Obituary: Jose Ignacio Domecq

Don Jose Ignacio Domecq was the acknowledged king of sherry tasters and known as El Nariz, "the Nose", for his astonishing ability to sniff out the nuances in the creation of his family's wonderful sherries.

Tall and lean, he earned this name for literal as well as figurative reasons. His hawk-like nose was memorably large. It was also his great good fortune - an indispensible gift in the blending necessary for creating the best of all sherries. From his childhood he could memorise aromas and tastes ranging from the freshly pressed must of Palomino grapes to the rich, old dry sherries called Olorosos dating from the 1730s when the company was founded by an Irish farmer Patrick Murphy and one Juan Haurie.

The company rose to fame and fortune in the early 19th century when Ruskin, Telford, and Domecq were leaders in the British sherry trade. However the senior partner Ruskin's son, John, decided to make a life writing on art and architecture - which he did with famous effect. It was left to another partner, Pedro Domecq Lembaye, a relative of the Haurie family which had owned the firm since 1791, to expand the business. In 1816 Pedro Domecq quarrelled with the Haurie family, bought the business and renamed it Domecq after himself.

Jose Domecq joined Do-mecq in 1939, became a member of the board in 1957 and from 1994 until December 1996 was on the main board of Allied Lyons Domecq.

In 1992, the all-party Heritage Group of peers and members of the House of Commons, paying our own way, and organised by our imaginative and energetic chairman, Sir Patrick Cormack MP, travelled to Spain. Highlights included two hours with King Juan Carlos, and meetings with members of the government and the opposition, the Mayor of Seville in Expo year, and with Don Jose Ignacio Domecq.

As we descended from our bus outside the winery - a colossal whitewashed warren of buildings, streets and cellars called "The Jerusalem of Jerez" - a septuagenarian hove into sight on an ancient Moto Guzzi Hispania motorbike, a Jack Russell dog (as always) in a basket on the back. He descended from his bike and greeted each of his guests with a ferocious handshake.

"The Nose" took us round his 2,500 acres of vineyards in Jerez superior from which come the well known sherry brands of Fino La Ina and the Double Century range. Afterwards we were shown his wonderful collection of Andalusian horses; he was an expert polo player well into his seventies.

But the crowning experience was being taken by Domecq into his vaults. They must be among the most spectacular cellars in the world and none of us will ever forget being given a taste of brandy made by the original Pedro Domecq in the year that Napoleon went to St Helena, 1816.

His young colleagues told us that Jose Domecq's personal skills as a blender were stupendous. In an essay for Christie's Wine Companion (1987) he wrote:

Strolling through the bodeja dipping out old sherries which have rested undisturbed for generations, must be one of the most satisfying encounters a man can have with wine.

In the same essay he gave his view of the world thus:

in ancient bodejas one watches human egos come and go - all talking loudly about market trends etc in the jargon of the moment - while the wine ignores them all and silently ages, turning itself with our tactful guidance into the same lovely old perfection enjoyed by our ancestors.

In his book Sherry (1970), Julian Jeffs wrote:

At Domecq's bodeja there is a cask of Palomina that is well over 200 years old; it has, of course, been refreshed from time to time with old wine of the same style, but it is now practically black and is so strong in flavour that it cannot be drunk unless blended with a younger wine.

Domecq was clearly tickled by seeing the British parliamentarians and their wives grimacing at the smallest taste of this ancient brew.

An Anglophile Spanish aristocrat, Domecq was a frequent visitor to London. When not in his vintner's laboratory or tending his properties all over Jerez, his second home was the Bay of Geddes where he pursued his passion for sailing. His ashes were sprinkled over the waters of his beloved bay.

Jose Domecq had style. Five days before he died of lung cancer he had the energy to remove his oxygen mask and drink what he called "La Penultima Capita". He fought ferociously to protect the good name of "sherry" against non-Spanish imitations, and won the war of nomenclature in Brussels in 1994 in establishing his point by European Directive (British sherry henceforth had to be described as "British fortified wine"). His only sadness was that in the same year his firm had to come under the control of the vast multi-national Allied Lyons Drinks Co.

Jose Ignacio Domecq, vintner and taster: born Jerez, Spain 31 July 1914; married 1934 Angelea Fernandez de Bobadilla y Gonzalez (seven sons, five daughters); died Jerez 15 January 1997.

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