The endless enigma of the Pedro Ximénez in Jerez…5 March 2018
Every time we discuss the origins of Pedro Ximénez in Jerez or even in other areas, we open an endless debate in which I don’t even agree with my own father. It is well known that in 1483, the Council of our city promulgated the Ordinances of the Guild of the Raisin and the Harvest, the first regulation that controlled the harvest in our city. The nomenclature “de la Pasa” is carried out by some winemakers to ensure that sweet wine was already made in Jerez at that time and that it should undoubtedly be of the Pedro Ximénez variety. But no one has been able to prove that, since nothing is said about this variety.
Historically, the opinion is unanimous about its extraordinary quality. García de la Leña stated that “it is the noblest of all varieties”. The ampelographer Simón de Rojas Clemente in his “Essay on the Varieties of the Common Vine Vegetan in Andalusia”, published in Madrid in 1807, says that “its must is rightly reputed to be the best for dry and sweet wines….”. And Esteban Boutelou, in his work “Memory on the cultivation of the Vine in Sanlucar de Barrameda and Xerez de la Frontera”, also published in 1807, affirms that “it is one of the most cultivated and appreciated grapes”. In any case, Pedro Ximénez is clearly a variety of enormous tradition in the Jerez region, and in other times -as before phylloxera- it occupied almost half of the cultivated area.
Nowadays all over the Jerez D.O. it does not reach 3% of the total cultivated area.
Logically, for XIMÉNEZ-SPÍNOLA it is an honor to belong exclusively to this tiny percentage.
Today, Pedro Ximénez’s biggest production in Spain is located in Montilla. But the Pedro Ximénez we do in Jerez, has very dissimilar characteristics to the Montilla one, as our climate is different. We should not forget that this grape also grows in other Spanish and foreign regions, giving different wines. From Catalonia to Argentina, passing through Australia, the world of wine surprises us with Pedro Ximénez grape farms in full production. However, its origin – never its quality – is and will always be discussed. The most popular version is the one of Peter Siemens, a German soldier of Charles V, who brought it from the Rhine valley. In XIMÉNEZ-SPÍNOLA, the classic label of our Pedro Ximénez Muy Viejo, reports this version and we sincerely want to leave it like this, in respect for tradition, since this label is an icon of our identity.
But in any case, as winemakers, we cannot fail to have an objective view of this matter, so discussed and difficult to prove, despite the fact that very serious authors such as the Spanish Valcárcel, corroborates the traditional theory when he writes that: “It is native to the Canary Islands and Madeira, from where it was transplanted to the banks of the Rhine and Moselle, and from there brought to Jerez by Pedro Ximénez…”. A rocambolic journey indeed…
Respecting science and its doctors, many of us wonder who exactly Peter Siemens was, also called in other books Pedro Ximen, and how he brought here a grape so different from those grown in our area. No one is able to give an answer to the origin of this grape that has “name”: Pedro and “surname”: Ximénez.
The opinion is unanimous about its extraordinary quality, but its origin is and will always be discussed.
Some winemakers, including myself, recognize that the morphological and ampelographic characteristics of Pedro Ximénez are not similar to the vines grown in the German valleys. It is enough to take a tour of these vineyards and observe the morphology of the varieties cultivated there to understand that it is not the same grape. But it may have adapted to the climate of southern Spain, which I strongly believe. Many of us think that here it has been mutating slowly and adapting to this climate for at least the last 500 years and that is why it is so different. This is just one more opinion.
DNA research carried out in 2007 showed that it is not technically a variety 100% Riesling descendant, which is surprising to many of us who have defended this theory. Science has much more knowledge than a handful of modest winemakers… But I still see aromas of hydrocarbons and absolutely central European nuances in our white wines 100% Pedro Ximénez. Many sommeliers in blind tasting share these postulates too. And although no one may possibly solve this enigma, there are our Exceptional Harvest bottles with eight consecutive vintages repeating the same nuances.
I continue to see aromas of hydrocarbons and absolutely Central European nuances in our white wines 100% Pedro Ximénez.
In conclusion, the science of books versus life experience. We cannot draw conclusions without judgment. The best thing is that each one of us taste and express his opinion freely. Our obligation is only to make fine wines no matter how Pedro Ximénez came to Jerez.
JOSÉ ANTONIO ZARZANA