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

The Toro Bravo Experience

I love it when I connect with other sherry lovers in my hometown! Portland, Oregon’s food and wine scene is slowly gaining a northern Spanish influence. One chef in particular is John Gorham. His five restaurants (and growing) each bring a unique flavor and influence around the city. I had the pleasure of meeting with Mindy Cook, the beverage director at Toro Bravo, to talk about sherry and the perfect pairings.

AmontilladoWe toasted our conversation with a glass of Amontillado Napoleon, which has a lovely toasted almond nose with a hint of sea salt on the clean finish.

I refuse to give to our guests anything that’s bad.

Mindy Cook originally started as the bar manager for the cocktail program. As Toro Bravo evolved, she became the sherry and wine buyer, which is now three times the size it was when it first started. Now she manages the wine program for all five locations: M.E.C. (Mediterranean Exploration Company), Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder, Plaza del Toro and Toro Bravo.

She explained that she really got into sherry when she started working at Toro Bravo. She researched, she read, she tasted. She’ll find a winery she really loves and bring in samples for the restaurants. She also teaches sherry classes to the Toro Bravo staff. She said you must educate the staff to really get sherry into the hands of customers, especially those who know a lot about wine.

Every little piece of meticulous detail matters to Mindy. It’s all about integrity. She refuses to give to their guests anything that’s bad. She went onto explain that grapes are number two on the dirty dozen list for pesticides. They hold more pesticides and chemicals than any other fruit other than apples. For that reason, about 90-95% of every wine on all five of their wine lists are either organic or farmed organically, biodynamic, sustainable, family run or small production. It has taken her two years to get the program where it is today. Mindy admits that it will always be a work in progress, but for now it is at a place that makes her happy.

sherry line up

Sherry and food are one of the versatile and dynamic pairings you’ll ever have.

As with most sherry lovers, Mindy feels people don’t understand that sherry is wine. For a lot of people, it’s this misconception that all sherry is sweet. It’s your grandma’s sherry. It’s Cream sherry. Sherry and food are one of the versatile and dynamic pairings you’ll ever have.

When it comes to pairing, it really depends on the food. For example with Tasty n Alder, they only have a couple on the menu. She offers a Palo Cortado and a very rich Oloroso, because those pair really well the meats at Alder’s steakhouse scene.

Their whole culture is in your glass!

Some of Mindy’s favorite sherry comes from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana. Javier Hidalgo is a sixth generation sherry maker. Founded in 1792, they are one of the only sherry houses that own their own estate and vineyards, and are farmed organically as well. Toro Bravo carries most of their bottles in addition to their famous La Gitana Manzanilla. About three years ago, they had the honor to host Javier Hidalgo at Toro Bravo. It was a small group that had dinner with him and enjoyed all his sherries.

Manzanilla + Fino

She was clear that we wouldn’t taste through all the sherry they offer, but she certainly gave me an amazing experience. For starters, she poured La Guita Manzanilla, a Fino from Bodegas Cesar Florido (who is famous for their Moscatel from Chipiona), La Gitana Manzanilla en Rama from Hidalgo, and an aged Fino Antique from Fernando de Castilla.

saladThe first dish was so much more than just a radicchio salad! The green olive toast could pair with La Guita or Cesar Florido Fino. For me, the Fino was by far the best with the dish. The others become a bit muted, but the Fino really shined through.

For you to be able to get the fruitiness off that Manzanilla by eating olives, radicchio and manchego cheese, I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Ironically, La Guita almost had a fruitiness against the acidity of the olive, which I’ve experienced before with other dry wines. Mindy was impressed and confirmed that’s a really great pairing! At first, I said that I thought the Manzanilla was sweet. She explained that it’s a common misperception that people’s palates think something is sweet when really its tasting the fruit. There’s no residual sugar in the Manzanilla, so it can’t be sweet.

octopus a la planchaIt was hard for me to save a little Manzanilla or Fino for the Octopus al la Plancha. Poached octopus on olive oil poached potatoes, topped with cooked tomato. The Manzanilla en Rama’s age and acidity work really well when a dish is overwhelming for the palate. The tomato really came to life with La Gitana Manzanilla en Rama. It has nice almond notes, hasn’t been filtered, and aged five years instead of the average three years. Aging it allows it to take on more flavors and texture.

I was given the OK to start sipping my Fino Antique when the fried Spanish anchovies with fennel and Romesco sauce appeared. The almond notes from the Fino pair amazingly with its garlicky and salty richness.

