Spain and Sherry-the Tasting

Now, finally, the tasting.

Simon, our guide, finished his two-hour tour of Gonzalez Byass in Jerez, Spain.

He then took us to the tasting room, to sample wine that could be decades old.

All Sherry should be served well chilled, Simon explained.  Then he had us try Tio Pepe Fino (the largest selling fino in the USA) and a Gonzalez Byass Amontillado.

Look at the photo of the glasses.  This dramatically demonstrates the impact of long-term aging.  The wines range from the pale, straw-colored white to the almond-hued to the last two, rich, thick, oil-pumped-out-of-the-ground dark.  All of these wines come from white grapes.

The Fino was dry, not a hint of sweetness.  Yeasty aroma blended with hints of the ocean.  The alcohol is 15.5%, kept below 16% by virtue of flor resting on top of the wine, which is aged a relatively brief period of four years.  A hint of salt, with a chalky after taste.  A find companion to simple seafood.

Then the Amontillado. Looking a bit like an aged Chardonnay, it’s sort of a grown-up version of the Fino.  Like the Fino, it’s aged four years with the flor.  Then more spirits are added, killing the flor.  The wine then joins its brethren in the solera, where it will age normally about eight more years.  Featuring nutty, particularly almond, tastes, it’s quite tasty.  It would pair beautifully with oily fish.

Following that was the Alfonso Oloroso.  Caramel in the glass, it’s a powerful wine at 18%.  This is fortified with spirits from the beginning, so there’s never a flor.  Just like the first two, this is also a dry wine.  Notes of hazelnut; some might also detect tastes of stone fruit, like apricots.  It has a glycerin quality which lends it a creaminess.  It can last weeks in the frig.

The next two were our favorites.  In fact, we bought a few bottles to take back with us. 

The first was Del Duque, a 30-year old Amontillado that has colored noticeably darker than its younger brothers already discussed.  And if the Oloroso was powerful, Del Duque is a powerhouse at 21.5% alcohol.  This took my breath away.  It has an espresso nose and flavor.  Quite creamy, this is a tongue tingling delight.  This is a wine you could drink on its own or enjoy with Spanish dishes like paella.

Our other favorite was Apostoles.  Quite unique.  The first four sherries were all product of the Palomino grape.  This is 87% Palomino and 13% Pedro Ximenez.  Additionally, the Palomino started life as an Amontillado but it morphed in the cask.  For some inexplicable reason, it gets some yeast activity or it changes in the barrel.  So, then it’s neither Amontillado nor Oloroso.  It’s now Palo Cortado.  The touch of Pedro Ximenez adds a note of sweetness to an otherwise dry wine.  It’s a great sipping wine, that would be ideal for either cheese and fruit or as an after-dinner drink.  It captures the best of an Amontillado (nuts and creamy) and an aged Port, with notes of raisins and figs.

The last two Sherries matched the American preconception of sweet wine.  These have both been aged for decades and have darken considerably.  Matusalem is a 75/25 blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximenez.  Noe is 100% Pedro Ximenez.  Both are excellent dessert wines – pour them over vanilla ice cream for a real treat.  They are black and syrupy and remind me of an expensive balsamic vinegar. 

My time in Jerez and with Simon convinced me that quality Sherry is a great deal more than Harvey’s Bristol Cream.  These are serious wines with diversified flavor profiles.

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