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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Tapeando with Angel Teta

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As I learn more about sherry, I’ve been eager to discover who in Portland has sherry on the menu or is including it in cocktails. Angel Teta is noted not only for her love of sherry and vermut, but also for her award winning sherry cocktails. I thought I was sitting down to an interview. Instead, the evening turned into something quite reminiscent of visiting a local tabanco in southern Spain.

Tuesday nights at 4:30pm are the best time to come into Ataula for a “neighborhood watering hole” experience. It’s like stepping out of Portland and into Spain. The kitchen staff is busy finishing last minute prep for the evening. But if you sit at the bar and engage with staff, they’ll include you in their conversations. They love to suggest their favorite bites and drinks, and will tell their stories of how they came to be at Ataula.

I’ve been following Angel’s Instagram feed for a while, and finally made an intentional visit to meet in person. As we chatted, she surprised me with the Gracias Señor Simo, a blend of rum, Hidalgo’s Napoleon Amontillado, apricot liqueur, bitters and citrus. It was so refreshing and well balanced. The sherry really comes through rather than become lost and muddled by other components.

Shaylee is brand new to Ataula, coming from a Portland’s coffee scene. Her favorite starter to pair with my cocktail is the Ataula Montadito – house cured salmon, mascarpone yogurt, on a coca bread cracker that’s drizzled with truffle honey that’s to die for! It’s a bit messy to eat as finger food, so don’t feel bad asking for a fork. I could not believe how the food enhanced the drink and vice versa. The flavors of Amontillado, apricot, truffle and honey really pop!

Lauren is from Puerto Rico and spent the entire conversation with me in Spanish. She raved about the Cojonudo – two bruschetta toasts topped with a fried quail egg, chorizo and piquillo pepper. Angel paired that with her favorite Oloroso style from Cesar Florido. Cesar Florido is the king of Moscatel production in Chipiona. His other sherry styles are refreshing and not too heavy on the palate. This Oloroso was perfect for cutting the richness of the egg and chorizo.

 

Chef is always moving, always thinking, always creating. Even he paused to come and chat at the counter. ¡Canta! I actually thought he wanted me to burst out in song. Thank goodness, this is just his way of saying, “what’s up?” As we talked about the sherry dinner event, he had me try a little dessert before heading home. Huevos Fritos – a fun play on fried eggs in a cold skillet using egg yolk sorbet with coconut foam and finished with Jacobsen’s flake salt.

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The same Oloroso goes great with this as well. The aromas trick your mind to think you’ll be drinking something sweet, but it’s bone dry. The nutty nuances really sing with the dessert, both creating a satisfying savory sweetness.

For someone who has never tried sherry, but are open to it, here’s what Angel suggests:

I always pair something with what they’re eating. What they order gives me a glimpse into their palate preferences, which helps me put something in front of them that they will actually enjoy. For example, if they get the Bellota Jamon, I always pair it with the Valdespino Inocente, as they both enhance each other. If they seem a bit less adventurous, I’ll start with an Amontillado. If they seem like sherry is really not their gig at all, I’ll try the East India to finish with a Xuixo.

The team at Ataula really enjoys sharing the sherry love. Next time you’re in the mood for tapas, come early, sit at the bar and give sherry a try. You’ll be in excellent hands!

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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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CHESA

CHESA doorLately, I’ve had the desire to learn more about who’s doing sherry cocktails around Portland. What better way to start than by visiting the newly opened CHESA. Chef José Chesa has truly made his mark on Portland with the Spanish cuisine of Ataula in the northwest. Not only am I excited to have CHESA on my side of the river, but also excited to try dishes near and dear to his heart ~ home cooking inspired by his father and grandmother.

solera drawingThe layout is clean and modern with iconic images of Spain around the room. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I was happy to see my table sat under a large print of a man refreshing the solera. If you hope to catch Chef Chesa, be sure to come right when they open before he dashes back over the river to Ataula. My goal was to meet with beverage manager, Emily Metevier and bar manager, Tony Gurdian to discuss their sherry selection and cocktails.

Emily went to culinary school with Chesa’s wife, and has partnered with them since the beginning. Her choices of sherry are simply from tasting through several and selecting which pair the best. One of the newest additions is La Guita Manzanilla En Rama bottled in October 2015. I was amazed by its dark golden color and complexity for only having slight filtration. I made sure to have my friends at Great Wine Buys order me a couple for my shelves.

Tony moved to Portland four years ago from Tennessee. He was the bar manager at Imperial before CHESA, and brings a lot of creativity to the table. Working with sherry is relatively new for him, but he does have a soft spot for Spanish vermut. The design of the current cocktail menu includes several tried and true classics that showcase both sherry and vermut. His intention is to have time to create a rotating seasonal menu.