The second beautiful pairing for the Fino Antique was the Grilled Flat Bread with black truffle cheese and arugula. It wouldn’t be bad with other Fino or Manzanilla, but the Antique marries well with the richness and finish. Mindy pointed out that it looks like a light dish, but it’s actually very rich in flavor. So you want something that’s not rich like an Oloroso, but a little bit richer than your average Fino. Mindy would also pair this with the Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon that we first toasted with.

For an entry-level sherry, this is one of the most beautiful on the market!

We moved onto my favorite style, Palo Cortado, to be paired with the Barcelona Kisses. House-made manchego crackers filled with cheese, topped with jamón, foam and olive oil pearls. The buttery cracker, the saltiness of the meat and the cheese really go well with the salinity of Hidalgo’s Wellington Palo Cortado VOS. It’s light, it’s delicate, and elegantly aged twenty years.

Mindy reminded me that Oloroso is really meant to be with rich, fatty meat, so it’s perfect for charcuterie. Cesar Florido’s Oloroso made in Chipiona goes best with their house-made chorizo, the Sherry Chicken Liver Mousse, and the Duck Liver Mousse Terrine with morel mushrooms. It’s slight salinity helps cut through the richness of all three.

The glass of El Maestro Sierra’s Oloroso 1/14 VORS was saved for just one bite – the French Kiss. It’s a brandy soaked prune stuffed with foie gras. Out of any pairing thus far, that was the best and well worth the wait. What a wonderful precursor to dessert!

It’s a non-traditional pairing for dessert, but it’s a beautiful thing!

Palo Cortado VOSMindy chose to pair Hidalgo’s Wellington Palo Cortado with their Caramel Panna Cotta dessert. It tastes like a salted caramel. It’s a non-traditional pairing for dessert, but she doesn’t like really sweet things with really sweet things. Yes, most pair sweet with sweet, but it’s only good if it lifts with good acid.

This would also work well with Amontillado Contrabandista, which is 97% Amontillado blended with 3% Pedro Ximénez, or Hidalgo’s Cream Alameda. But this pairing was a beautiful thing! I couldn’t stop drinking the Wellington to help cut the sweetness of the dessert.

Mindy asked if I had ever had the Alvear PX Solera 1927. It was a first for me. It has a wonderful lift in acidity that paired really nicely with their Dark Chocolate Semifreddo and Hazelnut Turron. The Cream Alameda also went well with this dessert. Mindy also recommended Bodegas Tradición’s Cream VOS, which is a little savorier and has a hint of an herbaceous finish. The bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the sweetness of the wines.

Before ending our time together, I had the chance to speak with John’s wife Renee Gorham, to shed light on the vision they have for the new restaurant Pollo Bravo. She shared that they already have two locations in the works! The first Pollo Bravo will be in the Pine Street Market on 2nd and SW Pine. It’s really an exciting project that reminds her and John so much of that European style market similar to the San Miguel Market in Madrid. They feel Pollo Bravo will be a natural fit.

This will bridge both restaurant and food cart culture!

The second will open right across from Tasty and Alder. It will be a small space, like a commissary kitchen and small bar program, serving Spanish style rotisserie chicken and tapas to go. It will be quality take-away, but also a space to sit and have a quick drink and snack with great service. It will appeal to a broad market. Pollo Bravo will help bridge the gap between Portland’s identity of restaurant and food cart culture. Mindy’s husband Jeremy will be consulting the cocktail bar program along with Mindy’s sherry and wine influence. So, he will be definitely blending sherry into the mix, which is a great gateway for future sherry lovers!

Portland is very lucky to have key players spreading not only the love of great food, but also the love of great sherry!

Meeting the Edmundos at Bodegas Grant

Bodegas Grant doorwayOne of the first Amontillados to leave a lasting impression on me was Amontillado La Garrocha from Bodegas Grant. It’s a small, family-owned bodega in El Puerto de Santa María. Like many small bodegas, they do not have their own vineyards, but purchase their grape must from other growers. Since its founding in the mid 1800’s, they’ve mostly functioned as almacenistas selling their wines to replenish soleras in other sherry houses. It’s only been recently that they’ve bottled under their own label. It was highly recommended that I make a visit while in the Sherry Triangle.

It was my first train experience venturing outside of Jerez all on my own. I admit, I was a little nervous walking down unfamiliar streets using my phone to guide me. I arrived at the bodega’s storefront much earlier than my appointment. The kind lady inside said I could wait in the café just around the corner.

I sat down and ordered a café con leche. A man reading his paper at the end of the bar shyly introduced himself at Edmundo. He remained behind his paper, occasionally making conversation until his father, Edmundo Sr., arrived to greet us both and paid the tab.

