Friday, November 30, 2007

Sherry Tasting ... November 28, 2007

Ah Sherry … that misunderstood wine from Spain. I have known a few Sherries in my day (Cherie, Sherry, Shari …) and like the wine they have proven themselves to be just as mysterious and perplexing. The making of Sherry (the wine) is long and complicated; the making of Sherry (the person) does not have to be so – in fact many have been created by using the wham-bam-thank you-ma’am method. Sherry (the wine) comes in a variety of styles – the same can be said for the person. And Sherry (the wine) can be aged a long time and contains dozens of different influences from a variety of vintages – Sherry (the person), only if she is open to that type of lifestyle … and then ewww.

Now let’s get serious for a moment … Sherry comes from the Sherry Triangle in Spain. Like Champagne, Sherry is a regional designation and true Sherry comes from this triangular region – all others are imposters and should be designated as ‘Traditional method’ or ‘Sherry-method’ as would be the case with all other sparkling wines not made in the Champagne region of France. The Sherry Triangle consists of Jerez (pronounced “Hereth”) – the most inland, and Sanlucar and El Puerto – the coastal towns. This region boasts over 300 days of sunshine annually with mild winters (4 degrees) and very hot summers (40 degrees) with an annual rainfall of no more than 620 litres. Sherry is made using three authorized grapes only: Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel … these are white wine grapes and thus Sherry is considered to be a white wine, no matter how dark the final product is.

The making of Sherry is a long complicated process having to do with oxidation, living organisms, barrel ageing (minimum 3 years), a step down system or “solera” system, testing, re-testing and many many years … but suffice it to say the final product is great value considering the time, money and effort wrapped up in making it.

I hear you saying, “but Sherry is an old persons drink, my grandma drank Sherry.” Your grandma had good taste to realize Sherry really is good value, but that bitterly dry Sherry grandma used to drink is not the only Sherry available. To ask someone if they like Sherry is like asking someone if they like television shows – because Sherry comes in so many different varieties and styles you would have to be more specific with your question. There are the bone-dry finos (usually 5-7 years ageing), a slightly nutty Palo Cortados (12 years), nutty and sweet Olorosos (17+ years), blended sweet Sherries (using all three grapes to enhance sweetness and body), and really sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherries (the colour of caramel and taste to match); of course there are many other styles in between. My recommendation is to try a variety to see where your niche is … I am not a fan of the bone dry varieties, but I am drawn, like a moth to a flame to the sweet versions. Below is a list of recommended, gotta-try Sherries I samples at the tasting; if you get a sip of as many of these as you can then you will be able to answer the question: Do you like Sherry? And be able to say which kind. It is my hope that you’ll find at least one you like, or will be will to experiment to find the one the suits your palate; thus kicking the notion of Sherry be an old-timers drink to the curb.

Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Muy Seco Palomino ($15.95 – #242669) – nose of vanilla, lemon and cream, very dry with a lemon drop pucker – delicate, crisp and palate cleansing.

Emilio Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula ($15.95 - #745554 – 375ml) – nose of hazelnuts and dried apricots … tastes like liquid hazelnuts, dry and high acid, short finish. Goes well with roasted nuts. This is an extremely rare wine, as only 1% of total production becomes Palo Cortado Sherry.

Grupo Estevez RT Oloroso Jerez Seco ($17.95 - #720482 – March 1, 2008 Vintages) – nose is loaded with caramel, figs and mixed nuts … the taste is finesseful and elegant, slightly caramel flavoured mixed in with dried fruit – very enjoyable.

Gonzalez Byass Nutty Solera ($12.95 - #35204) – a great value with lots of sweet nuances. A nose of fruits and nuts, almost compote-like … the palate is reminiscent of honey- or brown sugar-coated nuts with a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon, starts off dry but gains sweetness mid-palate to finish.

Bodegas Williams & Humbert Walnut Brown ($11.95 - #437467) – a sweet moscato grapey nose with a fruity-raisiny quality, all wrapped in the scent of walnuts … the taste is friendly and sweet with caramel and toffee wrapping those walnuts up … like turtles if made with walnuts (minus the chocolate – get it?)

Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximinez ($25.95 - #721159) – 375ml) – this super sweet Sherry smells like: burnt caramel, raisin pie, or apple-caramel-spice (take your pick) … very thick and coats the inside of the glass when swirled … tastes of raisin pie or pecan caramel pie and many other things that will rot your teeth right out of your head … but oh how decadent and lovely this one is to sip on, thick and rich in the mouth.

As an alternative (if you miss getting Noe) check out the Osbourne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sweet Sherry being released in Vintages December 8 ($17.95 - #47944) … almost as decadent with a lower price tag and bigger bottle (more to enjoy).

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