Grapevine Archive for Sherry
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’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.
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 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!
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)
Digital Insights Manager
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.
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!
The Cellar Showroom
We have now added three fantastic sherry-friendly recipes to our website. Enjoy!
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?
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.
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!
Tastings & Events Co-Ordinator
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.
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.
… half bottle of delicious, delectable, unctuous sherry.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:
• 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.
Head of Copy
* For the record I don’t … OK, there was that one time but that was very much the exception.
Have we just witnessed the most successful member tastings ever?
While we do not generally use sales as a way of gauging success at a tasting (feedback on the night and afterwards is a much more satisfying barometer), we were taken aback by the sheer number of members who placed an order after having attended these tastings in London and York last week. Almost half of all members who attended placed an order! It has to be said that the buzz during both tastings was high and vibrant, with many smiling faces having not only revisited some old favourites but also made some amazing new discoveries.
This is testament to the great interest and excitement engendered by Spanish wines at the moment. Indeed, Spain is our fastest growing category. We showed wines from all over Spain (Alicante, Calatayud, Jerez, Méntrida, Monsant, Navarra, Priorat, Rías Baixas, Ribera de Duero, Rioja, Toro and Yecla, to be precise) and, gratifyingly, orders were placed for all 31 wines on show with prices ranging from £5.50 to £62 per bottle. There is, of course, an added bonus – members who attend our walk-around tastings receive a 10% discount on wines ordered that were available on the night.
Our Spanish offer, put together by The Society’s buyer for Spain, Pierre Mansour, formed the basis for these tastings, with growers or representatives pouring the wines and talking to members about them. Were you there? What were your ‘stand-out’ wines of the tasting and why?Do let us know.
And if you’d like to be a part of our extensive tastings & events scene, then please click here for further information.
Head of Tastings & Events
For those of you who haven’t tried it it is a mature Jerez Fino bordering on an Amontillado. In the past it would have been called a Fino-Amontillado but the consejo, who regulate labelling, have banned its use. We therefore named it ‘Fino Perdido‘, meaning ‘lost Fino.’
Many producers add charcoal to remove the deep rich colour, and over fine it with bentonite, which stabilises the wine but removes much of its richness. We have just chilled it in a tank for a week to let it clarify naturally and then filtered it. It may form a slight haze but we think this cosmetic imperfection is outweighed by the extra flavour in the bottle.
It has an intense, bready flor nose, with a rich, round palate with elements of almonds and hazelnuts. It’s a lovely aperitif, but suits summer food admirably too. Try it with smoked salmon, grilled fish, scallops, crab or red tuna stewed with onions. Salud!
We’re on a roll with Jancis Robinson as she includes the following wines in her top 40 fortified and sweet wines for Christmas.
Sánchez Romate, Fino Perdido NV Very pale tawny. Chock full of character. Really light, dry and zesty. Screwcap with señorita label. £7.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society
Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado NV Obviously very old and super tangy. Lots to lose yourself in here though overall much more delicate than most Palo Cortados. Seriously interesting. £17 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society
Royal Tokaji, Late Harvest 2008 Tokaji The painless way to enjoy Hungary’s most famous wine. A super-fruity blend of the three Tokaji grapes: the great Furmint, Hárslevelu and Yellow Muscat. Shows the freshness that defines Tokaji without any of the complication. Super clean. £10.95 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society
Ch La Tour Blanche 2003 Sauternes Really luscious for drinking now. So big and round and unctuous. Yet it’s saved from flab by its structure. There’s a beginning, middle and end to this wine with some very agreeable toastiness in the undertow. Great stuff. Enjoy it while you may. £37 The Wine Society
Ch de Fesles 2005 Bonnezeaux Mid gold from the mid Loire. Nutty start and then beautiful, contained sweetness with a savoury streak. Impossible to spit. Great intensity with a hint of dill pickle. So long, so complete. Lovely already yet I’m sure it will last beautifully. £29 per 50 cl The Wine Society
We have bottled exclusively for Wine Society members this golden coloured, mature Jerez fino, almost a fino-amontillado. We estimate it is about 8 years old. The minimum legal age for Sherry is 3 years and most finos are 4–5 years of age. This style is less seen today, and the Consejo does not allow the name Fino-Amontillado, the equivalent of a Manzanilla Pasada, any more. Hence, we named it Fino Perdido or “Lost Fino”.
Analysis found that the wine contained no proteins so it hasn’t been fined, which can remove a lot of body and flavour. It was filtered to remove yeast but was neither cold treated, which prevents precipitation of naturally occuring tartaric acid crystals but can remove flavour, nor was it charcoal filtered, which removes the colour but also some flavour. I tasted a sample of the wine before and after filtering and the filtration had no negative effect on the flavour, and may even have cleaned up the nose a little. Like all finos its flor character will dissipate over time in bottle. It should be good for five months but is better now. At just £7.95 per bottle it’s an absolute steal. Carpe diem!
