Buckle up, sherry lovers – the next fortnight is Sherry Festival 2017, a two-week celebration of this beloved fortified wine from the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera.

Sherry festival

If you’ve yet to discover how much more sherry has to offer than the sickly sweet stuff your gran used to drink, we have some handy beginners’ guides to sherry here and here, but this year we want to shift the focus to sherry’s fantastically food-friendly qualities.

What about pouring a healthy splash of this flavoursome fortified creation into a tasty recipe or two?

We’ve done plenty of that over the years, so here’s ten of our favourite sherry recipes:

1. Artichokes and potatoes with oloroso sherry

Next time you have steak, this is a lip-smacking, flavour-packed side dish to try, and comes from chef-owners and husband and wife team Sam and Sam Clark of the Moro restaurant in London. What to drink with it? Another glass of the oloroso sherry used in the recipe, of course!

1 Artichokes and potatoes

2. Heston Blumenthal’s potted Stilton

This surprisingly easy but impressive dinner party starter is rich, indulgent and perfectly illustrates how well sweet pedro ximénez sherry goes with salty blue cheese. If you’re looking for more ideas from Heston, try his masterful sherry and food matching book, The Perfect Marriage.

Heston potted stilton

3. Fillet of cod with chorizo

A classic Gordon Ramsay recipe that’s packed with Spanish flavour. We recommend using a fino sherry with this one, and The Society’s Fino is an ideal example. Serve with a glass of rosé.

Cod and chorizo

4. Braised pig cheeks with oloroso sherry

Looking to wow your guests with a popular tapas dish or two? This succulent, herby recipe is a classic choice and comes from the tapas experts at Drake’s Tabanco restaurant in London.

braised pig cheek

5. Tagliatelle Alfredo

A simple take on the classic pasta dish, combining tried-and-true flavours of ham, mushrooms and cream. The generous glugging of dry sherry in this recipe adds an added dimension of flavour that makes this one of our favourite comfort food recipes.

Tagliatelle Alfredo

6. Grilled wild Atlantic salmon marinated in citrus, coriander & cumin

Fresh herbs, Seville orange and a rich, medium sherry like amontillado or oloroso unite in perfect harmony to bring out the best in a juicy fillet of Atlantic salmon. This is a delicious summer recipe and especially good to eat al fresco in the garden after a long day at the office.

Grilled atlantic salmon

7. Pantry peppers

Hidden away in the archives of our blog is a textbook tasty recipe from Janet Wynne Evans, who spent many a year creating much-loved recipes for our Wine Without Fuss cases until she retired earlier this year. These deceptively simple rice, black pudding, dry sherry and pesto stuffed peppers are an Iberian delight and work brilliantly as a hearty starter or can be served as a main course with crusty bread and a salad.

Stuffed peppers

8. Bob Andrew’s Seville duck

Bob Andrew is a chef at Riverford Organic Farmers and this sweet and smoky duck and baked rice dish has an authentic Andalusian vibe. A refreshing alternative to paella or risotto, and the fino sherry in the recipe gives an extra Spanish kick.

Seville duck

9. Steamy Oriental aubergines

A quick but tasty mid-week supper with a light dressing which marries the aromatic flavours of soy sauce, dry sherry, ginger, sesame and honey. Another fabulous creation from Janet Wynne Evans.

Oriental aubergines

10. Chicken and morels in a creamy sherry sauce

Finally, our most recent sherry recipe, courtesy of our new Wine Without Fuss recipe guru Steve Farrow. The appeal of this dish doesn’t need much explanation: a French classic combining tender chicken, earthy mushroom and a rich, creamy sauce using manzanilla or fino.

Chicken in morel cream and sherry sauce

If you’ve been inspired to knock up a mouthwatering meal using a splash or two of sherry, view our full range of sherries here, or pop into the Showroom during the Sherry Festival from 5th to 17th June as we’ll have plenty of bottles open for you to try.

