Fernando de Castilla ~ Sherry for the Top Shelf

FdC outer wallThis spring, I received encouraging words from Jan Pettersen of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla. I was doubting my voice as a sherry blogger. He said the industry wants to see more blogs like mine from the consumer’s point of view. When it comes to the masses, they’ll typically take the opinion of a friend over the experts.

FdC patioI first met Jan at Sherryfest in 2013. He was easy to learn from and took his time explaining each wine. Knowing he travels frequently, I was excited we would be in Jerez at the same time, and set up a tour of his bodega. I was welcomed in the morning on the beautiful patio. We chatted a little about his beginnings and how he became the owner of Fernando de Castilla:

“I am Norwegian, but we always had a family home in Spain. In the 70’s my parents settled in Spain. I took an MBA in Barcelona and joined Osborne straight from the university in 1983. I had a big interest in sherry especially. It has such a fascinating history and is such a unique drink. When you learn to like it, you like it forever.

This company was created in the mid 1960s for the local Spanish market. My predecessor, Fernando, saw that what was exported as sherry was not very high quality and not the styles that the Spanish liked, in that they were all these sweetened versions. Fernando de Castilla never made this type of product.

1_5I knew Fernando very well and knew they made a special product as a small company. It was always premium and very popular for locals. He asked me to be his partner in 1999, and when he retired I asked if he’d consider selling it to me. So, I bought this company and refined the concept to make it relevant to other markets. One year later, we joined the small company with a small almancenista. This allowed us to have more space and more wine, and allowed us to rebrand for export markets. The labels were created fifteen years ago, but still have a relevant look for today.”

FdC AmontilladoThe cellars were the darkest I’ve seen in the region, allowing the barrels to really rest. We started with the Antique Amontillado: “Our Amontillado is very dry, very intense, very defined and almost sharp and nutty like hazelnut. It’s a 20-year-old Amontillado; topaz and amber in color. It’s fantastic with soups, consommé, egg dishes, poultry dishes, mushrooms, and all sorts of things. Many producers with an Amontillado like this will want to soften it by adding an amount of concentrated grape must just to take the bite off it. I think when they do this by touching up the wine it actually makes it less suitable for food.”

FdC OlorosoComparatively, the Oloroso was softer and rounder: “The Oloroso is darker but similar in age, about 20 years. They go great with winter foods; stews, pates or foie gras and meat or game dishes. Personally, I drink more Oloroso than Amontillado. The whole idea with these wines is to enjoy them with food. The old lady who likes Bristol Cream will not like this style of wine.

FdC Palo CortadoI personally am a Palo Cortado girl, and his was a very special treat straight from the barrel! “The Palo Cortado is a very very good wine. It’s lighter than the Oloroso in color and more intense on the palette with strong toffee aroma. The Palo Cortado is the rarest type of sherry perfection; big aroma, dry but slightly more rounder than the Amontillado. The Amontillado can be a little challenging, but this is softer with a long finish. Olorosos are a bit shorter; they’re not as refined as the Amontillado or Palo Cortado. This brings together everything that is good about a great sherry.”

PX VORSThe Pedro Ximénez Antique isn’t overly sweet with a lot of brightness. I enjoyed drinking a glass of it rather than pouring it over something sweet. “We do three different Pedro Ximénez; one fairly young, one classic and the antique PX, which has almost 500 grams of residual sugar. It has developed a lot of complexity but also quite good acidity, which is quite lacking in most PX styles. It goes great with chocolate, ice cream, toffee, fudge, caramel, and Christmas pudding. It’s a very nice cooking wine as well for sauces for pork, duck breast, or game. Chefs love to play around with it.”

bottlesThe best surprise was his brandies. So smooth! For someone like me who typically doesn’t like the feel of straight spirits, I wouldn’t mind having a glass of this brandy on a cold night. “Built in 1794, this cellar was where they used to keep Fino la Ina. This is where we store the brandy. The walls are nearly black from the evaporated angel’s share. The brandy is first aged in virgin American oak casks then aged for a longer time in sherry casks. Nothing is added in our brandies, no sugar or color. Our brandies are totally natural.

fino en ramaWe finished our time in the formal tasting room snacking on olives and sharing a glass of Fino en Rama. “Our specialty, in terms of sherry, is very good Fino. All our Finos come from individual soleras. We bottle our regular Finos three times; one in October, one in February and one in May. For our Fino en Rama we do one in October and one in April or May. Fino Antique is only bottled once a year in the spring, because it is special and aged much longer for about ten years when the flor is about to die. It’s basically en Rama because there’s no aggressive filtration or clarification, and we increase the alcohol from 15% to 17%. All Finos were made this way until about 25 years ago. Antique is one of the last traditional, twice fortified Finos. It’s darker in color, has more flor and is more complex. It’s a wonderful wine for smoked fish.

