Sherry Week in Portland

recapInternational Sherry Week could not have come at a better time to Portland. The week was so emotional leading up to the presidential election, and after with days of protest demonstrations. Without getting too political, I will say Tuesday and Wednesday were difficult days for me. I’ve never mourned for my country before now. Never before have I woken up feeling fearful of what lies ahead or how government decisions will impact the lives of my loved ones. If anything Tuesday’s results will not allow me to be complacent. In the midst of all this, my community paused to open its doors for healing conversations, good food and great sherry!

I know that my sherry journey has only been since 2013, but I really feel Portland is growing in its sherry interest, especially the cocktail scene. I kicked off my Sherry Week as a guest at the Super Sexy Sherry Party. John House of Ole Imports and Ovum Wines, bartender Angel Teta, and many industry friends piled into the Wine Cave on Monday, November 7 for old school vinyl, even older sherry, and karaoke. The Wine Cave was in an undisclosed location in northeast Portland, and certainly the coolest space for a private party. It was a balance of modern masculinity of wood and concrete with the softening touch of candles, lowly lit Edison bulbs and a cozy nook for those who want to sit and talk away from the crowd. The bar was stocked with amazing tapas. John and Chris Dorman, from Elk Cove, poured the drinks starting with glasses of Cava, then two Manzanillas, Sacristía AB and Orleans, followed by a flight of Osborne’s Amontillado 51-1ª, Sibarita Oloroso and Capuchino Palo Cortado. I truly enjoyed meeting more people in the food and wine scene in Portland. The best part was finishing the night with “Sherry-oke.” Who knew these new friends had amazing voices?! I even belted a little Adele before heading home.

Thursday was a great day to recharge. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Jordan Felix and Kyle Sanders at the Green Room. The two of them have created an amazing space for those waiting to go upstairs to the Multnomah Whiskey Library. Downstairs, their classic prohibition style sherry cocktails prepare the palate for the full menu upstairs, including the 1600 bottles of whiskey. Jordan prepared me Louis Eppinger’s famous Bamboo cocktail while I chatted with Kyle about their sherry interests. Predominantly they’ve chosen sherry from Gonzalez Byass, not only because their staff was so well educated by Christopher Canale-Parola, but also because they’ve found that Tío Pepe Fino encapsulates everything they need; salinity, dryness, floral + green apple notes. They do carry Hidalgo La Gitana Mananilla, and are expanding their library of Lustau sherry. Overall, the cocktails are a mix of classic inspirations as well as house originals. They also enjoy pairing whiskey and sherry side-by-side like Highland Park 12 year Scotch and Oloroso. Another fun tasting I hope to try when I return is the Tomatin Cuatro Series – single malt scotch with sherry inspiration from Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and PX butts.

Shortly after my visit at the Green Room, I finally got to check out the newly opened Bar Casa Vale for their sherry pairing dinner. It was an intimate setting with one-on-one sherry education with Front of House Manager Bryon Adams-Harford. Each dish prepared by chef Louis Martinez was perfectly matched to a sherry. First course was tapas of anchovy stuffed Manzanilla soaked olives, Halloumi cheese montadito on a crustini with delicious pear jam, and Moorish spiced pork belly that melted in my mouth. This was all paired with Fernando de Castilla’s Fino Antique. The second course almost was reminiscent of an Italian dish of fried bay shrimp, calamari and fennel along side a brightly dressed octopus salad with cherry tomatoes, olives and capers. Valdespino’s Manzanilla Deliciosa was a great choice for wine.

Third Course was by far my favorite of the night! I barely saved room for it all. I completely devoured the locally sourced braised rabbit, chanterelles and cipollini onions. The Amontillado Antique from Fernando de Castilla was the perfect choice. The other two components also paired well, but for me it was the rabbit that soared above the charred brussels covered in romesco + manchego or the New York Strip with chimichurri. Finally the evening ended with the Crema Catalana. Essentially a lovely crème brûlée paired with Hidalgo’s Faraon Oloroso. This pairing surprised me. The contrasting flavors actually worked well together despite the sweetness of the dessert and the dryness of the sherry. I really cannot wait to go back and try some of the sherry cocktails Daniel Parker-Guidry has created. The Trident, which combines Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado with Krogstad Aquavit, Punt e Mes and bitters, just might be my new Negroni.