Categories : Fortified, Sherry, Spain
Comments (0)
Thu 15 Oct 2015

Sherry: A Damascene Conversion

Posted by: | Comments (16)

David Mitchell, digital insights manager and a keen wine student, is seduced during a special staff tasting here at Society HQ in Stevenage with Beltran Domecq…

‘The most undervalued, dynamic and complex wine I have ever come across’

Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing...

Our tasting with Beltran Domecq in full swing…

To be completely honest, I have always seen sherry either to be mouth-puckeringly dry and bitter or teeth-achingly sweet and only really to gather dust at the back of a sideboard ready for the visit of an aged aunt.

I can now say that after this tasting this cannot be further from the truth!

What have I been missing over all these years!
The tasting started with a general history of sherry and how it has been made for more than 3,000 years; indeed the Romans made mention of it. It was known as ‘Sherry Sack’ in the UK – ‘Sack’ is believed to be a corruption of the Spanish name for drawing the wine from the bottom of the complex solera ageing system.

The soil that the main grape – palomino – is grown in is known as ‘albariza’, which has a high chalk content to help retain the high rainfall in the vineyards for the very hot summers. The palomino grape is used for the dry styles of sherry, whereas Pedro Ximenez (PX) and moscatel grapes are mainly used for the sweeter styles and used in blending.

I found it amazing that so many styles can be made from the palamino grape alone; depending on how the base wine (known as mosto) was aged through the solera system, and how the flor (yeast covering the top of the wine) developed over time.

A layer of flor yeast over ageing sherry

A layer of flor yeast over ageing sherry

The first few sherries that were tried were fino, the driest style. These wines are aged under floating flor yeast, meaning that they develop ‘biological’ flavours rather than oxidative flavours as would usually happen in oak barrels. This gives finos a relatively light character with floral aromas and flavours of green apples, as well as a light nutty character of salted almond.

Manzanilla is a fino, but from around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda: the close proximity to the sea gives a much more pungent and intense flavour than a fino further inland. However, both gave very fresh flavours – great with tapas!

An aged fino was also tried, which had an average of between 6-8 years, and there was a slight increase in some of the oxidative flavours and slightly more woody and oaky notes due to a longer period of time in contact with the oak.

One thing to note is that the older the sherry is aged for, the more concentrated the flavours and alcohol. This is due to the fact that there is a 3-4% reduction in the overall volume of the wine where water evaporates from the oak barrels but retains the alcohol. This means that the alcoholic % increase over time but also brings added complexity.

The next few sherries tried were amontillados. These were selected fino barrels which had lost the flor layer part way through the aging process and were then fortified. Arguably these wines had the best of both worlds: they possess a fresh initial flavour but with the additional complexities of nutty flavours, mainly of hazelnuts. We tried a medium-dry blend which had the initial hit of sweetness much like a port, but then some of the vanilla characters from the oak barrels and a hazelnut finish.

A Palo Cortado was also tried. This is a sherry which was destined to become a fino or amontillado but then loses its protective layer of flor and starts to age as an oloroso (see below) and then fortified to stop the wine spoiling. This doesn’t happen that often, making this style relatively rare. The wine still had notes of fresh apples but with a light oxidative character and was both elegant and full-bodied.

We then tasted some olorosos: sherries which have no flor protection and so age oxidatively. These have a much darker colour and an intense, nutty aroma. You can definitely sense that these are fortified wines: they are much fuller with a much longer finish and have more of a hazelnut flavour rather than almond as found in the fino.

A sherry solera

A sherry solera

A medium-sweet oloroso blend had some additional notes of raisin on the nose; this would be due to part of the blend being made up from the Pedro Ximenez grape to give the additional sweetness. This sherry had an initially sweet hit, much like a port, but then evolves into the characteristic hazelnut flavours of an oloroso with a fantastic long finish. This went down especially well with those present.

