La Vendimia with Covijerez

covi-vedimia

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!

sherrysips

Welcome Home

planeThe best part of traveling to Jerez is that I can always pick up right where I left off. Compared to my ever growing, ever changing city of Portland, Oregon, Jerez relatively remains the same from year to year. I can slide back into life right along the daily routines. My landlords Manolo and Carmen will have an apartment waiting for me. My friends at Bar El Porrón will have toast and coffee ready in the morning. I can text Rubén should I need a taxi. Best of all, Rocío is my lifeline when I just need a bff!

There’s nothing better than walking off my plane battling jet lag to be greeted with a huge hug from Rocío! She was so generous to pick me up this time and whisk me off to Urium to see her father and husband. Reunited as if no time had passed, glass of fino in hand, I was home.

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My first evening in town, she took me to Tabanco El Pasaje for the photo exhibition of Paco Barroso. Paco has an amazing eye and talent. I have admired several of his photos focused on local flamenco dancers. This evening, the first to grab my attention set the tone for my reason for coming – harvest. Sherry starts with the hands that work so hard to hand-cut the grapes for long hours in unforgiving heat. If I could, I would hang this photo in my home as a reminder each time I enjoyed a glass, to pause and silently thank them for their efforts.

This evening also highlighted moments frozen in time in some of my favorite bodegas: El Maestro Sierra mother Doña Pilar and daughter Maria del Carmen smelling copas of wine, Urium father Alonso and daughter Rocío holding a copita, and best of all the silhouette of recently passed enologist Manuel Lozano from Lustau. This was rightfully placed in the center and caught my breath a little with the title, “Seguimos caminando…” or “Let’s keep on walking…” Paco explained this was a phrase Lozano would repeatedly say during their visit. But what a reminder this evening for those who grieve his loss.

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The entire evening I was squeezed into a tiny space full of loud conversation and kissing hellos to key locals in the sherry and tourism industry. Despite my jet lag, this was the perfect way to dive right back in and feel completely welcomed home.

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Me, Rocío, Mario, Paco + Fran

From Blog to Boutique

 

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I just returned home from a month in the Sherry Triangle. Part of my visit I finally met Helen Highley in person. I’ve been following her criadera.com blog since I first started diving into my sherry obsession three years ago. I’m very excited to help announce that she is now launching an online store SherryBoutique.com TODAY! (Sadly, the store is only serving the UK.)

In recent years the UK has rediscovered its love of sherry, with a new generation learning that sherry doesn’t have to mean a sticky, sweet bottle brought out by a great-aunt at Christmas. In the same way that we’ve embraced craft beer and gin, the fresh, exciting and complex wines produced in Spain’s tiny ‘sherry triangle’ have found an enthusiastic and growing audience in the UK.

Part of the band of bloggers and food writers helping to drive this growth is the team behind criadera.com – a blog about the people, places and wines of the Sherry Triangle. The success of the blog, coupled with their passion for sherry has prompted the Criadera team to launch the online store sherryboutique.com – giving UK sherry lovers the chance to buy some of the most exceptional, limited release sherries available.

As the name suggests, this is a truly boutique approach to online retailing – a small range will be available, from a classic bone-dry Fino to accompany olives or seafood, to a VORS Oloroso with an average age of 45 years. Currently, sherryboutique.com imports wines from two very small, family-owned bodegas – Bodegas Urium and Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez – that make exceptional wines in small volumes in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucía. These are artisans producing very special premium products. Future plans include featuring guest sherries from other bodegas to complement the range.

uriumBodegas Urium is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for owner Alonso Ruiz, whose father passed on his passion for sherry and inspired a desire to make it. Alonso bought a bodega containing soleras dating back to the 18th century and in 2009, with daughter Rocío, launched Bodegas Urium. As well as Fino En Rama and Manzanilla Pasada (both eight years average age), they produce two ranges:

  • Clásicos – with average ages of between 12 and 15 years
  • VORS – minimum certified average age of 30 years, but in reality close to an average of 45 years