Saturday I had the privilege to partner with one of my favorite wine shops Pairings Portland. Jeffrey invited me to share my passion for sherry with his patrons. It was a steady flow of about twenty or so people. Nearly all of them were brand new to sherry and so willing to taste and learn. We selected a great line up with simple pairings to really make the sherry pop! Guests started with Fino en Rama from Equipo Navazos and Marcona almonds, followed by Manzanilla La Cigarerra with olives. I loved how the olives brought out the Manzanilla’s fruity notes with a a bit of a smoky finish. Of course I chose to showcase my favorite Amontillado La Garrocha from Bodegas Grant. Jeffrey sautéed up some yellow trumpet mushrooms to go with the wine. I feel both enhanced the other! The favorite for most customers was El Maestro Sierra’s Oloroso. This was classically paired with slices of manchego cheese. Jumping from dry to sweet, we paired Cesar Florido’s Moscatel Pasas with dried black fig and El Maestro Sierra’s Pedro Ximénez with blue cheese. It really was a fun night and hope to do it again soon!

If I hadn’t had my tasting scheduled at the same time, I wanted to participate in the Sherry Obstacle Course at Bar Vivant! Judging from the Instagram pictures, it was a huge success! Cheryl Wakerhauser said it was really steady without chaos, just how she likes it! Tables were set up around the restaurant with different stages for sherry learning. Even a venencia challenge was set up outside on the patio! The real challenge of course was choosing the perfect pairing from the buffet in the kitchen. Guests had fun AND learned about sherry, so mission accomplished!

What better way to end sherry week than with the people who started it off with me! I joined my friends at Ataula for a paired brunch with Gonzalez Byass sherry. It was no surprise that the place was packed! It’s always a pleasure to learn about sherry from Christopher Canale-Parola when he is in Portland. Once again, Chef José Chesa created amazing dishes to go alongside these delicious wines.

We were greeted with Angel Teta’s Welcome Punch (Gonzalez Byass Amontillado AB, Pampero Anniversario anejo, Grapefruit cordial, lime and Angostura). Since we were mostly seated in a family style, it was a nice way to end an emotional week eating and drinking with people from the community. First course was a lovely Sunday Salad of organic greens with a glass of Tío Pepe. Next was Spanish Tortilla with chorizo and a very large pour of Leonor Palo Cortado. The final dish was the fan favorite Sunday Brunch Paella of rice, chicken, jamon de bellota, bacon, and eggs on top. This was paired with Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso. To my shock, I was given seconds of that sherry without even asking. I happily accepted. Like all good brunches, we ended with something sweet with a little coffee. I love Chesa’s Xuixo de Crema. They’re so light and flaky and the cream isn’t heavy or too rich. Angel made a delicious Coffee Action using Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX, sous vide infused with cocoa nibs and espresso beans, strong brew coffee, Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Bitter Cube Corazon bitters, Banana brown sugar 2:1 and Matusalem 30 year Oloroso whip. I wish I could have that to start every day!

I am proud of my city and community. I love seeing it rally together. I love that Portland embraces culture and the sherry revolution! I wasn’t able to make it to every event listed for my city during International Sherry Week, but I’m making note of where to visit next!

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Sherry Sips + Bits

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It’s International Sherry Week and it could not have come at a more perfect time! With all of the emotions I’ve been processing from the political climate in the US, I’ve needed these days to celebrate something I love.

This year, I am excited to co-host of one of many sherry-focused events in Portland, Oregon! As a recent Certified Sherry Educator, I’m so excited to guide guests through the styles and story of each sherry. Saturday November 12th, I will be at Pairings Portland Wine Shop from 3-6pm. Come taste 6 sherries with 6 pairings that POP!

Sherry may be a bit intense for someone tasting it for the first time. Sherry Sips & Bits will be a simple display of “POP—The Power of Pairings”. The bits purpose is to alter your experience of the beverage you’ve just tasted. Sometimes POP can be for the worse or it doesn’t change the experience at all. Most often POP is an interesting change that will both enhance the sherry and the food. This experience may not make you a sherry lover overnight. The key is to come try something new and have FUN!

WHEN: Saturday November 12 between 3-6pm. Come when you can.

WHERE: Pairings Portland Wine Shop – 455 NE 24TH AVE. PORTLAND, OR 97232

COST: $20

Can’t make it to my event? No problem! You might see me at one of the many happenings around Portland! Be sure to try and go to at least one of them before the end of the week!

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Tapeando with Angel Teta

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As I learn more about sherry, I’ve been eager to discover who in Portland has sherry on the menu or is including it in cocktails. Angel Teta is noted not only for her love of sherry and vermut, but also for her award winning sherry cocktails. I thought I was sitting down to an interview. Instead, the evening turned into something quite reminiscent of visiting a local tabanco in southern Spain.

Tuesday nights at 4:30pm are the best time to come into Ataula for a “neighborhood watering hole” experience. It’s like stepping out of Portland and into Spain. The kitchen staff is busy finishing last minute prep for the evening. But if you sit at the bar and engage with staff, they’ll include you in their conversations. They love to suggest their favorite bites and drinks, and will tell their stories of how they came to be at Ataula.

