use of sherry concentrates and high pressures in rejuvenation and seasoning has apparently ceased or at least diminished greatly. Philip Hills wrote in 2000: "wine-treatment of worn-out casks has been widely used to simulate the effects of new sherry wood... a sweet dark sherry such as pedro ximenes [sic] is introduced and the cask is pressurised in order to force the potion into the wood. For many years, a potion called paxarette was used, which combined sweet dark sherry with other flavourings and colourants... the results are not impressive: whisky from a treated cask of this sort smells slightly sulphurous and sweet, but that is all. Of the lovely aromatic flavours of a true sherry-cask maturation, there is no trace.". It is likely that the wine-treatment was dropped because of the poor results rather than an SWA order. Below is a comparison of different cask types and maturation temperatures.

Philp 1989
Oloroso and raya sherries are probably the most common seasoning sherries used nowadays, seasoning times varying from months to couple of years. Cask fermentations are rarely done in the Scotch-bound casks. The sherry bodega casks used for maturation of commercial sherries in solera systems are discarded usually after 80-100 years and sometimes  used for Scotch maturation after recoopering.

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