A 30-year-old oloroso was fantastically complex with the nutty character, very concentrated flavours and an amazingly long finish. At £21 per bottle, the price worked out on average at 70p per year, considering the whole solera in which the wine was aged would be 40-50 years. This is fantastic value for this level of ageing!

The last sherry we tried was a 30-year-old Pedro Ximenez, one of the sweetest of all wines with intense raisin flavours, along with notes of figs, dates, caramel and fudge. Despite its sweetness and fullness, the wine was still in balance and very enjoyable.

I hope the above shows that that there will be a style of sherry to suit everyone!

In summary…

Types of sherry and their flavours:

Fino sherry is the lightest and freshest tasting with flavours of apples and almonds.
Manzanilla is a more intense version which is fuller in style.

Palo Cortado is the most elegant and intense version of fino-derived styles, with fantastic freshness.

Amontillado has the initial freshness of a fino but also has the added complexity and nutty character of an oloroso – a great ‘best of both’ sherry style.

Oloroso has a more intense nose with added aromatics and colour, and the flavours lean towards hazelnuts rather than almonds with a long finish – a joy to drink and savour.

Pedro Ximenez is very sweet and used in blends to increase the sweetness, on its own it gives flavours of raisins, figs and caramel.

A few other tips…

The longer a sherry is aged for, the more intense and complex it becomes. There is also a slight increase in alcohol due to water evaporation; however, this adds additional flavour concentration.

Treat lighter sherries much like you would a white wine: it should be served chilled and be used within a week or so. Other Sherries such as oloroso will last slightly longer once opened, but should be consumed fairly soon after opening – not stuck in the back of a cupboard!

Sherry is very good value for money considering its long ageing and complex nature, not to mention the joy of trying so many different styles.

• Most importantly, perhaps – treat sherry as a wine! Use a normal wine glass and enjoy the aromatic notes and flavours that develop in the glass.

No other wine give so much complexity and enjoyment for the price – find as many opportunities to enjoy sherry as you can!

Some suggestions to try:
• Light but intense – Alegria Manzanilla (£7.95)
• Still light but with added nutty complexity and a whisper of sweetness – Romate Maribel A Selection of Amontillado Medium Dry (£8.50)
• Slightly sweet but with complex nutty flavours and amazingly long finish – The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend (£11.95)

David Mitchell
Digital Insights Manager

Categories : Fortified, Sherry, Spain
Comments (16)

In water ones sees one’s own face; but in wine one holds the heart of another. – French Proverb

Far be it from me to hinder one’s hydration but the day for love approaches. Wine considerations feature highly on this day: my partner and I decided many moons ago not to venture out on Valentine’s to subject ourselves to the set menus but to instead stay home and try and create our own feast using the money saved to add to a food fund and also a wine reserve allowing us to choose and purchase four bottles of wine…

…half bottles that is.

Half bottles from The Wine SocietyI mentioned some time ago that these perfect proportions allow you to be more indulgent and match your wine to a particular course should you wish to, without feeling guilty or feeling you are hampering your health.

Commencing with something sparkling is a prerequisite for us. The Society’s Champagne Brut NV (£14.95 per half) will do nicely and would suit most canapés you could throw at it – even, I am told, hand-cooked crisps.

Our starter more often than not is seafood based and our halves selection offers everything from mussels-friendly The Society’s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie (£4.50 per half) or Riesling, Trimbach 2012 (£6.25), which is glorious with dover sole. If fish is not your thing the affinity Pouilly-Fume, Domaine Seguin 2013 (£7.50) has with goat’s cheese sets off a tart or salad starter brilliantly; or maybe mushroom risotto with Soave, Pieropan 2013 (£6.50).

For the mains, French trimmed lamb chops and the Bordeaux-esque spice of South Africa’s Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch 2009 (£7.25), or maybe pan-fried duck breast with the full-flavoured Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012 (£6.95). A rich roasted vegetable ratatouille and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2011 (£9.50) also have a mutual attraction in my experience.

