Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sherry, Baby!

If it swims, pair with Fino.
If it flies, pair with Amontillado.
If it runs away from you, pair with Palo Cortado,
If it runs toward you, pair with Oloroso.

This slightly altered mnemonic from the www.sherry.wine Web site was recited during a recent Sherry seminar by Andrew Mulligan, a portfolio manager with Skurnik Wines. The third and fourth lines regarding Palo Cortado and Oloroso veer a bit from the original -- Palo Cortado, a "hybrid" Sherry, was not originally included, and the 'runs away' and 'runs toward' differentiations were added later, by someone who clearly appreciated the brilliance of Palo Cortado!

Held at Culver City, California's Hatchet Hall restaurant on June 7, 2018, this seminar featured the knowledgeable Mr. Mulligan, whose wine porfolio includes two producers, Barbadillo and Tradicion. Mulligan is one of 10 Americans to have passed the Formador Homologado del Vino de Jerez, which basically translates to "Sherry Master," and he is passionate about all things Sherry. And because Sherry pairs so well with foods from Spain, Hatchet Hall's Chef Ron Almgren provided some jamon, olives, nuts, and pickled vegetables. 

Sherry Master Andrew Mulligan
This enlightening 2.5-hour seminar may have been the turning point for me in my relationship with sherry. I've always had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward this Spanish fortified wine, particularly since I studied it fairly in-depth a few years back while going for my WSET Diploma. At the time, my palate did not take to it very well, and I was too immersed in my studies to really appreciate what a lovely, complex, and varied drink Sherry can be. But a few years on, no longer in intensive study mode, I can now say "I love Sherry." 

What Is Sherry?


Briefly, Sherry is a fortified wine produced in three towns in the Andalucia region of southwest Spain: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda. This hot-climate region in southern Spain is warmed by hot winds from Africa. It is also Spain's poorest region, but is home to Flamenco music and dance -- in other words, it has duende, or "soul," according to Mulligan, who has visited the area numerous times. The area's white soils are known as Albariza (alba means "white" in Spanish) and are composed of clay, calcium and marine fossils. The soils, climate, and proximity to the ocean infuse a salinity into the local Palomino grape, which is "the" sherry grape.

The bodegas, or wineries, are located close to the ocean, which traditionally are cooled by the cool breezes wafting in through high loft windows, and by the watering of the albero, or sandy-chalky dirt floors. Today, due to global climate change, major producers are using temperature-control systems.  This last fact means that true Palo Cortados -- basically finos that lose their yeast -- are not as prevalent because the temperatures are more easily controlled and yeasts are kept alive.   

The lineup
In the bodegas, the wines are aged  in American Oak barrels, or botas,  never French! This is historically an economic decision as American oak was cheaper to import vs. French oak, but it became a style decision over the years. Barrels are often used 80-90 years. 

Wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks then fortified to either 15% or 17% alcohol by volume (abv) using a neutral grape spirit, and begin either a biological aging process or an oxidative aging process in the botas. The aging process is determined by the alcohol level, as the layer of yeast, or 'flor,' that develops naturally on the top of the barrels and contributes to the unique organoleptic, or smell/taste characteristics of the wine, cannot survive in an environment above 17% abv.

In a nutshell, Fino and Manzanillo (the latter is just a Fino from the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda) Sherries are biologically aged (under
flor), and lower alcohol (15%), and Oloroso is aged oxidatively (no flor) and higher alcohol (17%). Amontillado and Palo Cortado are aged both biologically and oxidatively because they start as biologically aged wine, lose their flor, and then continue their aging oxidatively.

Fino and Manzanillo sherries should be served well chilled
The wines are aged in a solera system, whereby each year 15% of the most-aged wine is bottled for sale, and 15% of the next-most-aged wine is added to those barrels. The next-most-aged wine gets a 15% infusion from the newest barrels. This occurs every year, insuring that the wine tastes the same every time it's bottled, and in fact "blends" different vintages to create complexity and depth. So, the minimal age of any bottle of sherry is three years, but in many cases, it's much longer as there can be any number of barrel levels, or criaderas. As an example, at the Andrew Mulligan seminar, we tasted a Palo Cortado VORS (very old rare sherry) from Bodegas Tradicion that was 34 years old. And it was spectacular.

The Bodegas


Bodegas Barbadillo of Sanlucar de Barrameda, is one of the larger Sherry producers. It was founded in 1821 and bottled its first Manzanilla in 1827. This is one of just two Sherry houses that has a woman winemaker. 

Bodegas Tradicion of Jerez de la Frontera, is a newer winery, founded in 1998, but it is the successor of one of the oldest sherry houses in Jerez. The bodega shuns all modern machinery, doing everything by hand. The focus is on aged sherries, which are only lightly filtered  -- you may see this as 'en rama' on a sherry label.


The Sherries


At the seminar, I tasted four flights, beginning with Fino and Manzanilla wines and finishing with the "sticky" sweet Cream Sherries (I still don't have a taste for these). Finos/Manzanillos are the youngest and most delicate of sherries, aged biologically their whole life under flor. These ranged from young and fresh four-year-old Manzanillo from Bodegas Barbadillo to 12 year-old Fino Viejo from Bodegas Tradicion. My favorite was the Manzanilla "Solear" from Barbadillo. 

Sherry pairs well with Jamon and olives
Fino/Manzanillo wines should be treated as any white wine, says Mulligan, meaning they should be chilled well, and once opened, consumed in a few days. I've found they can last longer, but they do lose some of their vivacity. Mulligan suggests using the opened bottles for Sherry cocktails.

The Amontillado and Oloroso sherries take on more depth of color, more complexity in aroma and flavor, and can be astoundingly rich and gorgeous. These Sherries should be served at room temperature, and can also last longer once opened, up to a couple weeks or longer (the older the longer).

The Bodegas Barbadillo Palo Cortado 'Obispo Gascon' stayed with me for hours after I tried it, with its haunting and mouth-coating notes of orange blossom. Unfortunately, there is none of this particular Sherry available for sale.

If you don't know Sherry, I highly recommend giving it a try. I'm glad I've revisited Sherry and plan to incorporate more of into my wine diet.

Hasta la próxima, adiós!

Learn more:

About Bodegas Tradicion at http://www.bodegastradicion.es

About Bodegas Barbadilo at http://barbadillo.com/en/wines

Sherry industry in general: https://www.sherry.wine/

Shop for Tradicion and Barbadillo at www.winesearcher.com





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