They also produce a very special Palo Cortado (Gran Señor de Urium) – average age of 100 years. Bodegas Urium sherries can be found on the wine lists of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and the rest of Europe.

cruzviejaBodegas Faustino Gonzalez was founded in 1971, when a local doctor bought soleras dating back to 1758 and moved them to his wife’s bodega in the part of Jerez known as Cruz Vieja – the old cross. In 2014 his family launched the Cruz Vieja range of sherries, the first time sherries from the bodega have been commercially available. Each sherry is ‘En Rama’ meaning that it has been bottled without any filtration, clarification or other treatment. This means that all the flavors and fantastic complexity are retained for you to enjoy.

These are very exclusive sherries, with only 1000 bottles of each type released each year worldwide. They grace the wine lists of several Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and every sherry in the range has been awarded 90+ Parker Points. The listing for each sherry includes knowledgeable yet accessible tasting notes and descriptions, and information on the bodegas themselves to give customers an understanding of the people behind these wines. There’s no minimum order quantity and the sherries can be shipped throughout the UK.

Helen Highley comments “We are sherry lovers first and foremost, and over our years of visiting the region we became convinced that the UK was ready to rediscover sherry and fall in love with it all over again. The success of criadera.com proved that there is clear sector of consumers who want to learn more about this wonderful wine, but we wanted to do more. We’ve been lucky enough to taste amazing wines from tiny bodegas that simply weren’t available in the UK and we felt passionately that they should be. They trusted us to bring their brands to enthusiastic sherry lovers in the UK, and we’re thrilled that a number of independent wine merchants and restaurants now stock these wines and we can share them with people who love them as much as we do. But not every sherry lover lives in a big city with indie wine shops or restaurants that ‘get’ sherry. sherryboutique.com is for those sherry lovers who want to enjoy these very special sherries but don’t have a stockist nearby.”

criadera-team

Place or Process?

tasting set up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lustau Pt 2 – The Bodega

Lustau streetview

I began my day with Lustau at 10 AM. When we returned from our adventures in Sanlúcar around 1:30 PM, I was kicking myself for not bringing any snacks. Juan went up to his office and came back looking very professional in his tie and sports coat. In a matter of minutes, the mood changed from relaxed and familiar to structured and official.

Juan is amazing at regurgitating historical dates and facts about Lustau. Here, Fino is aged for five years, Oloroso for eight years and Amontillado for twelve. During the summer, the floors are wet down twice a week to maintain the humidity to sustain the yeast’s growth on top of the Fino. In 2008, they acquired 2500 barrels of the famous La Ina Fino solera from Domecq.

I saw several familiar soleras for the bottles I drink back home; Fino Jarana, which means party, Amontillado Los Arcos, Palo Cortado Península and Botaina, which only has 45 barrels in the solera.

The oldest cellar was built in 1835 and smells just like Oloroso! All throughout, the perfectly lit cathedral style arches, as well as the beautiful rosetón stained glass window captivated me. Some of the oldest original barrels are actually green rather than painted black. The sacristia holds the barrels of wines older than 30 years old.

Unfortunately, we did not sample from any of the barrels. Instead, Juan led me upstairs to a lovely white room with glasses and bottles all lined up for me to taste.

grand cata

Juan did not taste with me, but sat at a table off to the side. I felt a bit awkward tasting them alone without any added commentary or opinion. It seemed such a waste to taste only a sip and pour out the remaining wine down the sink.

I was honored and humbled by Juan taking an entire day for my visit. Before kissing my goodbyes at 3 PM, Juan toasted a glass of Oloroso Añada with me. It was by far my favorite! It’s a naturally sweetened Oloroso without any Pedro Ximénez added. It tasted like honey and orange blossoms.

I am so very glad to have met Juan Mateos Arizón and to see Lustau through his eyes. My entire last day with him was the perfect summary of my entire Sherry Odyssey.

me + Juan

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.

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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