La Vendimia with Covijerez

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salva-martaI have learned over the years that the best experiences often happen when they aren’t planned. When I first planned my Sherry Odyssey in 2015, I never expected I would have met one of the key players in the sherry industry. At that time, I only knew Salvador Espinosa as the president of Covijerez and the man who let me sign my first sherry barrel.

These days, he’s wearing several hats at not only the cooperative, but in his vineyards, at Bodegas Diez Mérito, in his role at the Consejo Regulador, and most recently as one of the Magi on Three Kings Day. (For those of us in the US, it’s like Santa Claus only on a much grander, festive scale!) What’s humbling for me is that he always has time to be my friend. Salvador has offered me opportunities in my sherry exploration and education that I wouldn’t have created or planned otherwise! Let me share one of them with you from my most recent trip in September.

covijerez1I wanted to go back to Covijerez to see it in full swing during harvest! This is where the majority of grapes are trucked in and processed for press and often for the first stages of fermentation. This is the perfect resource of modern technology to help when harvest has to happen quickly to maintain standards set by the Consejo Regulador. Most wineries transfer their bulk grapes in dumper trucks, which are weighed before pressing to monitor the yield requirements set by the Consejo for quality control purposes.

sheldonI met Salvador in the morning and the temperatures were already rising quickly into the upper 90’s (I think that day it got to 104F (40C). We piled into his brother’s car with Sheldon, the happiest dog in Jerez, and headed to Caribe Vineyard. Salvador’s family has been working to restore Bodegas Diez Mérito to its prestige. This vineyard is one of the oldest and provides the must for the Bertola sherry series. The older the vineyard the better the grapes!

After a quick morning coffee and toast and chat with locals, we met up with those already hard at work hand-cutting baskets full of Palomino grapes. Though I appreciated my quick lesson, even with my best effort I was too slow, my hip protested immediately with all the squats and I couldn’t lift more than a half-full basket. I have so much appreciation for the human-power that goes into harvesting the Sherry Triangle!

Back at Covijerez, it was the same guided-tour as the year before, only with the machinery and workers in full swing! Non-stop truckloads were dumping tons of fruit and juice moving them all along. The byproduct of skins, seeds and stems looked almost like ginormous cow pies. The noise of it all made it difficult to really understand the details of what was happening. I was thankful for Salvador’s use of English.

Inside the lab, he offered me the refractometer to see how they make sure the sugar levels stay within range. Here, they measure by Baumé, which will indicate the alcoholic strength that will be reached after fortification. 10.5 % is the goal for the best sugar potential for alcohol. They also analyze the health of the grapes for proper fermentation – 0.8 or higher isn’t healthy for fermentation.

Across the way, we walked to check on the fermentation tanks. Not very many bodegas ferment in barrels anymore. Tank systems help maintain consistency. Covijerez has two types of tank systems here. The older is La Ducha – a shower system where cold water cools the outside of the tank. The newer tanks are Camisas, a cold water insulation system. It’s amazing the heat that fermentation can generate! The circulating cold water helps control the fermentation in a consistent, non-aggressive way. I’m glad I didn’t have a fear of heights as we climbed a good 15 meters up to monitor the tanks. The smells were strong and I was firmly reminded not to breathe in when looking into the bubbling liquid.

fermentationThe fermentation takes 14 days and is complete once the bubbles have stopped and all the sugar has been consumed. Everything settles throughout the fall and the base liquid must, or mosto, is sold right around the end of November. Creating the best mosto is crutial for the initial aging and maturing process of sherry, either biologically as a Fino or traditionally as Oloroso. Julien Jeffs said it best, “The must is the life blood of the bodegas; it is continually examined and checked, as everything depends on it.”

Despite being pulled in many directions, Salvador Espinosa is kind, generous and down to earth. He has taught me so much about the importance of making mosto. If you fall in love with sherry as I have, and visit Jerez, I really hope you and he cross paths!

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La Vendimia Pt. 1 – Back to Spirit Sherry

 

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It’s hard to believe, as I huddle inside my Portland home from the snowy exterior that only four months ago I was sweating through the days of harvest in Jerez. Even more surprising is el mosto, the juice that was pressed and fermented at harvest, is officially ready to be fortified to continue the blending process of the soleras. Where did the time fly?

After the success of my first Sherry Odyssey in the spring of 2015, I knew I must come back at harvest. I wanted to understand sherry from grape to glass. Yet by the end of my first visit, apart from seeing the vines, I primarily visited bodegas, enjoying copious amounts of the finished product. This time around, I went back to two of my favorite locations to really get a feel for both traditional and modern harvest methods.

Spirit Sherry

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My first visit to Spirit Sherry was an instant connection of friendship and I could not wait to go back! Last year they were at La Zarzuela vineyards, but have moved to another location close by, appropriately named La Hija de la Z. It’s much more rustic with a gorgeous view, and the perfect experience to step back in time.

Eduardo picked me up in Jerez first thing in the morning. The temperatures were rapidly rising to well over 100˚F. (I think that day it got to 41˚C.) Two other young ladies joined me, ready for some harvest fun! I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew I would be cutting grapes, then stomping them. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a lot of fun, or if I was setting myself up to be like Lucille Ball stomping grapes in Italy, ending in a wrestling match.

Before we began, Eduardo and Cecilia gave us a little lesson on the regulations in place to ensure harvest is successful. Sugars ferment and convert to alcohol. Palomino grapes require a minimum of 10.5% to be able to reach the alcoholic strength, as well as the right acidity levels to keep from going through malolactic fermentation. When these levels are perfect, THAT is when harvest is permitted. Every vineyard harvests at the same time.