I’ve been following Angel’s Instagram feed for a while, and finally made an intentional visit to meet in person. As we chatted, she surprised me with the Gracias Señor Simo, a blend of rum, Hidalgo’s Napoleon Amontillado, apricot liqueur, bitters and citrus. It was so refreshing and well balanced. The sherry really comes through rather than become lost and muddled by other components.

Shaylee is brand new to Ataula, coming from a Portland’s coffee scene. Her favorite starter to pair with my cocktail is the Ataula Montadito – house cured salmon, mascarpone yogurt, on a coca bread cracker that’s drizzled with truffle honey that’s to die for! It’s a bit messy to eat as finger food, so don’t feel bad asking for a fork. I could not believe how the food enhanced the drink and vice versa. The flavors of Amontillado, apricot, truffle and honey really pop!

Lauren is from Puerto Rico and spent the entire conversation with me in Spanish. She raved about the Cojonudo – two bruschetta toasts topped with a fried quail egg, chorizo and piquillo pepper. Angel paired that with her favorite Oloroso style from Cesar Florido. Cesar Florido is the king of Moscatel production in Chipiona. His other sherry styles are refreshing and not too heavy on the palate. This Oloroso was perfect for cutting the richness of the egg and chorizo.

 

Chef is always moving, always thinking, always creating. Even he paused to come and chat at the counter. ¡Canta! I actually thought he wanted me to burst out in song. Thank goodness, this is just his way of saying, “what’s up?” As we talked about the sherry dinner event, he had me try a little dessert before heading home. Huevos Fritos – a fun play on fried eggs in a cold skillet using egg yolk sorbet with coconut foam and finished with Jacobsen’s flake salt.

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The same Oloroso goes great with this as well. The aromas trick your mind to think you’ll be drinking something sweet, but it’s bone dry. The nutty nuances really sing with the dessert, both creating a satisfying savory sweetness.

For someone who has never tried sherry, but are open to it, here’s what Angel suggests:

I always pair something with what they’re eating. What they order gives me a glimpse into their palate preferences, which helps me put something in front of them that they will actually enjoy. For example, if they get the Bellota Jamon, I always pair it with the Valdespino Inocente, as they both enhance each other. If they seem a bit less adventurous, I’ll start with an Amontillado. If they seem like sherry is really not their gig at all, I’ll try the East India to finish with a Xuixo.

The team at Ataula really enjoys sharing the sherry love. Next time you’re in the mood for tapas, come early, sit at the bar and give sherry a try. You’ll be in excellent hands!

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Ataula Presents González Byass

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When it comes to pairing sherry with entrees, I owe a lot of my knowledge to Ataula, a Spanish and Catalan restaurant located in northwest Portland. Unlike the home-cooked Spanish comfort food of its sister restaurant CHESA, Ataula is where chef José Chesa and his team push gastronomic creativity and the dining experience to its fullest potential.

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Recently, they had a private ticketed event pairing Chef’s cuisine to the amazing sherries of González Byass. I was elated that my non-sherry loving husband would join me, and be sure to capture the experience. (I still have not mastered how to stay on task, capturing both pictures and conversation, whilst drinking my way through the sherry rainbow.)

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Emily Metivier, General and Beverage Manager for both restaurants, and Christopher Canale-Parola, Area Manager for González Byass. Christopher has been a wonderful mentor and networker for me since we first met at Ataula in 2015. His enthusiasm and knowledge for not only sherry, but for González Byass as well, is infectious!

cocktail + fino chaserTo start the night, we had a lovely Tío Pepe Fino based cocktail created by Angel Teta. I’ve always been cautious about the sherry cocktail trend, but Angel’s creations are on point! As she described it, she added Ontañón Moscato, a touch of Aveze Genitian Apertif, watermelon syrup, Pares Balta Cava and a touch of saline, all garnished with fresh flowers. It was so refreshing, and both the watermelon and Fino came through. It was specifically paired to the amuse course, but I drank mine way too quickly whilst mingling with other guests. I hope she adds it to their main menu!

Once seated, chef came out to greet us and explained that sherry was always used in his home for cooking and Tío Pepe was always the go-to bottle. Pairing five sherry wines to Jose’s wonderful creations from the kitchen, he would explain the entrees and Christopher would explain the sherry wine and history of González Byass.

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With a traditional tumbler of Tío Pepe Fino, we warmed up our palates with an amuse bouche of seared watermelon and fried anchovy or house cured boquerones. As Christopher explained, we’re in a time where sherry it taking a very important place in the world’s food and wine scene. And yet, it’s still a niche.

If you’re new to sherry, the important first thing to know is that the vast majority are bone dry. Some of them at the other end of the spectrum are intensely sweet. This is the reason why they are an absolute gift to gastronomy, chefs and sommeliers. You’re able pair some powerful flavors of the wine with powerful dishes without necessarily covering each other up, which is really something quite special. The potential, when paired correctly, is a flavor explosion!