Without changing the concept, we’re not making entry level sherries or supermarket styles. Last year we exported 80% selling 350,000 bottles of premium wines and brandies. The sherry market is regenerating by going back to the wine people fell in love with centuries ago.

Also in decline is the notion that sherry is only for tapas. We’re enjoying it in a meal setting rather than something before the meal or something with pastry mid-afternoon. I always say that you can use sherry with traditional classic dishes like it was used in the past; you can use it with Asian food, Nordic food, starters, soups, and any style. However, I’m not a fan of sherry with spicy food. For mild curries or just a hint of flavor, sherry could be paired very nicely, but not for overpowering spice. Save that for a beer.

Jan always carries an old-world sophistication and it is personified from his labels and bottles to the wines themselves. I am so thankful for his decision to export this high quality sherry!

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To The Pillars of Jerez & Beyond

Pillars of JerezPrior to May of this year, I really wasn’t familiar with González Byass apart from Tío Pepe. It was Christopher Canale-Parola who arranged a private tasting for me in the bodega. Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview Christopher about their Pillars of Jerez YouTube series. Here’s what he had to say about their wines, and working with wine expert, Antonio Flores.

Seana – Are you just sherry focused, or do you represent all of González Byass products?

Christopher – I work with all of them. We have six wineries in Spain, and we have an expanding spirits line. For quite a few years now, we’ve been producing a gin called London No 1 Gin. We have a vodka. We’ve been making brandies forever; Lepanto and Soberano, beautiful brandy de Jerez. Then of course Nomad whiskey, which is our newest baby, which is very exciting. It’s a very old company and innovative since the beginning.

S – As soon as I open a bottle, the smell instantly takes me back to Jerez.

C – You’re absolutely right! It’s so distinctive; it really isn’t like anything else. When you get that real oxidative nose, or when you get that acetaldehyde kick, or whatever, it can only take you to one place. Really in the world there are very few places like Andalucía. And of course sensory memories are the strongest. So, you get that smell, and it takes you there emotionally before it does mentally. Because sherry is so distinct, it has that ability. When you see someone playing the flamenco guitar, when you see the streets of Jerez, or when you see the white Albariza soil, it’s just so different to anything else. It can only take you back there.

C – We go into detail about one video per wine, but we just do three wines. Maybe if we had time we would have done more. Within that range, I think those three have a real interesting story to tell: Tío Pepe which is an icon, Viña AB which is one of the few traditional amontillados, and Leonor which is a dry, textbook-classic Palo Cortado.

S – Once these nine videos are released, are you already in the works for something more? Or are you seeing where this goes?

C – We’ll see. We haven’t got anything planned with regards to more videos of this type. Antonio was born for the camera. He was born for people. He was born for tastings. No doubt he will continue to do many other cool things.

Alonso - Vina ABI don’t know if you remember the story, but he was born in the winery. His dad was head of Board of Direction of González Byass. Often people shy away from what their parents do, especially if their parents are really good at something. The thing about him is, he originally wanted to become a sailor; he wanted to be in the Navy. So he did that. He went off and joined the military; did the Navy for a little bit. Then his number-two career choice was being a writer. He thought about being a journalist and creative writer.

AmontilladoThen he fell into wine making, because it was almost inevitable that he was going to do that. But the fact that before that, he had this desire to be a writer and create, that’s something that shows in his tastings.

There’s a guy in New York called Levi Dalton. He does a podcast called I’ll Drink to That! He’s a quite respected sommelier in Manhattan. We did a podcast with him, and you’ll see that just in the middle of conversation, [Antonio] starts quoting Octavio Paz. (Literary poetry translation is a full-time dedication of career. I thought, “stop talking about poetry; go back to sherry!”)

Tio Pepe CheersWhen he references literature, or when he creates these beautiful images in his communication, that communicates concepts really powerfully to people. So, yeah I’m sure that he’ll continue to do other videos. He’s the perfect person to be doing them.

me + christopherI hope you watch each video in the series! Even better – watch the videos while drinking a glass of sherry from González Byass! The rest of our conversation can be found in my archives under What Is Sherry.

