Old Wine vs. New Wine

It is a curious thing: a perfectly peaking, immaculately stored bottle of wine. You hold a wine for years in your cellar, and it slumbers. It dreams. It matures and changes all the time while you get up, go to work, socialize with friends or colleagues. While you get the mail, go to your doctors appointment, or coach your son’s soccer practice. Unlike people, wine matures as it sleeps. It wakes up and shows its personality only when the cork is pulled.

So you pull the cork. And what happens? There are usually 1 of 3 outcomes:

1. The wine is flawed. Riddled with cork taint, light/heat damage or oxidation. Everyone in the room laments the loss slightly, but you accept it as a necessary risk in pursuit of pleasure.

2. The wine is past it’s prime. You’ve waited too long to wake it from it’s sleep. Though it has done nothing but sleep, it is tired, dull, and unappealing. Like a 90 year old historian in a room full of Sex Pistols fans.

3. The wine is glorious. It is magical. It opens up and touches your soul. It brings the room together in a way that few other consumable goods can. It sparks conversation and inspires heated debate about it’s personality and character. You remember it. It is what we call “drinking”.

Collectors and wine geeks alike get very excited at the prospect of tasting something old, and I’ll admit, some of my fondest memories of wine were wines of 20+ years of age on them. But many collectors who I’m happy to call friends as well as customers absolutely hate to drink wine young, they consider it infanticide. While I understand this impulse, I’m here to argue a place at the table for the young ones. 

I actually quite enjoy drinking young wine. I love the freshness of a young and great vintage of Beaujolais. So many new world wines grace my dinner table on the young side because I enjoy a big blast of fruit in my Willamette Pinot, Cali Merlot or Aussie Shiraz.  Most assuredly (and I think many of my collector friends would agree) I would much rather drink a wine too young, than past it’s prime.

On top of this, there are many, many great wines that are made and meant to be consumed in their youth. As the population rises, space and real estate are becoming increasingly scarce. The act of cellaring (which apparently isn’t a word, but I’ll use it anyway because I can) is an art that, while still alive, is becoming  less popular with the new generation of wine drinkers. The reason is simply that the investment in not just money, but space, and time is too great for most. They don’t have time for all that. They want to drink it now, not spend money and wait for 10-20 years. And let’s not forget, that on the open market, aged wine is quite scarce for most people.

So we sit together at the crossroads. We go down, and try to beg a ride.

Our collectors, both young and old, who believe that wine is best drank at it’s peak, and is worth waiting for. And our wine lovers who don’t have time for all that, and just want to enjoy it now.

Who is right?

Both. And that is the beauty of wine. To each his own I say. But the one thing that I’ll ask of any wine lover who reads this, whether you are a collector with a 1500 bottle cellar, or you don’t have the temperament for that and just live bottle to bottle, is share. Wine is meant to be shared. Set a table, gather round, and share.

Collectors, grab the new kids on the block and show them the joys of great aged Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Chianti, Cali Cab, Aussie Shiraz, Rioja or Riesling.

New kids, bring a bottle of funkadelic Trousseau from Jura, or skin fermented Ribolla Gialla from California. Drink young when you can, drink old when you can. The world is changing, let’s change with it.

When it comes to wine, young or old, you can have your cake and eat it too.

 

 

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2010 Chateau Rouget Pomerol

Once again another stunning effort from the appellation that seems like it can do no wrong. With modern improvements and no shortage of passion, innovation and fervor, the winemakers and grape growers of Pomerol continue to put their best foot forward.

Every time I pop a Pomerol, which, I’m sad to say is not as often as I’d like, I’m compelled to write about it. The wines are gorgeous, perfumed and exotic with an almost dream-like quality. But they are out of reach price wise for the average wine drinker. They are, however, on occasion, worth spending the money and trying one. Particularly if one hasn’t experienced the glory of Pomerol yet. At their best they are silky, seductive wines that over deliver on bouquet, elegance, power and nuance. At their worst, you’ll wonder why you spent so much money on a wine that has about as much charm and structure as a falling down shed.

But for all their powerful palate punching, the wines of Pomerol maintain a freshness and evenness of texture that cleanses the palate, and makes one yearn for a bit of roast lamb or a glistening rib of beef.  They are magical food wines at table, and yet are in the company of new world wines in that you can enjoy them on their own. Incredibly versatile and with a myriad of sub-styles within the broader appellation, there’s a lot to love in Pomerol. As is the case of the beautiful 2010 Chateau Rouget.

Tasting Note:

The 2010 Chateau Rouget is a purple bluish black moving to garnet cocoa tones on the rim. The nose expands triumphantly from the glass in a melange of black currant, raspberry liqueur, wet violets, coffee, spice cake, creme de menthe, sasparilla and dark chocolate. Prototypical. The palate is equally deep. The tannins are like black velvet, and there is a nice bead of cleansing acidity that keeps you returning to the glass. Though the alcohol is just a tad high, it doesn’t beat anything else into submission, finishing with a pleasant warm hug in the chest.

The critics overall had some very nice things to say about this wine, most of them falling between the 91-93 point range and I tend to agree with them here. The wine is beautiful. If it had a touch more restraint with the alcohol, and still managed to keep the texture this silky, I’d go higher on it. But I feel like they hit it pretty spot on.