First Course: Ajo Blanco – white gazpacho, marcona, red wine poached foie; Tío Pepe Fino en Rama, 2015 bottling

As Chef explained, tomato gazpacho is the most drinkable, fully vegetarian option in the summertime in Spain. In Malaga, they use ajo blanco the most. This dish used Marcona almonds with milk, sherry vinegar and a little salt and drops of olive oil. This particular dish, Chef has made for over 15 years. In the middle he added a slice of red wine poached foie gras – the four most beautiful words ever heard together! The dish was finished with olive oil pearl caviar from Spain and white currents underneath for texture. You know a dish is good when the room goes completely quiet!

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The wine paired with this was Tío Pepe en Rama. This is award-winning wine is really quite new to the sherry world. Essentially, it is just the Tío Pepe Fino sherry, using 100% Palomino grape, fortified to 15% alcohol and then aged in 600 liter American oak barrels. This style of this wine is really almondy, intensely savory, and has an oyster shell component that plays really well with the Marcona influence of the dish.

En Rama is local jargon meaning totally unfiltered. Typically like most white wines, a Fino goes through a stabilization and clarification process. But this is a sample pulled fresh from the barrel. The most exciting thing about this is it was bottled April 2015, so it had considerable time in bottle with the natural yeast as well. These wines age in barrel under a fluffy blanket of yeast because the wine is never filled up to the top of the barrel like most wines in the wine world. This yeast grows on top and gives it a really pungent yeasty nose. Even more so after a year in bottle!

Second Course: Pulpito – spanish baby octopus escabeche, tomato sofrito, confit, marrow bone; Viña AB 12-year Amontillado

Chef cooked the baby octopus escabeche with vegetables, extra olive oil and sherry vinegar. Under the marrowbone was tomato sofrito – onions and tomatoes cooked for five hours. The maltodextrin powder was made using the marrowbone fat.

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This was paired with Viña AB, an Amontillado style sherry. This side-by-side tasting from Tío Pepe Fino en Rama to Viña AB Amontillado is one of Christopher’s favorites in the wine world simply because of tasting exactly the same wine at two completely different stages in its life. The Tío Pepe en Rama is bottled around four years average, where as the Viña AB has been in the solera blending system for up to an average of twelve years.

That nice fluffy duvet cover of yeast on top of the wine is an organism coming to the end of its lifecycle, and is breaking away and floating down to the bottom of the barrel. So for the first time the wine breathes. This oxidation process turns the color slightly browner, the flavors more intense, the alcohol starts to creep up a bit to 16.5%, but my goodness does it concentrate all those phenolic compounds. That almond character concentrates into more of a hazelnut character now. That oxidation gives you a slight sensation of sweetness, which is tricky because it’s not really sweetness, but just oxidation playing with your palate. Because it’s more structured, it goes well with more structured dishes.

Third Course: Pato – seared muscovy duck breast, corn, quicos, foie; Leonor 12-year Palo Cortado

By this course, the sherry was flowing and the conversation volumes growing. It was getting harder to catch Chef’s detailed technique explanations. To compensate, Christopher began speaking louder and faster. From what I gathered, the Muscovy duck breast was seared and placed on a bed of corn puree and foie gras.

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The wine paired with this was Leonor Palo Cortado. It is a very special style that starts off like a Fino and quickly redirected into a life of oxidation. It’s actually fortified up to 18% alcohol in the very beginning so that the yeast is never protecting the wine. You get a light style in the beginning, but with oxidation over time, you get something much more intense. The wine is aged a minimum of 12 years, similar to the Viña AB Amontillado, but this time a totally different expression. It’s made for these types of meats. Still bone dry, but oxidized to trick your brain to expect sweetness when it isn’t there.

Fourth Course: Bou – painted hills ribeye, charred torpedo onion puree, vegetable menestra; Apostoles VORS 30-year Palo Cortado

The ribeye was nicely charred on the bottom and plated with jus and chanterelles. It was paired with the very special “very old rare sherry” Apostoles. Similar to tasting Tío Pepe much later on in its life, this began as the 12-year Leonor Palo Cortado, but instead of bottling it, it was removed from the solera and placed in another to age for a minimum of 30 years! These wines are often referred to the sacred wines. Nearly all the blend is the Leonor with a little addition of 13% of Pedro Ximénez – another white grape, dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars. Just a touch of PX to the blend adds a natural richness, which creates a very special pairing for red meats.

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Once America realizes the flavor potential between Palo Cortado and red meats, I’m going to go on vacation because it’s going to take over! But we’re not quite there yet, so I hope to win over a few hearts every step of the way.