Criaderas + Soleras ~ Sherry Pillar 5

Pillars of JerezExplaining my passion for sherry wine isn’t always easy to do concisely or eloquently. González Byass has made the job easier for me by creating their short video series the Pillars of Jerez. I had the unique opportunity to interview co-host Christopher Canale-Parola for behind-the-scenes commentary. Here’s what we discussed with regards to the fifth pillar on criaderas and soleras.

solera shotSeana – I have the hardest time simplifying the solera system. How did you do that in two minutes?

Christopher – Visuals help a lot! We’re standing in front of a whole barrel system, and we even simplify it in our communication. When you’re standing in front of three or four barrels and doing it with your hands, it makes it much more obvious.

We’re explaining how the fresh wine goes in the top, and once or twice a year we take out a third or a quarter and put it in the barrel below. In addition to this, as Antonio and I are talking, it fades to an image of a barrel, and we have two different shadings so that one of them goes lighter than the other, so you can visualize how it’s been moved down.

C – When I’m doing a tasting, what I sometimes do is get four wine glasses and I’ll take a drink out of [the fourth] one. I’ll top it up [from the third one], then top that up [from the second one], then also top that up [from the first one], and then say that’s where the fresh wine goes in. It’s a very simple thing, but people can associate the same wine moving through the barrels never being completely empty. It’s not that hard a concept, just tricky in the beginning. quality control

S – People who aren’t as familiar with sherry want to know the vintage to know how old it is.

C – That’s one of the classic footholds of people who come into the wine world – first, they look at the color of the wine. Is it a white wine or a red wine? Then they look at grape varietals. Is this a grape that they know, and do they like it? Then beyond that, they look at the year. These are easy footholds. So if you take them away, sherry makes it challenging for people a little bit. Because it’s so different, you do have to hold their hand through it and give them a little information.

S – It’s challenging for me when I introduce others to sherry and they still just don’t get it. tabanco cheers

C – If someone in that position goes to Jerez, and they sit down and have a load of food, get poured a glass of wine, and they drink it, and it goes with the food, they’ll think WOW that’s amazing! It wasn’t sitting down with the wine maker and learning about the solera system, or learning about the varietals and the vineyard or whatever it might be. It’s just that moment where it’s treated like a wine. You look at all the tables around you and they’re drinking it. It’s that moment or realization that it’s just the perfect wine for the cuisine. Don’t ask anymore questions, just get another glass.

That’s the experience, the epiphany, for a lot of people; more than studying it and realizing in a very cold, intellectual way that it’s a very good wine. Understanding it emotionally and feeling the flavor combination and looking around and seeing everyone doing it and realizing it is a thing and it’s not so weird.

S – I’m hoping that Portland gets there. me + christopher

Stay tuned for the rest of our conversation regarding classic wines and the creative spirit of sherry expert, Antonio Flores!

Biological + Oxidative Aging ~ Pillars 3 + 4

Pillars of JerezI cannot express enough how much I enjoy the Pillars of Jerez videos from González Byass! I am very fortunate to have co-host Christopher Canale-Parola living in my city of Portland, Oregon. We continue our chat around the third and fourth pillars; biological and oxidative aging.

Seana – Some say the salinity in Manzanilla and Fino comes from the sea air. Others say it’s the soil, having been under water so many years ago. Is it one or both, or just BS?

Christopher – No, I don’t think it’s BS at all, and very important in fact. You’ve got to remember that when you have a biologically aged sherry, you have this big surface area that’s covered with this living yeast. That yeast is constantly in contact with the oxygen in the air around it, and it will have an impact.

flor on venenciaS – Is flor only particular for that area? I have friends who always ask if I’m going to make sherry, and I just laugh.

C The sherry region isn’t the only one that uses flor yeast, but it is one of very few, and it’s the only one that does it exactly in that way. So, for example in Jura in France, there are white wines that are aged under a layer of yeast. So, here and there in the wine world, it does exist, but it’s very difficult to reproduce.

People have taken yeasts to Australia; they’ve taken it to the States, and to South Africa. People have tried to age beer under it in Belgium, but it’s very difficult because you’ve taken a native yeast out of its home environment. It just doesn’t do its thing.

S– So most sherry styles outside of the region are going to be an oxidative style?

C – Predominantly yes, which I think is perhaps the traditional mass-marketed cooking sherry. Everyday I’m still teaching people that sherry isn’t just a cooking wine. That, I think will be mostly oxidized wine that people are reproducing.

S – Putting aside that sherry is protected in the first place, I can’t imagine replicating the process elsewhere.

flor in barrelC – I am aware of a couple of more serious operations that have really tried to make a sherry style wine. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why you can’t make wines in a similar style that are really good elsewhere, or there’s no reason why you don’t try. It’s just difficult to do.