Bodegas Grant

The café was conveniently attached to the back entrance to the bodega. It’s a lovely space, full of light, yet managed to keep out the day’s growing heat. Compared to his tall, shy son, Edmundo Sr. was an average height Spaniard full of animated gestures as we tasted wines from their barrels. He explained that unlike Jerez, the flor yeast in El Puerto does not vary in thickness since the temperatures aren’t as extreme in winter or summer.

Fino + FlorEdmundo Sr. walked over to a Fino barrel and had to chisel open the bung. He handed me a glass of Fino wine mixed with the flor to taste how it influences the flavor. I was surprised by the pungent aroma of fresh almond and its subtle sweetness. The flor not only influences the wine’s nose and flavor, it’s key for protecting the wine from oxygen. When I tasted the Fino on it’s own, the aroma of the flor was still present, yet the wine was bone dry for being only three years old. They don’t currently bottle en rama, or unfiltered Fino, for export markets. Perhaps they will in the future, but for now it’s only available for local patrons.

Amontillado La GarrochaNext, he poured me a glass from the La Garrocha Amontillado barrel. Magnífico! I’ve never had anything so fresh! Truly trumped my initial experience back in Oregon!

Once the flor dies and oxygen is exposed to the wine, their Amontillado is ready for bottling after aging approximately 9 years. I could taste the Fino influence, but the body was much fuller and richer. The color was a beautiful topaz and the nose was a balance of almonds and toffee.

US Exports - La GarrochaAs I continued to taste through, Edmundo Jr. participated more in conversation, especially explaining to his father I already knew my sherry basics. Our conversation transitioned to their excitement of their growing export market. Currently they only export half-bottles of the La Garrocha Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso. Their first shipment was 300 cases, and just last year they exported 1500 cases!

We walked over to a table where they set up the remaining flight of their La Garrocha wines. Oloroso always smells like it would be sweet, but it’s bone dry on the palate. This one had a lovely citrus finish. Although I prefer dry sherries, I wasn’t going to turn down their sweet ones. The less sweet of the three was the Cream. Their Cream is a blend of the Oloroso with a splash of Pedro Ximénez for added sweetness. It smelled like raisins and had a beautiful amber color.

The Moscatel surprised me. It reminded me of honey, yet it wasn’t empalagoso, or overly sweet. Unlike the Pedro Ximénez, which coated my mouth like syrup and lingered. It’s smell took me back to being a child eating out of a snack box of Sun-Maid raisins.

We ended our visit toasting with a glass of a Amontillado Viejo averaging 20 years old. I asked them to sign my “sherry bible” before they sent me off with a gift of a signed poster and a bottle of La Garrocha Amontillado. They highly recommended I return for harvest next year. I just might take them up on it!

un brindis

A Special Visit with El Maestro Sierra

EMS sign

It’s so quiet.

All you can hear are birds.

So peaceful.

~ Excerpt from my journal April 24, 2015

Pilar PláI knew I wanted to visit El Maestro Sierra after reading their backstory in my “sherry bible.” Firstly, I loved that a master cooper, building barrels for Gonzalez Byass, founded it because he wanted to become an almacenista. (Sherry makers at that time typically earned their vocation out of a birthright and did not favor this start-up mentality.) Secondly, I love that in a very male-dominated trade, this bodega is run by women.

From the street, the bodega was pretty unassuming and just as humble inside. They don’t do tours, so I was glad Ana was available on short notice. Eduardo from Spirit Sherry encouraged me to visit, and I’m so glad I did. It was by far one of the most unique experiences I had while in the Sherry Triangle.

They are quite strict about maintaining their way of tradition down to the letter. The botas are the original barrels from 1830. Ana explained that there is a four-degree difference between the floor and the area above. Which is why they keep their barrels of Fino on the bottom rows of the solera where it’s cooler, with the Oloroso barrels stacked on top where it is warmer.

EMS wax sealEverything is done by hand, using no machinery. They stick to the old method of siphoning the wines from the barrels to aid the blending process. They use no chemicals or harsh filtration. If filtration is needed, it’s only using egg whites and gentle paper filters to catch any large particles. They even run off of well water to guarantee no chlorine touches their wines. Even their labels are applied by hand. It was certainly the quietest winery I had been in!

The conversation and tour with Ana was fast pace with little pausing for pictures. She left me alone with my cata, or tasting. I wished she’d share her thoughts with me on each wine. Since they are such an authentic bodega, I wanted to know the special nuances that set their wines apart from others.