Final Course: Textures – valdeon cheese, strawberries, chocolate; Noé VORS 30-year Pedro Ximénez

Sadly, I don’t think I’m the only one who completely missed the description. By dessert we were very “happy” and dove right in. It was light and refreshing. The classic pairing for Pedro Ximénez is ice cream or cheese. Chef was smart to combine both to conclude this amazing dining experience!

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Noé is very simply 100% Pedro Ximénez showcasing the rich sweetness of the greatest dessert wine of the world. Hand harvested, these grapes are dried in the sun for two weeks. This VORS is nearly 40 years old. It is incredibly sweet, yet dark and savory at the same time with a lot of smoky cigar elements and strong aromas of fig.

Noé has around four times the sugar content of Coca Cola, so it’s not a diet wine.

What a fantastic evening that truly delivered and went beyond expectations. I’m still surprised that I ate baby octopus. It only took three glasses of sherry to overcome my aversions. I truly appreciated not only the passion and detailed execution, but also the down-to-earth kindness of everyone involved. It is very rare to find a place like this that truly makes you feel at home time and time again.

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Building Street Cred

sherry educatorWith all journeys, when they begin, I’m never sure where they will take me! I knew after graduating college with a degree in Spanish, I wasn’t ready to go onto grad-school for a Masters. A Masters in what, and for how much added debt? A piece of paper is great for street cred, but I certainly want to make it worth my investment of time, passion, energy, ambition and money!

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2013 was a great year for new beginnings! I had recently moved back to Portland, Oregon and was looking for work. I started volunteering my time by bottling wine for ENSO Winery. I instantly fell in love with the small batch operation. Soon I discovered it was part of the collaboration of PDX Urban Wineries, 13 urban wineries making wine within the city, each under their own label, but also supporting each other towards success. I knew I wanted to volunteer as often to learn as much as I could about this unfamiliar industry. I also wanted to be known as someone to rely on when needing an extra hand.

That same year was my first trip to Jerez de la Frontera. The focus was to study flamenco, but I also discovered my current obsession for sherry! I returned home with a passion to learn as much as I possibly could from limited resources in Portland. That’s when I discovered the Wine and Spirit Archive.The Wine and Spirit Archive offers amazing wine classes right in southeast Portland!  I took a wonderful overview class for sherry presented by Cheryl Wakerhauser, owner of Bar Vivant.

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This led to my discovery of the WSET courses. The way I try to explain it is that it’s the UK’s version of becoming a sommelier, only it focuses on wine and spirits and doesn’t have to be only tied to the restaurant industry. The wine world has always intimidated me, but I was encouraged by a long conversation with Juan Carlos from Gutiérrez Colosía to pursue a broader wine education outside of sherry. As I take various classes at the Wine and Spirit Archive, I’m discovering my own passion to be a sherry and wine educator; to make it fun and approachable. What better way to learn world history than through a glass of wine?!

Last year was a huge year to keep the journey going, gaining more sherry experience and building relationships. My husband bought me every book! I created my own “sherry odyssey” returning to Jerez on my own, this time solely focused on sherry. I also struggled with envy towards fellow sherry bloggers who have access to so many wines and experiences that aren’t available in the U.S. I shared their excitement as they received their Certified Sherry Educator certificates and wondered if that would ever be me. Despite feeling like a small fish, I sleuthed out information and connections to get my CV into the hands of those at the Consejo Regulador. I knew it would be a long shot, and really gave up hope that I would be selected for 2016.

Without getting too personal, my husband and I have been blessed with a life of travel rather than raising a family. His ability to make travel arrangements using only status points amazes me! I knew the next step to growing my sherry expertise would be to brave the summer heat and return to Jerez for harvest. I want to see production from the beginning rather than just savoring the end product. So, airline points were cashed in and the dates were set! I arrive August 29 and leave September 23rd. Then everything changed the morning of May 4th.

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At 4:30 in the morning, I woke up to my phone’s annoying vibration alerting me it received an email. The Consejo Regulador Sherry y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar was more than pleased to confirm me a spot in their Sherry Educator Course, which will be held on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of September. Despite the added expense, I changed my tickets and extended my visit, because I am not willing to give up this opportunity!

My life has been full of amazing journeys and opportunities. I now work for the winery I volunteered with as their communications director and event coordinator. My volunteer work with the PDX Urban Wineries has paid off with friendships and credibility. I’m still dancing flamenco and will perform three choreographies at Portland’s spring feria. I complete level 2 of the WSET in June and will continue taking wine classes at the Wine and Spirit Archive. At the end of September, I will be a Certified Sherry Educator in Portland, Oregon.

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To be honest, I’ve never needed a piece of paper to validate that I’m intelligent or an expert at anything. But having a piece of paper helps prove that to others. My hope is that having a WSET diploma and Certified Sherry Educator certificate will further open doors in the wine industry and wine education. Having this street cred will lead me to new journeys I never knew existed.