 

The health of the grape is also very important. This year the weather created several challenges for the grapes, especially in the case of mildew. Fortunately, the solera blending process makes up for when there’s a bad harvest, even though it still presents a challenge when the majority of the grapes are still being handpicked.

Spirit Sherry experiences are fun and educational! We weren’t expected to harvest for the entire day, let alone an entire row. For hand cutting, everyone worked on the same line, taking the cluster and cutting it close to the top where the stalk meets the supporting branch. Sometimes it was hard to find the main stock, since the grapes wind and tangle around each other.

After each of us filled our own basket, we helped carry them back to a shaded area and lined them up in a row on the ground. Ana, Marta and I were instructed to take off our shoes and socks and step right into the buckets, while holding each other’s shoulders for support. With a little help of some salsa music, we stomped the grapes to the beat. After many giggles and sloshing, we each cleaned off then took our buckets over to a table where we macerated the rest with our hands through a sieve.

Spirit Sherry is all about tradition. The must from Palomino grapes was poured into a glass jars to ferment. Because of the low acidity, Eduardo added tartaric acid to aid the fermentation process. Rather than blending our must into a solera, Spirit Sherry uses it for their delicious table wine.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the shade of a tree eating delicious tapas and pastries with glasses of sherry. It’s moments like these when I’m glad my Spanish is just good enough to catch most of the jokes and local gossip. Despite the heat, despite the flies, despite even the sad, feral dogs that roam the vineyard, I felt at home and was proud to play a part in making something that will be enjoyed later in the years to come.

Stay tuned next week for part 2 – my return visit to Covijerez to see their mass mosto production!

Thank You Note

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To the sherry lovers on social media – thank you for your dedication to your feeds. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by it all, and often times I want to go silent rather than viral. You are my inspiration to stay engaged.

To the local bottle shops, bars and restaurants – thank you for letting me bend your ear to know your sherry journey. It’s so easy for me to stay in my own little world of knowledge. You remind me that sharing the journey is all part of the fun!

To my friends in the Sherry Triangle – thank you for your growing friendship. Without you, there would be no sherry. Your stories are what compel me to write, not just the characteristics of the wines. A piece of you is inside every bottle!

A mis amigos del Triángulo – gracias por su creciente amistad. Sin vosotros, no habrían los vinos de Jerez. Sus historias son lo que me obliga a escribir, no solo apuntar las características de los vinos. Un pedazo de vosotros está dentro de cada botella!

I am so very thankful for you today.

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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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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Place or Process?

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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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Reconsidering Sherry Cocktails

15 Romolo bar

I’ll admit, it’s taken me some time to warm to the idea of mixing sherry in cocktails. On its own, the wine is so well aged and perfect for any food combination. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would add it to other ingredients. In my mind it would be like taking a beautiful Bordeaux and blending it into sangria. However, if I want others to be open to trying sherry, I too should be open to trying sherry cocktails.

 

Photo Credit: vinetur.comRecently, I met up with Ian J. Adams from 15 Romolo in San Francisco, California. Since winning the Copa Jerez, I’ve been cyber-stalking his Instagram feeds for inspiration. Not only is he a fellow sherry nerd, but also a real creative when it comes to sherry inspired cocktails.

I sat down with him to learn how he maintains the fine balance in his restaurant between serving sherry on its own as well as mixed in a cocktail.

Ian has been bar tending and managing bars and restaurants for a little over a decade. When he moved back to San Francisco, he had the opportunity to work with some really great wine folks who turned him onto the category of fortified wines and their practical applications in cocktails. He explained that when you get into dry, still wine with so much age and complexity, there’s really just nothing like it.

double fistingAs we discussed sherry cocktails, he admited that working with sherry is a current trend in cocktail culture. He would go so far to say that the vast majority of sherry cocktails merely include sherry for the sake of including sherry. Most of the time, one can’t even taste the sherry, because it’s blended with a bunch of other stuff with a complete lack of balance. It’s just being included for the sake of being included, rather than being included because of the nuance that it provides. Sherry has an astounding amount of potential as a cocktail ingredient when it’s utilized to its potential. For that reason, cocktails can be a great gateway to introduce others to sherry who otherwise wouldn’t give it a second glance.

He explained that’s not specific to sherry, but to anything that becomes fashionable in cocktail culture to have on a menu; anything that people aren’t terribly familiar with, but now have to work with or want to work with because it’s trending.

It is an additional challenge, which I think is fun! The cocktails that are coming out everywhere are getting better and better. People are actually starting to make a note of the style of sherry that they’re using on the menu, instead of just writing sherry, making everyone assume it’s probably a cream sherry. It’s still trending upwards and the quality is getting better and better.

flightsIan’s also seen a big surge in the amount of people ordering 15 Romolo’s sherry flights, both the standard Tour de Jerez and the Old + Rare flights. They’re created for two different demographics: the former is for those who have never had sherry before and want to sample the spectrum, and the latter for people who know sherry really well and can’t / don’t want to decide on just one. (That’s exactly what I did when I first visited last year.)

For everyone in between, they’ve also seen a big spike in people who order sherry by the glass. It helps that the menu at 15 Romolo lists their suggested sherry pairings for each dish. Also, as Ian pointed out, it’s nice that half bottles are only 500 ml, which is very easy for a couple to split at the bar with a shared appetizer.

The cocktails at 15 Romolo will always be king. The team has a lot of fun coming up with ideas to keep sherry cocktails on the menu year-round. A comment Ian made has stayed with me as a reminder to remain open to the potential sherry brings to the glass, whether on its own or in a cocktail:

I love sherry and always have a few bottles in my fridge, if not dozens, but it’s also not the only thing I drink. One thing that you have to impress on people new to sherry is that it’s very different; it takes some time getting used to, but it also doesn’t have to be your ONLY thing.