It’s like the Champagne community perhaps saying you can’t make sparkling wines outside of Champagne. Of course you can, right? With Champagne, it gives us a good feeling and people love drinking it, yet most people have no idea how it’s made. To most people, a sparkling wine from Prosecco is more or less the same as Champagne, except that one’s just more expensive and they should like it more. But ask them about it, and they probably won’t know.

At the moment the sherry world would say you can’t make sherry outside the sherry world. You can’t call it that, and it probably won’t be as good. But that’s no reason why somebody doesn’t give it a go, you know? The wine world is in constant motion. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was something that became more of a thing going forward.

Tio Pepe Jerez

We are incredibly privileged where we are in terms of climate and soil. You just can’t ever think anything will come close in terms of quality. If we could ever get there with sherry, where we don’t have to explain the solera system, fortification, biological aging, oxidative aging, and have them dig it and want it – give it a little sex appeal, you know – that would be wonderful!

me + christopherStay tuned as we discuss the final sherry pillar, who is sherry wine expert Antonio Flores, and the three classic wines from González Byass!

The Soil + The Grapes – Sherry Pillars 1 + 2

Pillars of JerezHave you seen the Pillars of Jerez YouTube series yet?! My conversation with co-host Christopher Canale-Parola continues! Before talking a bit about the soil and varietals, I wanted to know more about Christopher and his role with González Byass.

Gonzalez ByassSeana – How did you become the “face” of these videos?

Christopher – That’s a funny story! Basically before I moved to the US, I was the only native English speaker based out of Jerez in a sales role. Over time, I ended up interpreting tastings for Antonio Flores and we built up a rapport.

Sherryfest 2013Then we’d do trips together: Sherryfest in New York and Toronto in 2013, then again together in San Francisco 2014. Then this year he wanted to do it again, so I went to New York. People were really enjoying the tastings we were doing.

So, the reason these videos came about was we had one of our Canadian agents come over on a trip with about 15 others. Antonio and I did a tasting and they had a good time. Somebody that came with them said, “wouldn’t this be really great if you could record this tasting? It would be a really informative, thorough sherry tasting in English from Antonio through translation.”

We thought about it. But we can’t really record an hour and a half tasting. That would be SO boring! So we thought, how can we take that concept, transmit the same information without so much technical detail, and make it effective? The way to do it is to break it down into little chunks and give each video a very obvious purpose and focus and then just record them, edit them and see how it goes right?

venenciaS – Are you considered an ambassador?

C – I think my official title is something like Regional Sales Manager. I handle the whole portfolio in Canada – Atlantic Provinces right through British Columbia, and a zig-zag cut through the US from the west coast to the south. My colleague in New York handles the east coast and a little bit in the mid-west. Basically, it revolves around the distributors we work with. People often say that’s a really big territory, but for sherry, normally you have like one or two people to do the whole world! So we’re incredibly privileged to be able to send two people to just do North America.

S – When I watched the First Pillar video of the soil, my husband remarked “it’s so dry and crumbly,” and he’s never been. Even for me, when I went to Jerez in May, I was shocked by how absorbent it is.

Soil– Exactly – it’s visual! The idea is to just give a sense or an impression of what it is and what this wine region is all about. I think we put something together that would communicate to people who already knew a lot about it – you know things like the asepiado – the steps put in the soil – which even people who are very familiar with sherry, may have never seen that process put into action.

S – I saw that for the first time when I visited. I was shocked to learn that vineyards aren’t watered, which is why those steps are there to collect the winter rains. I was amazed to see how fine the roots are that can go digging in the soil searching for water seven meters deep and up to sixteen meters across!

S – Most bodegas [or sherry wineries] purchase their grapes elsewhere, but González Byass has their own vineyards?

ViñasC – We have a large vineyard area where we get our grapes from. We have about 10% of the Jerez Superior. We have an important nursery, as well, where we’re growing vines up, one of the very few to have our own Pedro Ximenez. It’s very rare. At the moment, we do purchase grapes like everybody else from a region in Montilla, but we also have our own vineyards and are increasing that production. Antonio and the team hope in a few years time to be 100% self-sufficient for our own PX.

VarietalsS – I loved seeing them sun-drying the PX grapes in the video. Can Palomino Fino even grow in Oregon or elsewhere?