CHESA

CHESA doorLately, I’ve had the desire to learn more about who’s doing sherry cocktails around Portland. What better way to start than by visiting the newly opened CHESA. Chef José Chesa has truly made his mark on Portland with the Spanish cuisine of Ataula in the northwest. Not only am I excited to have CHESA on my side of the river, but also excited to try dishes near and dear to his heart ~ home cooking inspired by his father and grandmother.

solera drawingThe layout is clean and modern with iconic images of Spain around the room. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I was happy to see my table sat under a large print of a man refreshing the solera. If you hope to catch Chef Chesa, be sure to come right when they open before he dashes back over the river to Ataula. My goal was to meet with beverage manager, Emily Metevier and bar manager, Tony Gurdian to discuss their sherry selection and cocktails.

Emily went to culinary school with Chesa’s wife, and has partnered with them since the beginning. Her choices of sherry are simply from tasting through several and selecting which pair the best. One of the newest additions is La Guita Manzanilla En Rama bottled in October 2015. I was amazed by its dark golden color and complexity for only having slight filtration. I made sure to have my friends at Great Wine Buys order me a couple for my shelves.

Tony moved to Portland four years ago from Tennessee. He was the bar manager at Imperial before CHESA, and brings a lot of creativity to the table. Working with sherry is relatively new for him, but he does have a soft spot for Spanish vermut. The design of the current cocktail menu includes several tried and true classics that showcase both sherry and vermut. His intention is to have time to create a rotating seasonal menu.

The cocktails listed under THERE are classic cocktails with a Spanish twist. I learned that Spaniards are crazy for Gin & Tonic, and this one will make them proud. If you’re in the mood for a Negroni, try the Preparando. The THEN list is full of classic tried and true sherry cocktails. The NOW list are CHESA creations Tony and his team have put together. My favorite was the signature CHESA – an incredible balance of Spanish flavor – sweet citrus notes with a savory pimentón finish. If you want a palette cleanser, but not feeling like a glass of Mazanilla, definitely go for the Montoya Hotel Special. It’s like a mimosa on steroids. If you really want to go bold, there’s always the Ponche en Porrón. Don’t know what a porrón is? Just look up at the light fixtures along the bar.

For my meal, I chose a couple THEN classic sherry cocktails. The Flamenco was a little too sweet for me, but the star was the La Garrocha Amontillado from Bodegas Grant. It really comes through in the finish. When La Garrocha isn’t available, Tony will use Amontillado Viña AB from Gonzalez Byass. Like any wine, as with all sherry styles, each has their own character based on the winery, so the cocktail will also vary slightly. After the Flamenco, I tried the Artist’s Special. The El Maestro Sierra Oloroso didn’t shine through like the Amontillado in my last drink, but its delicacy softened the masculinity of the scotch.

When it comes to food, their servers are full of suggestions. I’ve learned it’s best to bring someone along who will order for me and keep me on task. Whether from nervous excitement or low blood sugar starvation, I couldn’t make up my mind. If you choose to order paella at CHESA, which you certainly should, put in the ticket right away. They are cooked to order and can take awhile. The size and richness can easily serve two. We discovered the pacing of the tapas is really quick, so order about three or four while you wait.

The Croquetas came out + piping hot, but lord, they were delicious! Be sure to dip them in the aioli! The Bravas are nicely fried potatoes topped with a rich, smokey sauce. Chef was sweet to treat us to their Corteza house-made pork rinds topped with mussels. I loved the contrast of textures. A must-have on the list is the Costilla! To have Iberico pork ribs is quite rare in the States. Confit style and rubbed with cumin, thyme, moja verde and white wine vinegar; these are by far the most tender and flavorful ribs I’ve ever had! By the time our paella arrived, I decided to go with a glass of the Wellington Palo Cortado. The CHESA house paella was so rich with the sherry marinated rabbit and jamon iberico. The acidity of this Palo Cortado cut through perfectly.

We managed to save room for dessert. These portion sizes are clearly meant for sharing. The Xocolata was drier than I prefer, but the cassis sorbet was the star on the plate. My Torta de Aceite was not a cake as I imagined, but more like a fried crepe with marmalade and cream and ice cream. It was difficult to eat with a fork, so I picked it up like dessert nachos. I do like coffee to end a meal, but they didn’t have decaf, so I chose to have the Palabra de Sabio hot chocolate drink. It is delicious and rich if you like hot boozy drinking chocolate. But I wouldn’t recommend it on a full stomach.

I do love how José Chesa has given Portland a little taste of Spain when I miss it most. CHESA is not trying to copy the molecular gastronomy wow factor of Ataula. That’s not the intention. In every detail at CHESA from food, to cocktail, to décor, you will find a taste of HOME.

