Sherry Sips + Bits


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!


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

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!


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.

The Soil + The Grapes – Sherry Pillars 1 + 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

venenciaS – Are you considered an ambassador?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the Sherry Love

PCA Sherry EventThis time of year has sherry on the radar, especially with the upcoming Sherryfest in New York City. It only seems fitting that I had a little sherry celebration of my own here in Portland, Oregon. PCA Sherry Event

The Portland Culinary Alliance provided an amazing opportunity for me to present my first sherry tasting at Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery. The evening would not have been a success without the support and partnership of Sasha Davies. She and her team pulled out all the stops from setting up the room, to serving the guests, to providing the perfect pairings for each wine.

Sasha and I chose to showcase sherry as a wine for any style of food, not just tapas! The rule of thumb I was taught is: if it swims – pair with Fino or Manzanilla; if it flies – pair with Amontillado or Palo Cortado; if it runs – pair with Oloroso.

WE DID IT! PCA Sherry Event

For a Tuesday night after fighting rush-hour traffic, guests were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine to help unwind. It’s an easy transition for those who may not be familiar with sherry. Once seated, the sherry and food were served in groups of two while I told them a story; beginning, middle and end.

First they were served Inocente Fino from Valdespino paired with scallop crudo. I chose this Fino because not only do I love products from Grupo Estevez, but I love that this Fino has been aged for ten years under flor. Not only is it a challenge to sustain the flor yeast cap for so many years, but it also gives the wine a rich complexity of flavor and color unlike any other fino. The scallop crudo had an amazing brightness that was not only enhanced by the Fino, but brought out the characteristics of the wine in return.

Along side the Fino, guests were served La Garrocha Amontillado from Bodegas Grant paired with a chicken drumette with dates, olives and capers. This was my first Amontillado I fell in love with. I love it even more after having visited Bodegas Grant back in May. They are amazing people making amazing sherry! (I’ll tell you all about it soon, I promise!)

For the middle of the progression, guests were served Palo Cortado Viejo C.P. from Valdespino with pan seared artichokes in sherry vinegar, lemon and thyme. Sherry is one of the best wines for pairing with the most difficult dishes, like artichokes. This was the first Palo Cortado introduced to me and it is my favorite sherry style. Palo Cortado is considered the “rebel” and known for it’s mysterious rarity because it isn’t an Amontillado or an Oloroso, but somewhere in between. I have since tasted several Palo Cortados from other wine makers, but I’ll never forget my first.

For this evening, we did not have a dry Oloroso, but decided to serve a sweetened Oloroso Cream style before transitioning into dessert. Guests were served East India Solera from Lustau with prosciutto and basil wrapped figs. I’ve always loved the story of how its name refers the British trading company and is made mimicking the 17th century trade ships, maturing the blended wine in a hotter and more humid area of the bodega.

To conclude the evening, guests were served Moscatel Pasas from Bodegas César Florido paired with Turkish apricots stuffed with a walnut on mascarpone and crushed pistachios. As well as Pedro Ximenez from El Maestro Sierra with a lovely slice of Pleinvent Fermier Cheese. I wish I had the chance to visit César Florido, but did not get over to Chipiona where all Moscatel styles are made. I did however receive the invitation to visit El Maestro Sierra. This is a very special bodega I will tell you all about later. I’ll simply say they make amazing sherry using only traditional methods!


This evening was so special for me! My audience was a perfect balance between supportive PCA members, friends and family. I was honored to have local support from Thirdwave Coffee Tours and Conserva. My greatest joy was having my parents and husband there to support me. The fact that my father (a frugal, retired Marine who would prefer a meal at the Village Inn) came across town during rush hour and smiled the entire night meant the world to me! Portland is full of good people who support those living out their dreams!

It could not have gone any better for my FIRST event. The many smiles,  praises and even a couple critiques I received by the end of the evening only further confirm I’m exactly where I need to be on this journey!




My Current Sherry Favorites


Today is my birthday. I have a bottle of my favorite Palo Cortado from Valdespino waiting to be opened. I’m still quite the novice when it comes to knowing all that’s available for consumption, but here is my current list of favorites:

Mazanilla: Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa, La Guita Mazanilla

Fino: Valdespino Fino Inocente (rare because it’s been aged for ten years.)

Amontillado: Lustau Los Arcos or Plaza Vieja; Grant La Garrocha

Palo Cortado: Valdespino Viejo CP; Fernando de Castilla Antique

Oloroso: Bodegas Tradicion VORS; Lustau Oloroso de Jerez Pata de Gallina

Cream: Valdespino Isabela; Lustau Deluxe Cream “Capataz Andres”

Moscatel: Cesar Florido Moscatel Pasas or Moscatel Especial

Pedro Ximenez: Fernando de Castilla Pedro Ximenez Antique

What’s your favorite? What do you recommend?