For dessert, whether it is cheese or something sweet, Samos Anthemis 2007 (£6.95) lends itself to both and permits a pleasurable ending to the evening.

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s day I hope this supplies food for thought.

Remember the bottle is not half empty, but half full!

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

Wed 07 Jan 2015

Treasures From The Roussillon

Posted by: | Comments (2)

We are uncovering wonderful vinous treasures from the Roussillon.

The present Fine Wine List contains a number of venerable wines, the oldest being a 1948 Rivesaltes from Domaine de Rancy. These are all remarkable wines, matched by a history that is no less remarkable.

Rivesaltes The Wine SocietyThe Roussillon is French Catalonia. The Catalan flag flies alongside the tricolour and Catalan is widely spoken. It is border country with castles dominating much of the landscape.

Up until the arrival of the railway, this was an almost forgotten backdrop. The railway made transporting freight to the French capital suddenly feasible and so the huge agricultural potential of the Roussillon could be untapped.

The Roussillon is the hottest region of France and viticulture had always been important. The wines were more Iberian like than French: strong and often oxidative in character, sometimes sherry like but not at the stage fortified. That came later when entrepreneurs began shipping these sun-drenched wines to a much wider audience.

It was roughly in the middle of the 19th century that the first of a succession of powerful brands were created. Many like Dubonnet and Byrrh were responding to a need from the French government to provide overseas officials and the military with protection from Malaria.

Dubonnet was marketed especially to the French Foreign Legion. The idea was to add quinine to wine along with herbs and spices. The wine base would be fortified and sweet, and modelled on port and Madeira. The town of Thuir became the hub of production and to this day houses a huge cellar with the largest oak vats. Byrrh, Dubonnet and Saint Raphael are all made here.

Roussillon vineyards

Roussillon vineyards, giving a good impression of the area’s striking landscape.

Fortification was not new. In French it is known as mutage and its inventor was Arnaud de Villeneuve in the 13th century. The process, as with port, uses added alcohol to stop fermentation as yeasts are inhibited by high alcohol. In the past alcohol was added after racking and this is known as mutage sur jus. In the other method, known as mutage sur Marc, fortification takes place in presence of grape skins. This method tends to make fuller wines with more depth and weight.

Production peaked during the inter-war period and has since been in decline. The days of empire are long gone and, of course, better ways to combat malaria have been found. The market too has changed with these strong aperitif wines losing out to spirits or table wine.

A lot of grape production has since been switched to making table wine and there are now vines of chardonnay and sauvignon. Luckily wiser heads made sure that the more traditional varieties remained – often to make table wine, under the Côtes du Roussillon label. But the best vineyards have in many cases been preserved to make fortified wine. Rivesaltes is the largest appellation but there is also Maury and Banyuls.

Different styles

Banyuls harbour

Banyuls harbour

Fruitier styles have become more popular. These can be red or white and are given ageing, often in tank away from oxygen. The whites are often made from muscat. The best wines though tend to be red and aged like vintage port. These wines often have a vintage on the label and can be known as Rimage.

Other styles are more traditional and the wines are extensively aged, sometimes in barrel, but sometimes too in glass demijohns. The very best are sometimes aged for part of time out in the open and produce wines of great intensity. These are sometimes known as Rancio. Terms like Ambré and Tuilé can also be used, referring to colour.

Grape varieties
Grenache is the workhorse and comes in three colours: red, white and grey (gris). All three can be used in red wines and are then fermented together. Grenache gris always produces long-lived wines and so is an essential ingredient.
Carignan is often used in red wines, typically to 10% of the blend. It adds fragrance and structure.
Macabeu is another Catalan variety and is used for whites, sometimes on its own or with a little grenache blanc or gris.
Muscat, fragrant and grapy, tends to be used on its own in wines like Muscat de Rivesaltes.