There is a chance that this may form a harmless haze and precipitate naturally occuring tartaric acid crystals.
I have tasted a bottle and have hugely enjoyed its golden colour, attractive bready flor, and its broad, full, slightly nutty, rich yet dry flavour. It is a strong flavoured Sherry ideal with richly flavoured seafood like crab or with tuna stewed with onions. It will also partner strong hard cheese like Cheddar or Parmesan better than most red wines. It is probably closest in style to the Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada, though they are both true to their origins. The Fino Perdido (from bodegas in the warmer, inland Jerez) being richer and broader on the palate while the Pastrana (matured in cooler bodegas in coastal Sanlúcar) is fresher and less rich. Fino Perdido is a bargain at this price.
We were inspired to bottle this after the success of the Tio Pepe en Rama offered earlier in the year. The inspiration was to treat less so more flavour gets into the bottle, not to copy the style. The wines are quite different in character, though equally delicious. Tio Pepe en Rama, which some of you tried, is a much younger wine, about 4–5 years old (half the age of Fino Perdido), which was deliberately bottled with a lot of flor yeast in suspension to maximise the pure taste of flor. Both we think are excellent examples of their type. Fino Perdido is richer, rounder and nuttier with nice bready flor character; Tio Pepe en Rama, younger, fresher and dominated by a delicious and overwhelming taste of flor. Experience showed that the flor increasingly was attracted to the sides of the bottle of the Tio Pepe en Rama and that to get the full flor hit it was best to shake the bottle before drinking to send the yeast into suspension!
As ever I would be really interested to hear your views on this wine.
The Times’ Jane MacQuitty has listed her 50 best summer whites, and these include the following Society wines:
McHenry Hohnen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009 £8.50 (cf Tanners £10.05)
David Hohnen and his winemaker daughter Freya reckon that this is their best sem-sauv vintage yet, and so do I. From a cool, fruit-concentrating year and made from almost equal parts of each grape but grown in different areas of Margaret River for added complexity, it makes for this stylish juicy summer aperitif. Harvesting at night and fermenting cool in stainless steel enhances this white’s tangy, tingly, herby, green pepper-stacked fruit.
Stella Bella Chardonnay 2008 £12.50
Stella Bella is one of the shining lights of Western Australia, though you’d never know from the quirky labels. It is made from hand-picked, separately vinified chardonnay grapes collected from eight different vineyards in the southern Margaret River area, in order to capture complexity. This ’08 barrel-fermented and aged Aussie chardonnay truly does stand comparison with white Burgundy. I loved its elegant smoky, toasty, hazelnutty fruit and so will you.
Soave from the Veneto region in northeast Italy is awash with watery, faintly lemony whites that are just not worth the money. The Pieropans have long bucked the trend with full-bodiedm flavoursome SOaves made from the traditional garganega grape grown on their 30ha of superior, lower yielding vineyards. The family’s single vineyard offerings, such as La Rocca from vineyards high on the Monte Rocchetta hill just below its medieval castle, are their greatest Soaves. These are picked late, often at the end of October. La Rocca’s fine, waxy, floral, apple and pear fruit is a real summer treat.
A 15% fortified Greek vin doux, or vin de liqueur, as this Samos sticky proudlu bills itself, is a post-prandial bottle that most Top 100 drinkers would pass by either here or in Greece. What a pity. Within lies a gorgeous, fat, smoky, raisiny pudding wine, spiked with aniseed and made from the oldest and noblest member of the muscat family, the muscat blanc à petit grains. Fortified immediately after pressing and matured for five years in French oak casks, this spicy muscat has an ancient pedigree that makes it probably the world’s oldest-known grape variety. Served cool, Anthemis is perfect with bold summer desserts such as a fruit crème brulée or praline and honeycomb ice cream.
My editor thinks this is one of the worst sherry labels ever and, alas, he has a point. But it would be a tragedy if you ignored this gilded, bemedalled bottle because within lies oneof the best manzanillas: a magnificent, yeasty, tangy, floral and iodine-charged, five year old explosion of flavour from one of the best Sanlùcar Sherry bodegas of all, Herederos de Argüeso, founded in 1822. Manzanilla comes from the seaside town of Sanlùcar de Barrameda; the spongy layer of flor yeast that gives the drier sherry styles of fino and manzanilla its flavour grows more vigorously here. Hence this magnificent fortified wine.