Are Wine Apps making consultants obsolete?

 

Let’s not beleaguer the fact that wine apps are useful. They help consumers organize and quickly recall their most recent drinking habits, record their own thoughts and impressions, and see what others thought about the wine. They are most helpful mainly for people to simply remember wines that they like. But they are now often being used to purchase wines in retail shops by consumers as well.

Picture this:

A customer walks into a wine shop and begins intently scanning bottles. 2.5 stars for this one –  not good enough, but ah, this one has 4.5 stars, that’s a safe bet right? The consultant at the wine shop shuffles over and asks “Can I help you with anything?”, (keep in mind this is arguably the best part of his day). The customer responds “No thank you, I’m just checking these wines on Vivino.”

The wine consultant’s deflation and a feeling of uselessness can imaginably be palpable.

What causes someone to trust the recorded opinions within a phone application, instead of having a conversation with a person right in front of them? It may come down to trust of course, which must be built. And just as “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”, so too the opinions of many different people may in some ways become more valuable than the opinions of just one person. But by cutting out the opportunity for the consultant to build trust, you are missing out on a relationship that can enrich your life, your drinking habits, and expose you to new joys you never thought possible.

Full Disclosure: Yes they are present to SELL you something, but you came into the shop to BUY something didn’t you?

Additionally, let’s keep something very important in perspective here: the wine consultant is on your side. They want you to get the best possible match for your palate. This is why they’ve likely spent countless hours studying maps, reading books, tasting hundreds of wines a week and taking diligent notes. They attend masterclasses with winemakers and some of the most brilliant industry minds to continue developing a profound understanding of the subject. They also have very intimate knowledge of the products in their shop, particularly if it’s a specialty shop with a wide selection. And they have likely tasted the wine, if not been responsible for purchasing it and having it on offer. The wine consultant IS your personal wine advocate, so you should use them. Absolutely check out that wine on Vivino or Delectable, but be sure to avail yourself of the services offered by the wine staff, they can often provide much more perspective than a point score, tasting note, or a number of stars.

Are wine apps making consultants obsolete? No, they are one more tool to lubricate the conversation.

 

 

Interview with Sommelier Ken Freeman of Italic Restaurant in Austin, Texas

 

Me: Your list is almost all Italian save a few Champagnes, what are some of the challenges you face with an all Italian wine list? Are people more or less willing to explore?

Ken: Yeah 4 Champagnes, other than that all Italian. Just about everything is a challenge, but in the best way. The main thing is that it’s all about the guest. How do we translate, convey, talk about the meanings of Italian wine to people who have no idea what that is? Don’t know grape varieties, don’t know places outside of Tuscany. Maybe Piedmont….they might have been to Sicily but still don’t know what Etna Rosso is. People when they go to Italy typically don’t experience much of the wine culture.

Me: It’s more travel….

Ken: Yeah, I would say 99% of our guests are unfamiliar with Italian wine, and I think part of that has to do with us being in Texas. Though I am glad to be in Austin. The restaurant scenes in Dallas and Houston haven’t done much to push Italy foreword from a beverage standpoint, and that’s really what we are trying to do at Italic, to be the flagship for Italian wine in Texas.

Me: I find that with Italian wine, people are often really willing to try things. The fact that it’s so complex and hard to understand kind of works to its advantage, particularly if the list is only Italian. Do you think that if you had a more international list, that people would still mostly order Italian wine, given the cuisine is Italian?

Ken: No.

Me: You don’t?

Ken: I absolutely do not think so. I think tomorrow, if I wanted to change to an American wine list, I would sell more expensive bottles and I would sell more of them.  The challenge that we are accepting, is something that is of our own volition. If we wanted to just make the most money possible that we could make, we would switch to more of a world wine list.

Me: So, for you it’s more about really representing Italy?

Ken: Absolutely. I mean with Craig (Master Sommelier and Beverage Director) falling in love with wine when he was in Italy and Drew (Executive Chef/Owner) falling in love with Italy and cooking in general while he was there, and me really discovering my love for wine with Italian wine. I think we all really have the heart and willingness to bear that burden. And I think someone needs to do that, because no one else is really doing it in this neck of the woods.

Me: No one is doing it as well that I’ve seen.

Ken: Yeah I mean you have like Barbutto in New York and some awesome restaurants in Chicago, San Francisco, but no one really here in Texas that I know of.

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Me: The service is always fantastic at Italic; how do you go about training your staff?

Ken: The key to talking about wine and making guests feel comfortable is informing your staff. The biggest piece of the puzzle we tried to conquer coming out of the gate, was how to get our staff excited and on board. Because they didn’t know what Italian wine is either, right? Teaching them flavor profiles and giving them things to talk about that are similar to what they are likely to be asked for. Talking about Cabernet and what that means in Italian wine, or what to recommend a guest asking for Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, hell Zinfandel even, these are the major wines of the world that people are familiar with and ask for. We educate on a daily basis. We’re always talking about how we talk about wine. For instance, our focus this week is salesmanship. Every server needs to know exactly what’s in the dish, if it’s a complex dish or a simple dish it’s important to know exactly what’s in the food. But if you go up to a table and explain exactly every element in a dish, it’s not going to sound that good. So how do we break that down, and how do we talk about it?  Our servers know that Sangiovese is going to have notes of tart red fruit, leather and clay, and herbs….