Three great appellations
Rivesaltes covers the largest area, extending into Fitou.
Maury covers a tiny area in the valley of the river Agly. Vines tend to be planted on black schists and the wines are typically full-bodied and sweet.
Banyuls, right by the sea and just short of the Spanish border produces a wine that has more complexity and finesse.

These wines are collectively known as vins doux naturels meaning naturally sweet and are of course great food wines.

The reds go really well with chocolate all chocolate-based desserts but are brilliant too with cheese, especially blue cheese. The whites make also good cheese wines and desserts. Old wines are probably best served as an after-dinner treat.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Not merely a trifle, nor indeed merely a wine for the trifle, sherry is a wine I seldom need an excuse to enthuse about. I feel that it is one of the most underrated wines in the world, and so leapt on the chance to celebrate International Sherry Week.

During this week, therefore, we have laid out a wide selection of sherry in our Cellar Showroom for members to try, offering a veritable palette of sensations.

Showroom Sherry line-up

If you’re in or near Stevenage, I thoroughly recommend you come and indulge. A range of styles are on offer, from tangy salty manzanilla and the appley freshness of The Society’s Fino (a perfect match for almonds at the start of a good evening) to warming hazelnutty amontillado and fragrant nutty oloroso, which is robust and sweet enough to take on chocolate puddings. Those with a sweet tooth will also be wowed by the velvety, treacly Pedro Ximenez – arguably a dessert in itself!

All of which, I hope, will demonstrate that sherry offers wine for every palate and indeed for every meal. We hope to see you in the Showroom!

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

We have now added three fantastic sherry-friendly recipes to our website. Enjoy!

Comments (1)

enramalabelGonzalez Byass’s (if not the world’s) most famous Fino Sherry is Tio Pepe which, if you didn’t know, is Spanish for ‘Uncle Joe’. Last week I attended the Big Fortified Tasting in London where I tasted this year’s bottling of Tio Pepe En Rama – the unclarified and unfiltered expression of Fino Sherry which this year celebrates its fifth bottling. They call it “puro zumo de flor” (pure flor juice).

My necessarily brief tweeted tasting note said:

This year’s @TioPepeFino En Rama. Biscuit & Bramley apple. Crisp, refreshing, long & delicious #WatchThisSpace #NextWeek

— The Wine Society (@TheWineSociety) April 24, 2014

It has a really broad mouthfeel and a long finish – an ‘en rama panorama’, if you like.

The official launch date is Wednesday 30th April, and it will be on sale with us very soon after at £14.50 per bottle.

UPDATE: 30/4/14 – It’s available right here, right now, while stocks last.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Fortified, Sherry, Spain
Comments (1)

Sherry is seen by many as a tricky beast – either too alcoholic, too different, or the kind of drink your grandma keeps on her sideboard to be produced with a flourish on special occasions. As a result, it is most unfairly maligned. Even at The Wine Society, with its plethora of wine-savvy members, sherry sales peak at Christmas and then gradually fall away over the rest of the year.

As such, the tastings team decided that it was high time we celebrated the individuality and diversity that sherry offers. From bone-dry, crisp fino to rich, sweet oloroso, with everything in between, sherry is a food-pairing dream come true, so what better way to show the merits of sherry than to drink it with a meal?

The Society's sherry buyer Toby Morrhall talks to members

The Society’s sherry buyer Toby Morrhall talks to members

Getting Toby Morrhall, The Society’s sherry buyer, on board was easy. To employ a famous catchphrase, Toby firmly believes that sherry is for life, not just for Christmas, and is passionate about getting people to actually drink sherry – and not in little thimble-sized glasses either, but proper wine glasses. Those shocked by the thought of consuming large glasses of fortified wine, should consider that many table wines are now hitting 15% – the lighter finos and manzanillas don’t come out much higher than that.

