Alexander Jules

alexander jules

I’ve known of Alexander Jules for quite awhile. I’ve actually referred to Alex Russan as the Jesús Barquín of the United States. I just never had the chance to taste his sherry. In recent months, some exciting things have been happening to promote sherry in the Pacific Northwest. Walden Selections is going to be my new best friend! Based in Washington State, they not only represent local northwest wines, some of which are made by Portland friends, but they also represent Spanish wines and sherry, including Alexander Jules. YES PLEASE!

I discovered Alex Russan was actually going to be in Seattle and Portland within the first week Walden Selections started business in Portland. Not only did I want to meet him, but I wanted to hear his story, taste his wines and connect him with all my favorite chefs, bartenders and wine shops who have helped make Sherry Sips stay a vital part of my life.

I arranged to meet with Carrie from Walden Selections and Alex for coffee. It’s funny when you meet someone in person you’ve known via social media. Do you hug? Do you shake hands? Not only did I recognize him, but also realized Carrie and I were classmates in WSET Level 2 last spring.

Carrie and I had to explain to Alex that in Oregon, the rules are much stricter when it comes to serving alcohol, especially if a place is not licensed. So we wouldn’t be able to bring them inside the coffee shop. Funny enough, I felt more worried about getting caught bringing his sherry inside, yet sampling them from the back of his car didn’t phase me. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a picture of this classy moment.

alexanderjules

I’ll admit, there are other wine writers far better at wine descriptions than I am. But let me tell you my experience was transformative! These sherry selections took me to another place! The first was his Manzanilla. It was so floral and a yellow apple note that shines through stronger than any flor influence. It reminded me of mosto, when palomino still wine hasn’t been fortified. It was so elegant and feminine, with a pop of bright acidity balanced by salinity. Yet, this was not at all astringent. It could really pair well with more than just seafood.

The Fino was a punch in the face. Alex said the solera is housed near Fernando de Castilla and I was instantly transported. There’s no question this bottle encapsulated the Jerezano style of Fino. It was so pungent by comparison to the Manzanilla. Really bold but not super yeasty or reminiscent of wet dough. It had a lovely burst of acidity, some green olive notes, yet light on the palate.

The Amontillado was my favorite and left me craving more. This was an extension of the Manzanilla aged and bottled just at the tipping point where it becomes Amontillado. The color was much lighter amber. The nose still held onto the previous yellow apple fruit with only slight hazelnut and toffee to add a layer of complexity. On the palate it was so delicate and not concentrated in comparison to other Amontillado styles. This wine excites me! The range of pairings could be limitless because of its lighter body and balance of flavors.

Alex Russan

When we sat down to get to know each other, I asked Alex my standard question for everyone – how did you get into sherry? He actually discovered wine about three weeks before he turned 21 and got into sherry rather quickly. He wanted to try the most complex styles on a college budget. In Rancho Cucamonga, there were still a few making California Sherry, nothing like proper sherry, but nevertheless great wine. Little by little, he started exploring authentic sherry. There’s nothing like them and they’ve always called to Alex and held a special place in his heart.

Always an entrepreneur, he imported coffee for nine years, primarily with Columbian coffee. He would taste hundreds of coffees a year from neighboring fields with really small lots; each subtly similar. He liked coffee, but he LOVED wine. In 2012, he started seeing articles that sherry was gaining popularity. Taking what he knew from his coffee venture, he wanted to taste through barrels of sherry. Similar to rare single barrels of scotch, Alex could only imagine how each old barrel would influence sherry with its unique personality.

He started with contacting each bodega listed on the Consejo Regulador’s website, with the intention to spend two weeks visiting each one. Through this journey, he narrowed down whom he wanted to work with. He flew out and started making barrel selections. At the time he wasn’t even aware of Jesús Barquín and his very similar Equipos Navazos project. Alex wanted to do Single Barrel Sherry, but due to the nature of the solera, it became multiple barrels.

Alexander Jules represents exceptional soleras of unique sherry Alex feels to be the most complex and elegant from within that solera. All bottlings are en rama, being only gently filtered or entirely unfiltered, with no other treatments or additions. He doesn’t want to have consistent releases, so he’s not having any blending happening for these specific barrels.

This excites a consumer like myself – that each bottle will have something new inside! All the labels note the number of barrels selected. For example, the label at the top of this post represents a selection from 22 barrels in an 85 barrel solera from Bodegas Sánchez Romate Hermanos in Jerez de la Frontera. Alex tries to list as much information he can on the label and on his website.

Being based in the USA, sherry is first for importing, but to maintain his business, he started importing still wine and cider from small producers around Spain, focusing on rare grapes, and less common regions like the Canary Islands. He also used to make wine at home, which spurred on his project called Metrick Wines. His desire is to hybridize grapes for California, and would like to have a small vineyard in the next five or so years to plant those, along with less common varieties that will do well in California.

It’s fellow west coast sherry lovers like Alex that make me not feel so far away when I’m missing Jerez the most. I am excited for more things to come from Alexander Jules!

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!

ataula-natalia

Sherry Sips + Bits

sherryweek

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!

sherry-flight

Tapeando with Angel Teta

bar seating

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.

huevos

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!

chef + Angel

 

 

Ataula Presents González Byass

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

chef 2