I did my best to write down my own thoughts for each. I started with the Fino I’ve had in the past. It is dry, but mature for being only five years old. Due to the gentle filtration, it has a strong flor, or yeast influence. I loved it’s golden color in the sunlight. Next, I tasted the Amontillado. It’s aged twelve years, but still had a very salty Fino influence. I loved its butterscotch aromas and topaz color.

The flight quickly moved onto the aged bottles. The Viejos are only bottled once a year in September and only 20 to 70 bottles at a time. Because so very few are bottled in general, each label has the date and number written on the back.

Amontillado Viejo 1830 comes from a solera that started when the winery was founded. On the nose, I picked up a metallic brass note. On the palate, although it was dry, it was very round with nice toffee notes. The Palo Cortado had an amazingly clear amber color. I’m a lover of all Palo Cortados, and this one had such a nutty complexity, I couldn’t put my glass down. That was until I moved onto the two Oloroso VORS! The Oloroso 1/14 VORS hit my nose like a the smell of varnish and burnt caramel, but the flavor was intense and heated the sides of my tongue similar to a really smooth whiskey. They saved the best for last. The star of this show was certainly the Oloroso Extraviejo 17 VORS. It averages over 80 years old! It too had a smell of polished wood floors and caramelized bananas. The finish was rich and lingered on forever. It took a lot of willpower not to reach over and help myself to a second glass.

El Maestro Sierra BlissI didn’t stay long, but I certainly did not want to leave this silent sanctuary. It was like stepping back in time. I enjoyed having a moment to pause and take a deep breath. So much love and care goes into this place, and I could feel it extend to even to me as a visitor. I am so grateful for this unique experience.

An Afternoon with Gutiérrez Colosía

GC botasI woke up to a tweet this morning celebrating the 70th birthday of Juan Carlos, the winemaker at Gutiérrez Colosía for the past 55 years. Seeing his face reminded me of one of the best conversations I had this past spring. To think, my visit nearly didn’t happen.

GC Sangre y TrabajaderoI originally planned to visit this bodega because one of the first Olorosos I ever tasted was their Sangre y Trabajadero. I was nervous to go on my own by train from Jerez to El Puerto de Santa Maria. (FYI it is listed as El Puerto on the kiosk. You can purchase your ticket the day you plan to travel. It’s not the last stop on the train, so be watchful and don’t get lost in the scenery.)

Having never been to this town, I was thankful for my phone’s GPS to take me right to the little door on the boulevard. I mentioned to the woman in the storefront that I was here for my 12:30 appointment with Carmen. She asked, “¿Cuál Carmen?” I couldn’t remember if my email correspondence was with Carmen the mother or Carmen the daughter. What I soon discovered was Carmen the daughter was not available, and Carmen the mother had two large tour groups she was entertaining. Rather than apologizing and sending me away, they graciously invited me in and had Bertrand lead me through the bodega.

Gutiérrez Colosía is located right on the banks of the Guadalete River. I mention this because I learned their location is perfect for keeping a healthy veil of flor yeast year-round. The bodega is a lovely cathedral style, shadowed to keep out the light and heat. Because they are so close to the river and sea, they don’t need to keep soil on the floors to regulate the temperature.

GC flightCarmen reminded me of my own mother; playing hostess, making sure everyone was taken care of and feeling at home, as well as not liking her picture taken. At her request, I promised not to post the one picture I convinced her to take with me.

She poured the standard flight of their Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, and treated me to a plate of cured meats and cheeses. I was left to sample them on my own. Sadly, the only tasting note I made was their Fino reminded me of Manzanilla for its salty nuances.

Carmen brought her husband Juan Carlos down from his meeting to sign my sherry bible. He took me by surprise by sitting down to take time to chat. Our chat quickly turned into an hour conversation!

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Our topics were not at all what I expected. We talked about religion and how he is not a religious man. We talked about wine and climate change. He was quite matter of fact that climate change isn’t anything he worries about; it’s not anything that will impact his wines in his lifetime. When I mentioned that I focus on sherry, because the wine world in general overwhelms me, he assured me that it is quite small when it comes to where grapes can actually grow to produce good wines.

GC VORSAs we continued, Juan Carlos spoiled me with his bottles of VORS. The Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX. He had me drink the Oloroso first because it’s the youngest of the group. Mind blown!!

At one point in our conversation, I mentioned whiskey and Carmen chimed in that my pronunciation was very Andalucian when I spoke. I was quite honored, not only by the complement, but also by how they treated me like a guest in their home despite all the other groups sitting right behind us.

By the time we kissed our goodbyes, I had already spent three hours with this lovely couple! The entire visit to Gutiérrez Colosía went above and beyond my expectations. I cannot wait to go back!