Three of the movers and shakers of the sherry world were invited to come and talk at the event: Marcelino Piquero of Sánchez Romate, Peter Dauthieu (who represents Cayetano and Williams and Humbert) and Ignacio Lopez de Carrizosa of Lustau. Our idea was to show a range of sherries throughout the dinner, a different sherry to be matched with each course, which would, of course, be specially designed to match perfectly.

Toby feels that it is very important that sherry should not be ‘ghettoised’; that is to say, that people should not be made to believe that sherry only works with Spanish-style food. To this end we chose two very different restaurants, with the idea of hosting two consecutive evenings, with the same line-up of sherries accompanying very different styles of food.

The first restaurant was Moro: based in Exmouth Market, London, Moro is famous for its Spanish and Moroccan-inspired cuisine. The second was The Hinds Head in Bray, Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred gastropub, which specialises in traditional British-style cuisine.

It goes without saying that the two evenings were completely different, but each worked equally well in their own very different ways.

Members enjoying the Botaina Amontillado in Bray

Members enjoying the Botaina Amontillado in Bray

Having seen the menu for Moro a week before the event, I couldn’t wait to try the food. It was my first visit to the restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. Everything was so beautifully done, and the food matched the sherry to perfection – we had sent a sample bottle of each of the sherries to both restaurants beforehand so they could try the wines before planning the menu. Samantha Clark was doing the cooking and whilst in theory the dishes were simple, it was plain to see that the ingredients used were of the very finest quality and the flavours were truly excellent. There were many highlights to the meal, even the olives we had as a nibble whilst drinking the La Ina were fantastic, however for me the standout dishes had to be the seared wild mushrooms with Iberico panceta and almonds, with the Botaina Amontillado, and chocolate and apricot tart with The Society’s Exhibition Oloroso Dulce – we were told later that Sam and Sam had reduced the amount of sugar in the chocolate tart so that it would pair better with the Oloroso, and I have to say that whilst I’m sure it would have been even more decadent with more sugar, as it was it worked perfectly.

Another night, another four-course-dinner. This time we were heading across the country to Bray for a very British-style of dinner. From the bright, open-plan restaurant that was Moro, we found ourselves at the Hinds Head, a beautiful 15th century pub, complete with low ceilings and wooden beams. Head chef Kevin Love created a four-course meal, based on seasonal, local produce which would complement our sherries perfectly. The contrast couldn’t have been more different. Instead of olives, we had ‘devils on horseback’: prunes, which had been injected with alcohol, wrapped in parma ham, and grilled. The salty and sweet flavours worked perfectly with the tang of the La Ina Fino, as did the Mussel broth, which was probably in culinary terms the highlight of my evening. The veal was incredibly rich and stood up to the gutsy Botaina and the Cayetano Palo Cortado. The remarkable As You Like It Amontillado shone with the Cheddar and blue cheeses, showing that sherry really is a serious contender to port when it comes to the cheese board.

So what did we intend to achieve with these sherry dinners – apart from having some great food? Whilst it would be wonderful if everyone suddenly saw fit to drink sherry throughout their meal, matching a different wine to each course, even we know that would be an impossible dream. However, what we hope to have shown is that sherry shouldn’t be relegated to the sideboard by default. There are so many different and wonderful wines out there that there really is a sherry for every occasion. The key is to be brave and have fun experimenting, there is a whole new world of food and sherry matching that awaits. Believe me, it is a lot of fun!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-Ordinator

Comments (2)
Wed 23 Oct 2013

The Great Sherry Festival

Posted by: | Comments (3)

Conrad Braganza, The Cellar Showroom’s fine wine adviser, says it’s time that sherry stepped out from behind the trifle and got the recognition it deserves. He’ll be opening up some of his favourite bottles in the Showroom over the rest of the week.

Sherry never ceases to excite my vinous passion. A wine of such diversity, versatility and quality should not be confined to an occasional festive appearance. So when the Sherry Institute promoted its inaugural Great Sherry Festival this month I was only too happy to lend it my full support.