C – There is some in California and Argentina. My dad was drinking some dry PX from Argentina the other day, he told me about it. There are a few experiments going around, but not an awful lot. It’s just such a unique growing region like any other in the world, you just can’t really reproduce the style, and neither should you. You should perhaps maybe take inspiration from it and do something cool. I’d love to see what comes out of it. But you can’t really reproduce exactly the same thing, you know?

me + christopherTune in for more from our conversation as we discuss the remaining videos of the Pillars of Jerez series, the creativity of Antonio Flores and the future of sherry!

5 Pillars of Sherry – a look behind the scenes

TitleAs my desire to learn more about sherry grows, it can be challenging to find local resources to take me further. I am envious of all the classes and tastings provided in Jerez. When will technology figure out teleportation already?!

However, it is exciting to see more of my favorite sherry makers interacting on social media. Recently, Antonio Flores from González Byass has been posting YouTube videos on a regular basis! If you haven’t seen them yet, you MUST watch the Pillars of Jerez series releasing this month! The introduction video alone made me ache to go back!

I had the privilege to sit and talk in depth with the co-host of the series, Christopher Canale-Parola. Each week I will post the videos here with his commentary. Here’s what he shared about how these videos all came together: Christopher + Antonio

Seana: I’m so excited that you guys have been doing these! How long ago was this?

Christopher: We did this back in September – it’s a beautiful time of year to be filming. The concept was to have a short video – people have really short attention spans. As you’ll notice if you’ve watched the video, the technical information is very light. We’re not actually going into a lot of detail about sherry production really. We’re kind of skimming over the basics. The idea is to just give an impression of what it is and what this wine region is all about. Antonio + Christopher

S – Is the target audience people who are unfamiliar with sherry?

C – Our job would be so easy if we could just pick up everybody and take them to Jerez for the day. Because this is quite difficult to do, the whole point behind this is was to be able to give people just a visual image so they don’t need to read through a whole lot of information just to get the basics. So the idea was to go through and give an overview of sherry to a mixed audience, and to be able to break it down in a very easy format.

We tried not to go over two minutes which was a little bit difficult, so we kept them under 3 minutes for these videos. Quite a lot was edited; we did it all in about four hours, all in an afternoon. We didn’t even have a huge amount of preparation time. We just went out there and tried it as an experiment, and it came off quite well.

This whole concept of the Five Pillars, this is Antonio’s little brain-child. This is something that he’s been referencing in his tastings as long as I’ve been tasting with him.

S – How long have you been?

C – I began in 2011 with González Byass.

– It’s nice that these are coming at a time as I keep introducing others to sherry. I have something I can point them to that is professionally done, rather than creating my own webcam video.

copita brindisC – That’s the luxury that we had. We work with a very good media team that has done several events for us in the past. We have so much to show, that we have to do it the best way possible.

That’s what we did basically. We have nine videos: one of them is the introduction – do you love that shot of the drone over the vines? I love that shot! Five of them are the five different pillars of sherry – we have the soil, the grapes, biological aging, oxidative aging, solera and criadera.

That leaves us with three more. So, we go into detail about one wine per video. One on Tio Pepe, one on Viña AB Amontillado and one on Leonor Palo Cortado, just those three. Maybe if we had time, we would have done more. Within that range I think those three have a real interesting story to tell: Tio Pepe which is an icon, Viña AB which is one of the few traditional amontillados, and Leonor Palo Cortado which is a dry text book classic Palo Cortado.

me + christopherStay tuned for more videos and our continued conversation! Until then – be sure to #drinkmoresherry!

This Isn’t Sherry?!

CityMarketSherryRecently around Portland, I’ve seen bottles of sherry not necessarily from inside the Marco de Jerez. One that caught my eye was a  Fino from Bodegas Cesar Florido. Because they are in Chipona, their Moscatel is regulated by the D.O. (Denominación de Origen) but not their Fino.

IMG_20150322_130137~2When I opened the bottle, I was surprised by the pungent smell of vanilla rather than a yeasty smell of flor. On the palate though, their Fino resembled everything like a true Fino Sherry – light, dry, refreshing and still had hints of flor flavor.

So, I asked my sherry guru Helen from Criadera, how do I explain to non-sherry drinkers why it’s not technically sherry? Her reply was this:

“The simplest way to describe it, is that it hasn’t been matured in the regulated Sherry zone, so can’t be called Fino Sherry. But it’s made the same way as Fino Sherry with the same types of grapes, so is likely to taste extremely similar. So it’s Fino but not Fino Sherry. Because the production isn’t regulated by the Sherry D.O., there may be some differences in maturation time and processing as the producers can be more flexible.”

I think that summed it up quite nicely. So don’t think a bottle not technically inside the Sherry D.O. is a total imposter. You might be surprised — in a good way!