The cocktails listed under THERE are classic cocktails with a Spanish twist. I learned that Spaniards are crazy for Gin & Tonic, and this one will make them proud. If you’re in the mood for a Negroni, try the Preparando. The THEN list is full of classic tried and true sherry cocktails. The NOW list are CHESA creations Tony and his team have put together. My favorite was the signature CHESA – an incredible balance of Spanish flavor – sweet citrus notes with a savory pimentón finish. If you want a palette cleanser, but not feeling like a glass of Mazanilla, definitely go for the Montoya Hotel Special. It’s like a mimosa on steroids. If you really want to go bold, there’s always the Ponche en Porrón. Don’t know what a porrón is? Just look up at the light fixtures along the bar.

For my meal, I chose a couple THEN classic sherry cocktails. The Flamenco was a little too sweet for me, but the star was the La Garrocha Amontillado from Bodegas Grant. It really comes through in the finish. When La Garrocha isn’t available, Tony will use Amontillado Viña AB from Gonzalez Byass. Like any wine, as with all sherry styles, each has their own character based on the winery, so the cocktail will also vary slightly. After the Flamenco, I tried the Artist’s Special. The El Maestro Sierra Oloroso didn’t shine through like the Amontillado in my last drink, but its delicacy softened the masculinity of the scotch.

When it comes to food, their servers are full of suggestions. I’ve learned it’s best to bring someone along who will order for me and keep me on task. Whether from nervous excitement or low blood sugar starvation, I couldn’t make up my mind. If you choose to order paella at CHESA, which you certainly should, put in the ticket right away. They are cooked to order and can take awhile. The size and richness can easily serve two. We discovered the pacing of the tapas is really quick, so order about three or four while you wait.

The Croquetas came out + piping hot, but lord, they were delicious! Be sure to dip them in the aioli! The Bravas are nicely fried potatoes topped with a rich, smokey sauce. Chef was sweet to treat us to their Corteza house-made pork rinds topped with mussels. I loved the contrast of textures. A must-have on the list is the Costilla! To have Iberico pork ribs is quite rare in the States. Confit style and rubbed with cumin, thyme, moja verde and white wine vinegar; these are by far the most tender and flavorful ribs I’ve ever had! By the time our paella arrived, I decided to go with a glass of the Wellington Palo Cortado. The CHESA house paella was so rich with the sherry marinated rabbit and jamon iberico. The acidity of this Palo Cortado cut through perfectly.

We managed to save room for dessert. These portion sizes are clearly meant for sharing. The Xocolata was drier than I prefer, but the cassis sorbet was the star on the plate. My Torta de Aceite was not a cake as I imagined, but more like a fried crepe with marmalade and cream and ice cream. It was difficult to eat with a fork, so I picked it up like dessert nachos. I do like coffee to end a meal, but they didn’t have decaf, so I chose to have the Palabra de Sabio hot chocolate drink. It is delicious and rich if you like hot boozy drinking chocolate. But I wouldn’t recommend it on a full stomach.

I do love how José Chesa has given Portland a little taste of Spain when I miss it most. CHESA is not trying to copy the molecular gastronomy wow factor of Ataula. That’s not the intention. In every detail at CHESA from food, to cocktail, to décor, you will find a taste of HOME.

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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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Fortified Wines ~ Discover Your Style

Michael + SashaI love using the New Year to set plans in motion for making my wishes come true. Last year birthed Sherry Sips into reality. This is where I can share my sherry experiences with others as I continue to dig deep into its art, history and culture. In honor of #tryanuary, I decided to take advantage of giving other fortified wines a go!

I spent an evening with Michael Claypool, the wine maker for Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery, for Flight Club #6. Flight Club is designed for those who want to explore some of the most fabled and beloved regions and wines around the world. For this particular event, Michael shared his love of wine and history as we compared the differences between Sherry, Madeira and Port.

flight club 6aFortified wines have the bad reputation for being only cheap, syrupy dessert wines enjoyed by grandmothers at Christmas. Which is why I was so excited Michael had a captive audience to learn these are just as nuanced as any wine category. As Michael put it, the reason fortified wines are so awesome is that they are aged and at no risk to the consumer. (The exception being a Vintage Port, which depends on the consumer to cellar it for 30 years.) Fortified wines are ready to drink!

Wine is an amazing lens into world history. All three styles have an amazing connection to the British Empire as it expanded both to India and the New World. Long story short, they were essentially the first to really create an international market for wine, despite the cumbersome process.

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I’ll spare the historical details about Sherry. Most of what Michael presented he borrowed from SherryNotes.com, which is a wonderful resource! I was honored that Michael allowed me to interject a few Sherry facts. Talking about Sherry gets me excited. Michael noted that Sherry has gone in and out of style throughout the years, and I am on my one-woman crusade to bring it back. In many ways, that feels true but not for the sake of making it en vogue. At the very least, I want others to know Sherry is not only a sweet dessert wine, but a complex food wine with styles perfect for any pairing.

bottles2We first tasted my favorite Fino Inocente from Valdespino. I love its golden straw color. It is very dry with good acidity and raw almond notes. I realize I love a strong flor yeast influence, which develops the longer a Fino is aged underneath its veil. We also tasted a Palo Cortado VORS NV from Bodegas Tradición. Like most Palo Cortado styles, it had a lovely toffee nose and nutty finish and good acidity. I was surprised by its salinity. Perhaps having it next to sweeter Madeira and Port styles emphasized its saltiness. Unfortunately, it didn’t win me over. Of course, the final style was Toro Albala’s Don PX Gran Reserva 1986. This is what most would recognize as Sherry – thick, sweet syrup.