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Place or Process?

tasting set up

If you’ve ever been inside a sherry bodega, or wine cellar, the aromas leave a lasting impression unlike any other. It’s a combination of toffee, brown butter and brandy, mixed with rising bread dough and raisins. When I walked into Liner & Elsen Wine Merchants for a rare sherry tasting, I was instantly transported back to Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain. I had no idea how many wines we would taste, but I knew I was in for a real treat!

John HouseLocated in northwest Portland, Liner & Elsen has been serving both local and visiting wine lovers since 1990. Members of the staff joined our presenter, John House from Ole Imports, back in May 2015 to visit bodegas in Jerez. As John so eloquently put it, “There’s a feeling that you get when you’re there. When you have something that really is just inimitable, so singular that you’ll never have it again in your life – that’s what happens when you have these wines.”

Fun Fact ~ Sherry can only come from three cities in southern Spain: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Sherry is mostly made from the must of Palomino Fino grapes sought from the best Albariza soil.

The focus for the evening was place versus process. Once the wines are in the bodega the place is no longer about the vineyard but the position of the cellar and storage of the barrel. They are at the mercy of process, one of artistry more than science. They’re about someone’s name, somebody’s hand or somebody’s perception of what the style is supposed to be at its pinnacle form.

line upThe wines we were about to have, to John’s knowledge, have never been poured in one tasting anywhere within the U.S. Even the three Manzanillas are rarely poured together given their rarity.

Fun Fact ~ Manzanilla can only come from one place near the sea, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Essentially, Manzanilla is Palomino Fino must that has been fermented around 12% alcohol, then inoculated with a  neutral grain spirit to bring it up to 14.8% – 15.2% alcohol. This is the magical area where flor, a microbial yeast, begins to grow on the entire surface area of this wine. The microclimate in Sanlúcar coupled with the locations of the bodegas create a unique, salty flavor.

OrleansOrleans Borbón Manzanilla is aged for an average of five years in a three-criadera solera, and is bottled only twice a year. The color is a clear, hay yellow because flor kept the wine in a reductive phase beneath its cover. It is a very smooth with refreshing acidity, without feeling too dry. Typical to most Manzanilla characteristics, the flor influence is mild, and salty almond notes shine through.

Fun Fact ~ Don Antonio Orleans, the son of the King of France, founded it in 1849. As the story goes, he moved to Jerez, fell in love and asked his father for money to plant vineyards. One hundred years or so pass, and in 1942 someone started a single vineyard solera for this wine. Currently, the producer Infantes Orleans Borbón belongs to Spanish Royal family. Up until five years ago, you could only be given this as a gift.

MarujaThe Manzanilla Maruja from Juan Piñero lives in butts from eight different criaderas ranging from 40-50 years old. Maruja didn’t exist in the last 70 years because they were selling all of their top quality wines to the bodegas. It has a beautiful bright golden color, good salinity and mellow nuttiness. I was surprised to learn that the deeper color is due to air coming through the staves of the barrels rather than the dying of the flor. It has been aged an average of seven to eight years, when flor typically begins to die off. My thought is perhaps the oxidation is a combination of both.

Fun Fact ~ This wine is 15% alcohol but isn’t heavy on the palette, because flor eats the glycerin that gives texture to alcohol. Don’t be fooled by its textural complexity! It goes down easy especially when chilled. Too much of a good thing will make you snockered!

Sacristia ABThe last of the rare Manzanillas was Sacristía AB, one of the five most rare Manzanillas currently in existence. AB stands for Antonio Barbadillo Mateos, the son of a very famous bodega owner. Antonio decided to become an educator. He’s the person to go to become a sherry expert. He tasted all the wines of the region and found eight truly exceptional barrels. This Manzanilla is from one of those barrels and is aged an average of no younger than ten years. This is a rare gem simply because of the process it takes to keep flor living past eight years. Sacristía AB is dark golden in color. There’s almost an apple note on the nose, and toasted almonds on the palette with a very dry finish.

Amontillado 51-1AThe remaining wines were pure luxury! Produced by Osborne, all of them are from family cellars that are recently being released. We started with Amontillado 51-1A (1830) VORS. Back in 1820, Pedro Domecq started Solera 51 and it began with barrel 1A, thus the name. This Amontillado was first bottled in 1830 as a Fino/Manzanilla, and lived under flor for about 10-14 years. Domecq decided this wine was so special, he let these barrels 51-1A become Amontillado in 1840. It was rarely bottled and designated for the Domecq family.

Fun Fact ~ The only way to sustain the flor is to replenish it with new wine. Otherwise, it will die and sink to the bottom, exposing the wine to oxygen. When the wine is exposed to oxygen, it’s classified as Amontillado.

