González Byass, one of sherry’s most renowned family companies, is today releasing Pio X 1903, a rare Moscatel that’s possibly one of the oldest in its cellars. Maintaining an ancient and exquisite collection of casks and rare bottles laid down by previous generations, the family has decided to begin releasing part of this varied array, which includes special vintages, experimental wines, wines created to celebrate coronations of kings and queens – and those to honour the election of popes, such as this for Pope Pius X.
In line with the time-honoured tradition of laying down wines in honour of newly elected popes, it seems that in 1903, Pedro Nolasco González de Soto, the eldest son of the founder and the great-grandfather of the current incumbent, Mauricio González Gordon, dedicated a very fine old sherry to Pope Pius X (Pio X in Spanish). The tradition was established by his father, who dedicated casks to Pius IX (dated 1846) and Leon XII (dated 1878).
But delving into the family’s extensive archive, which includes thank you letters from the many grateful popes, researchers discovered that the Pio X is not from 1903, as was generally thought, but is in fact believed to have been made from Moscatel Menudo Blanco (Muscat à Petits Grains) in the 1880s or 1860s and long before phylloxera devastated the Jerez vineyard in the 1890s.
With a few additions, Pio X has sat in cask ever since. Unfortified, at nine per cent alcohol, it is not technically a sherry and little short of miraculous that the last 100 litres from an original production of 2,620 litres are in such tip-top condition. Not known to take decisions to release such rarities lightly, the family believes it could be the most delicious of all the ancient wines that remain in its cellars. According to Gonzaléz Byass’ head winemaker Antonio Flores, the wine shows astonishing freshness and complexity, with notes of “dried figs, walnuts, tar, treacle, lacquer and coffee’’.
A limited edition of 120 bottles of Pio X has been made from the one small cask remaining. Of these, 100 numbered 75cl bottles are released for sale today at around £1,200-£1,300 a bottle, and 20 will be kept for posterity and future tastings at the González family’s El Aljibe cellars. Fifty bottles have been allocated to the UK, and 50 elsewhere.