Rafael Rivas, capataz for several decades at La Guita cellars at Sanlúcar’s Calle Misericordia until his recent retirement, started in 1986 this 15-butt solera of well-aged Manzanilla. The plan was to produce an old Manzanilla of exceptional quality – should one be required to add some extra kick to the commercial releases of the house. But no such kick was ever required, and so, in order to preserve its character and prevent its turning into an amontillado, capataz Rivas pampered these 15 butts and ‘touching’ them only sparsely, sometimes as little as only every two years, with testimonial sacas of only four or five arrobas (roughly 5×16=80 liters) and refilling them with wines sourced from the best solera of La Guita. The result is a true Manzanilla Pasada like the fine examples of yore, but also extremely singular in style.
Another feature that contributes to this wine’s singularity and unmatched biological character (intense and steely notes of salinity on the palate) is the way the butts are filled almost up to a tocadedos (within a finger reach from the top)—well above the customary 5/6 in the Sherry region. This way, the yeast layer or “flor” (truly weakened now by the wine’s age and lack of nutrients) in these butts is more reduced and can be maintained with those scarce refills. It still performs its function as physical barrier against the wine’s oxidation, but in its diminished state it cannot be fully effective and so this Manzanilla offers elegant oxidation notes and a budding rise in its alcohol level, at about 16%.
The real average age of La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada #59 must be around 15 years. It is a complex and powerful wine, of balanced freshness and elegant oxidation notes that make it truly unique. Stunningly versatile on the dinner table, it matches a wide variety of dishes, from the most easygoing (rich fish dishes, fish-based rice recipes, charcuterie) to the most difficult (scrambled eggs with mushrooms or runny sheep cheeses). Best served around 12º C, in moderately large stemware.