GC autograph

Flamenco + Lustau

Flamenco + Flor FridaysDespite the cloudy skies, the patio was packed once again at Bar Vivant for Flamenco Friday! Tablao de Rosas filled the space with amazing energy, singing and dancing.

On the sherry bar was Margaux Wagenmann, from Lemma Wine Company, pouring a delicious variety of wines from Lustau.

She greeted everyone with a glass of Fino Jarana from Lustau’s Solera Familiar range. Though my personal preference is an aged Fino, I do love this classic style for it’s fresh notes of flor and toasted almonds. Most sherry styles in the Solera Familiar range can be found in high-end grocery stores around Portland.

Next in line was a beautiful Amontillado del Puerto from the Almancenista series. Almacenistas, or stock holders, independently produce and age sherry in their limited soleras of the finest and rarest sherries. This Amontillado del Puerto originates from an exclusive solera of only 10 barrels and certainly tasted like a labor of love. Rich golden color, nutty sharpness with a long dry finish.

Lustau Line UpI was pleased to see Palo Cortado Peninsula on the list. This is a classic Palo Cortado from the Solera Familiar range, combining the delicacy of an Amontillado with the richness of an Oloroso. It’s easy to find around town and the perfect wine to inspire new sherry lovers!

Añada 1997Moving right along, guests had the rare experience from the Specialty range of the Añada 1997 Rich Oloroso. This oloroso was never blended with Pedro Ximenez, but subjected to a special partial fermentation process in order to preserve its natural sugars. It was aged in American oak barrels for 13 years and limited to only 8,000 bottles. A perfect balance of delicate sweetness and dry finish. Naturally, I paid for a full pour!

The sweeter varietals for this flight were the Deluxe Cream Capataz Andrés and Moscatel de Chipiona. The Cream is a classic blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez creating a smooth and sweet flavor with a crisp finish. The Moscatel was light and bright, reminding me of mead with its honey notes.

IMG_20150814_201728Once again, I drank each one too quickly to enjoy them with the delicious tapas and desserts served by Cheryl Wakerhauser. On these nights, the lines can go out the door!

Instead, I enjoyed clapping my palmas, shouting my jaleos of olé que toma, and dancing a little pata at the end of the night with my flamencas. 

There are only two Flamenco Fridays left! Come check it out and try some top-shelf sherry!! Maybe you’ll become a sherry lover too!

A Visit to Bodegas Urium – Pt 1

UriuimI’ve been holding onto a bottle of Oloroso from Bodegas Urium for a special occasion. Sadly, their wines are not currently available in my corner of the world. Yet, this month I’ve had so many reasons to celebrate, I felt it was time to break out the bottle. The aroma alone smacked me with this single thought – It smells like home.

RocioIt all started when I was planning my sherry odyssey back in April. It was highly recommended I visit Bodegas Urium. My schedule was packed and since they are only available by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I couldn’t squeeze them in. Thank goodness for Whatsapp! I received a last minute text from Rocío Ruiz, daughter and director of the winery. She happened to be in the bodega on a Monday for a special visit, and invited me to join them for the tasting. I had an appointment right before with Grupo Estevez, but was determined to make it work! This decision set the stage for something far greater than just a tasting.

It was wonderful tasting through the wines directly from the barrels and to listen in on the fast paced conversation. I enjoyed sharing how Rocío and I met through Twitter connections and why I’m so passionate about sherry. Rocío coined me the Sherry Missionary; out to tell the world and convert them to drink more sherry!

Each glass of wine came straight from the barrels! Rocío poured Fino from the same solera to demonstrate how each barrel can impact the wine differently. We also tasted a ten-year-old Fino whose flor was dying off and will be blended into Amontillado. The six of us spent the entire afternoon drinking through Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Pedro Ximenez VORS. Their elegant wine bottles are a beautiful way to showcase these wines. Every little detail represents the passion this family has for its wine!

As everyone was leaving, Rocío took me out for tapas before she had to head back home to Huelva. We parked in a supermarket lot, which used to be a beautiful cathedral style sherry bodega for Garvey’s. (Note: you must make a purchase if you want to exit the lot.) Once in the tapas bar, we talked like old friends. It was amazing how connected we felt for only having met for the first time. She insisted that I come back the next day to meet her father, Alonso. I’ll write about that experience in another post.

Rocio + Mario This visit was meant to be. It was far more than a sherry tasting. I made a new bond of friendship with a kindred spirit! My husband teases me that we’re like two teenage girls when we text each other. That may also be why it took so long to open the bottle. I long to return, and hate how far it is from Portland to Jerez. Urium isn’t just wine, it’s family. Walk through their doors and you’ll see what I mean.