A layer of flor yeast prevents fino sherry from oxidising

A layer of flor yeast prevents fino sherry from oxidising

So, for the rest of the week, in addition to the wines available to taste via the Showroom’s Enomatic machines, there will also a selection of sherries to try that we feel epitomise the amazing range of styles, and breath-taking quality, the wines of Jerez offer wine lovers.

Members will be able to taste a true gamut of styles, from the excellent-value Society’s Fino, the perfect aperitif, to Manzanilla Pasada, an aged sherry with the concentration to handle a shellfish stew or seared tuna steak. Discover The Society’s Exhibition Viejo Oloroso, a dry aromatic wine that complements hard cheeses, or unctuous fig-infused Pedro Ximénez, a wine to turn simply fried chicken livers into a midweek treat or can contrast beautifully when poured over vanilla ice-cream.

The affinity that sherry has with food, coupled with the plethora of palate pleasures it offers, makes it a perfect wine regardless of your occasion. It’s has long been time for sherry to step out from behind the trifle and declare itself one of the world’s great wines.

We hope you can join me in fighting the good fight.

Comments (3)
Thu 06 Dec 2012

All I Want for Christmas is a…

Posted by: | Comments (3)

… half bottle of delicious, delectable, unctuous sherry.

Williams & Humbert 'As You Like It' Amontillado

Williams & Humbert ‘As You Like It’ Amontillado

Once you’ve worked at The Society for a few months it dawns on you that much of your hard-earned income is going to be transferred straight back to your employers.

‘I didn’t see any point in bringing you a bottle of wine’ is a phrase you get all too familiar with as yet another friend turns up at your doorstep with a bunch of flowers and, er, little else. Or worse, they think it highly amusing that they bring a bottle of the latest gimmicky, confected high-street plonk in order to ‘keep me real’, before making great inroads into my prized, but far from bottomless, cellar (if that isn’t making a bit too much of my cupboard under the stairs).

The trouble with working here is that friends and family expect you to blow them away with the wines you provide. ‘Should be easy given your privileged position,’ I hear you cry. Employees of The Society are in constant search of the ‘wow’ bottle with which to woo friends.

Subtlety and elegance, I’ve found to my cost, don’t really do it. ‘You’ll be amazed at the refinement of this godello from north-west Spain’ doesn’t always cut the mustard with guests who rarely shop outside the supermarkets and think that I drink Meursault for breakfast*.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my rundown of winners that don’t disappoint or necessitate re-mortgaging the house:

Wacky: for non-geeks. Chateau Musar is always a revelation and well met. ‘Lebanon? Wine? Who knew?’ and it’s delicious. Equally, Moroccan syrah.

A flavour of the unknown: Kiwi pinot. Though, strangely (and I don’t know why), this works better for men than women. Women, in my experience, seem to prefer a heartier brew.

A flavour unknown II: good Madeira is always a winner – and this is more for women than men I find.

Maturity: Marcel Orford-Williams released some ten-year-old Alsace riesling last Christmas for under £20 that was a big hit.

So that brings me, at last, to the sherry, which fulfils majestically and deliciously all criteria.

Everybody say: ‘Ahhhhh…’

Never before have I seen such a room full of usually loud opinionated people becalmed by a mince pie and a glass of amber liquid as I did this week.

And what a liquid. It was Williams & Humbert As You Like It Amontillado, a wine I first noticed when I saw that buyer Toby Morrhall said that it had ‘bowled him over’. That takes some doing. But I completely see what he means. The wine is now about 30 years old and the ageing process has mellowed the beguiling dried fruit and nutty flavours making them gloriously rich, complex and just oh so irresistible. It’s a wine to sniff and savour and luxuriate in. The palate doesn’t disappoint either: adding a welcome freshness to the rich flavours. We tried it with mince pies, but piquant Cheddar or perhaps even a strong blue cheese would, I’m sure, work just as well. Or just savour a glass by the fire. At £22 per half bottle I grant you that this isn’t a cheap wow – but it’s Christmas and such is the richness and intensity that a little goes a long way.