Surprisingly, I was completely won over by the Madeira styles. To give you a little history, the island of Madeira was a Portuguese territory where ships would resupply on their way to the New World. The wines would literally cook inside the ship as they made the three-month voyage, thus creating a new caramelized wine style. These days, Madeira is heated in tanks for three months rather than slowly aging barrels in a hot, sunny room.

madeira 1968Like Sherry, Madeira ranges from dry to sweet. The Sercial style is the driest. It’s more like an Amontillado than a Fino or Manzanilla Sherry. The Bual style will be more similar to a Cream or Oloroso VORS. The U.S. colonies were practically fueled by Madeira! The Historic Series by Rare Wine Company pays homage to those founding days. Michael had us try their 30-year-old Historic Charleston Sercial Madeira. It has a lovely amber color with toffee aromas, though it tasted more like a nutty brown butter with an acidity that cut down the middle of the tongue.

Even the sweeter Madeira from D’Oliveira was to my liking. D’Oliveira Bual 1968 has a lot of raisin and toffee on the nose, but a good balance of sweetness and acidity with a lemon finish. Michael explained it could age another 40 years on the shelf, but certainly will last six months once it’s opened. It would only fade in acidity and brightness, but will be just as lovely. Keeping it slightly chilled helps bring a little of that acidity back. I’m a little bummed we didn’t try it, but it was recommended to drink this paired with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

flight club 6cAs the evening progressed, we moved onto Port. We started with the lighter styled 20-year Tawny Port from Quinta do Infantado. This is a great “drink it now” style at a good price point. I loved its balance of sweetness and acidity. Really lovely notes of raisin and caramel. Michael explained 40-year Tawny is amazing, but also a bit more expensive. Like Sherry and Madeira, Tawny styles are ready for consumption and laying them down for longer won’t really enhance the wine’s drinkability.

This evening taughtporto2 me that Vintage Port is not my style. These are not blended and bottled straightaway for aging for another 30 years laying down. The white mark on the bottle is the indicator for how the bottle should lay in the cellar so that sediment remains undisturbed. Around three to five days before opening a Vintage Port, one should set the bottle upright to allow the sediment to settle. Michael had us try Warre’s Late Bottle Vintage 1982 Port. It smelled like brandy, but tasted like cough syrup and was extremely sweet. Even with small sips, I helped myself to the blue cheese to help it go down easier.

The evening was a fun way to learn new styles and a bit of world history trivia. I highly recommend checking out Flight Clubs at Cyril’s. You may discover your new wine style!

Sherry + Flamenco = the Perfect Pairing

Flamenco + Flor FridaysOnce again, Cheryl Wakerhauser pours out her passion and creativity to bring a little piece of Spain to Portland, Oregon. Bar Vivant kicked off their Flamenco Fridays for the month of August, transforming the patio from 7pm to 9pm into a flamenco tablao and sherry bar!

This is a great opportunity to see local performers from Tablao de Rosas singing and dancing various flamenco styles, as well as, experience weekly sherry selections from the best wine makers in Jerez! Naturally, I plan to be there each week to try it all!

Cheryl + ChristopherThis week Christopher Canale-Parola from Gonzalez Byass was behind the bar. The first glass of Tio Pepe Fino was on the house.

The special flight for the evening was the rare 2012 Finos Palmas series. This series of four aged Finos creates an annual anticipated excitement for Gonzalez Byass lovers!

2012 Finos PalmasThe flight for this evening only included the first three. Una Palma is naturally lighter in color being the youngest around six years old when it was bottled. It’s aroma was not the typical dry almond I was anticipating, but a sweeter, yeasty aroma. I smelled donuts! But as I drank it, I really wanted something salty to eat. Dos Palmas would be considered a Fino Viejo, still yeasty on the nose, but hints of caramel corn. Still dry yet well rounded. This would have gone well with asparagus or artichokes. The Tres Palmas was nearly an Amontillado; pure butterscotch on the nose. It was hard to believe it’s been bottled for three years!

The rest of the line up were the Leonor Palo Cortado and Alfonso Oloroso, two beautiful classic styles, and the very old rare sherry (VORS) of Del Duque Amontillado. By the end of the night, while a few of us still lingered, trying our hand at using a venencia, Cheryl surprised us with a glass of the Cuatro Palmas. This was an excellent conclusion to the flight! It truly tasted like a freshly bottled amontillado.

bailandoEven days later, I’m still reliving this fun evening of sharing my love of flamenco and sherry with friends in my hometown. I cannot wait to go back each Friday to do it again. Please come check it out! I hear Lustau sherry styles will be next on the bar!