In 2015, only 137 (3-pack cases) of this Amontillado were bottled, most of which remain in Spain. It is highly aromatic with a finish that can last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes long! The topaz color is brilliantly clear. The butterscotch nose coupled with its salty, orange peel notes left my mouth watering for more. It averages around 60-65 years old.

Fun Fact ~ Oloroso refers to the wine’s beautiful aroma. Before the days of deodorant, men would dip their handkerchiefs in the wine. Sherry is designated as Oloroso when alcohol, typically in the form of brandy, is added to bring the wine up to 17% in order to keep flor from ever growing on the surface area of the wine.

SibaritaBack in 1792 the Sibarita Oloroso (1792) VORS started as an Oloroso by someone else. The wine had tremendous fineness and Pedro Domecq bought the barrels. He felt it had so much fineness; he initially called it a Palo Cortado. Sibarita got so old and tannic in the mother barrels, that they counterbalanced the tannins with 2% Pedro Ximénez (PX) around 1902 to 1908. However, because Sibarita remains dry and not sweet, it is not considered a Cream.

Fun Fact ~ If you add enough PX to Oloroso, it then is classified as a Cream sherry for its sweetness.

Sibarita is dark topaz almost amber in color. It is very dry and tannic with notes of brown butter, dark toffee, rustic bread crust and dark stone fruit. It averages around 50 years old. It is so different from the Amontillado. John referred to it as sybaritic and hedonistic.

CapuchinoTypically, Palo Cortado is placed before Oloroso in a tasting, however Capuchino Palo Cortado (1790) VORS has a fineness and complexity that surpasses the Sibarita, even for being one of the finest Olorosos. This Palo Cortado lived under flor for 8-14 years, became an amontillado, and then designated as Palo Cortado by Capuchin monks. After being heavily bottled in the 1950’s, Beltran Domecq saw how special the wine was and reorganized the solera to let it age longer. The wine now averages around 70-80 years old and only bottled 66 (3-pack) cases in the last year to maintain its rarity.

It is dark topaz/gold, rather than amber, in color. This was really pleasant on the palette. The acidity gives bright lift coupled with savory salted caramel notes and a smooth silky finish.

Fun Fact ~ Palo Cortado is this mysterious thing that happens in the cellar where the wine suddenly gains fineness. John’s belief is that Palo Cortado happens very early on in the wine’s life when the palomino, even after it’s been inoculated with grain spirits, goes through malolactic fermentation, which was pretty much misunderstood or not known at all in the last 100 years.

The next two wines we tasted come from barrels within the Osborne cellar designated only for the family. These are the best barrels in the cellar that do not get topped off with new wine. These are extremely rare, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Oloroso Solera India (1922) only has two criaderas in the solera founded in 1922. The name refers to the barrels in the ballast of the ship going to India and back. It may have been replenished between 1923-24 with 20% of Pedro Ximénez for true nobility. Technically, this could be designated as a Cream style for its sweetness. It is amber in color, with a slightly burnt caramel on the nose and sweet orange peel on the palette. This was the first to leave long legs after each sip.

Fun Fact ~ Legs are called lagrimas or tears. Lagrimas are the streaks that trickle down the side of a wineglass caused by higher alcohol levels.

P∆P Palo Cortado (1911) is a top-of-the-mountain experience! It is one of the rarest in existence. The delta stands for the region, the three cities that make the Sherry Triangle. It was created in 1911 to be the greatest Palo Cortado. It contains 8% PX to lessen the tannins, making it sweeter on the palette balanced with toffee aromas and an orange blossom finish.

The last two wines of the evening were rare Pedro Ximénez styles. Venerable PX (1902) VORS is an average age around 45-50 years old. Osborne produces it from three criaderas founded in 1902. Characteristic to most PX styles, it smells like raisin and dried prunes, felt like the consistency of motor oil on the palette and desperately needed acidity to cut through its tobacco notes. Best to pour this one over vanilla ice cream.

Pedro Ximenez Viejo (1905), also produced by Osborne, and we were sampling from bottle #2! Its three criaderas were founded in 1905. Despite the usual aromatics, it was a bit more like cigar tobacco or tar with a very dry finish. Best to keep this one just for show.

Fun Fact ~ Technically, PX is not a textbook wine in that it is never fermented. Pedro Ximénez grapes are dried in the sun, ground to a pulp and raisin liquid is then extracted and inoculated to 17% alcohol and aged like other sherry styles.

Is sherry about the place? Once you’ve been to the Sherry Triangle, just the smell alone can transport you back. Or are we delighting in someone’s artistic process? These are so far beyond a point scale or a critical review. Each one of them is singular. There’s nothing quite like these in the world. These wines don’t go bad. Even if they’re open for over a year, they hold true. For me, sherry is both place AND process. Sip and escape!

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