Friends and family please note that this is now top of my Christmas wish list, and my new favourite wow wine. Anyone turning up at my doorstep clutching such a bottle is guaranteed a very warm welcome indeed.

Paul Trelford
Head of Copy

* For the record I don’t … OK, there was that one time but that was very much the exception.

Categories : Fortified, Spain
Comments (3)
Fri 24 Aug 2012

Notes From Australia: Rutherglen

Posted by: | Comments (1)

People tell you that Australia is large and that you can fit all of Continental USA inside its mass. It all goes in one ear and out the other until you drive for four hours, through an area of map that looks like it should be the equivalent of crossing London, to reach another wine region!

The Rutherglen wine region is definitely worth one of these treks. Still within the boundaries of Victoria it provides an exciting contrast to the modern wineries found elsewhere.

Here you get a real feel of the Australia I was expecting: long horizons, charming towns and a real sense of history, in a region established to service the gold-rush pioneers in the mid-19th century. There wasn?t much in the way of building materials so many of the wineries were made from components brought up by cart from the Melbourne docks some 275km away, and so they can look a little more ramshackle in parts. When the miners left the region, those wineries who had replanted following the phylloxera epidemic in 1898 stayed as they by then had found themselves a following for their fortified wines in the UK.

Today, by and large the wineries remain in the hands of those founding families. You may think that these houses which have been handed down to successive generations could lead to complacency, but in my experience this couldn?t be further from the truth. The wine making community is small and they have come together to ensure that the quality of Rutherglen fortified wines maintains its high reputation. They developed a grading categorisation around ten years ago, which ranges over four levels, from the youngest and simplest fruit flavours of ?Rutherglen? which develop in age, intensity and complexity through ?Classic?, ?Grand? and ?Rare?.

The winemakers regularly taste each other?s wines against one another in each of the bands to make sure that the wines are up to scratch and that the standard in each category is typical ? i.e. that the most developed wines in the lower classification remains more youthful in character than the least developed wine in the next tier up. There really isn?t any room to hide poor winemaking and standards have definitely been improved on the basis of some tough, but admirable, conversations.

Rutherglen is rightly proud of its port-style wines!

This classification has also been adopted by Australia?s port-style wines which are now labelled as either Tawny or Vintage, following the same agreement. These really aren?t to be overlooked. Penfold?s Great Grandfather Rare Tawny provides that rare heart-stopping moment that only happens once in a blue moon during your drinking lifetime; but only 1,000 bottles are made a year and it isn?t cheap. However, I always find Bleasdale?s Wise One Tawny (which will be back on our Christmas List around the £10 mark) offers exceptional value for money and it is a firm favourite of my family.

Muscats really are king here but you will also see topaques available from the same houses. These are made from the muscadelle grape and used to be labelled as Tokay before an agreement was made with the EU a few years ago not to use European region?specific names. Topaques have more fruity barley sugar, marmalade notes than the deeper mocha tones of the muscats.

The basket press is still very much in use throughout the region, which is really hard work: I gave it a go and won?t be offering up the red-faced photos for public consumption. Combined with the heat, most men operating the press will lose 6kg over the course of the vintage (one chap lost 13kg!).

For a taste of Rutherglen:

Solera at Campbells

Campbells use a sherry-like solera system, and their Rutherglen Muscat (£9.95 per half-bottle) is well worth trying. Watch out too for Stanton & Killeen?s Muscat, which we will be listing this autumn and will be perfect with the Christmas pud.

There is more to Rutherglen than stickies, however. I was also very impressed by their fruity reds (try the Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro for £7.95) and surprised by freshness of some of their whites.

Louisa Peskett

Categories : Australia, Fortified
Comments (1)