Me: Because you guys list everything by Grape variety, first, right?

Ken: Right! Yes, and that’s back to the guest again. How do we make a menu legible to a guest? If we put COS 2013 Cerasuolo de Vittoria – $56. No one’s gonna buy that. They don’t know what that means, they don’t know where it’s from and they don’t know who’s making it, they might know it’s from 2013…. But…. other than that they don’t know much so we always list varietals first, and that gives people something to latch on to. If you look at our list we have Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon blanc, we actually have a section on our menu right now called “Familiar and Awesome” for people to easily recognize them. A lot of what we do for beverage demands a little bit of curiosity from the guest, and a lot of trust, and that’s something that we need to develop with the staff on our end.

Me: That’s one of my favorite things about Italic. My wife and I love to go there, we brought my Mother there when she was in town. There’s something for just about everyone, even if you don’t know much about Italian wine, it’s easy to navigate. If you’re a Chardonnay drinker, you’ve got Chardonnay, if you want a Pinot Grigio, you guys have great examples… But if you want to go off the beaten path, there are knowledgeable people there to help you get where you want to be, at a price that’s very attractive.

Ken: Yeah!

Me: What regions in Italy are you really excited about? Where’s your passion?

Ken: Well we do a featured producer every month on the wine list, and that might co-inside with a visit from a winemaker or grower. To provide a cool perspective on a style or provide historical context.

Me: Yeah because you guys did Vietti awhile back right?

Ken: Yeah! We did Vietti……Scavino…..but I have some really exciting plans to do Mastroberardino…..

Me: Ooh Taurasi!!

Ken: Taurasi, and some Pompeii ruin wine you’ve never had…. great white wine too though. Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Campania is so important to the history and culture of Italian wine and not that many people touch it. Right now, though we are serving some wines from Meroi, a fantastic father and son team from Friuli.

Me: I remember you poured the Merlot for me blind, and I had no idea it was Merlot, but it had a distinctive Italian nose and palate, just a delicious wine.

Ken: That’s what’s great about that wine, it’s Italian first, and Merlot second.

Me: But great Merlot, and really high quality.

Ken: Exactly. Getting to put that together and establish events to market the restaurant is a very fun challenge for me. So, Friuli is always a big part of us, like if you go to our indigenous ancient white section we have around 20 selections from Friuli. Another region that I’m really excited about is Lessona from Alto Piemonte. Gattinara and Ghemme are historical ones we always learn about, but farther beyond that Lessona and these other subregions are making really beautiful wines. The cool thing about that region, is that everyone is going to be on the same page. Like we are all going to make throwback traditional styles of Nebbiolo and we are going to hold them for a long time before release. Like the current release is often 2008-2010, they are holding on to their wines longer than Brunello even.

Me: And often at a much better price point than Brunello, Barolo or Barbaresco.

Ken: Definitely and they are much more dynamic wines, I mean we’re talking high elevation Nebbiolo so you’re getting all of the tar and roses and tree bark and intense fruit, but in a Pinot Noir-style dress. They just have so much going on and they age so well.

Me: So, say I’m headed to Italic tonight, what is the best food and wine pairing on the menu currently?

Ken: So, I’ll say, we did develop a menu around Meroi when we got excited about them and we’ve kept some of those items from that menu and my favorite is the Duck dish. Parsnip puree, blackberry mostarda and cabbage that is sautéed in the duck fat. Paired with the Meroi Nestri, a cool blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Refosco. Highly tannic and highly acidic, with black pepper and rhubarb tones that really play well with the chocolatey-cocoa tones of the Merlot in that blend. That pairing with our duck is magic.

If I could also steal a second to talk about one more dish, we have a duck pappardelle on our menu right now which uses all the parts of the duck so like the kidney, liver and such with some Calabrian chile for a bit of heat, and fried casteveltrano olives. The red heat of the chiles combined with the richness of the duck pappardelle and the amazing smell of the fried casteveltrano olives aroma is one of the most challenging things I’ve come across in a long time. So, I think of Serra Della Contessa, Benanti’s single vineyard “cru” Etna Rosso made from Nerello Mascalese. That beautiful pure red fruit with that peppery quality, the soft green notes and flowers just excites you, and keeps making you want to go back for more.

Me: You are competing in TEXSOM again this year, what are you most worried about?

Ken: Third times a charm! (laughs) I did well at service for the advanced exam so I feel pretty good about that, and I’ve been tasting consistently. So honestly, I feel like theory would be what I’m most worried about. Just because there is so much to know, and that was the only part of my advanced exam I didn’t pass.

Me: Where do you see Italian wine heading in the next 20 years? What will people be drinking?

Ken: Sicily. I mean it’s kind of having its heyday, but I don’t think it’s topped out yet.

Me: Oh really? Why?

Ken: I don’t think so because I think we will see more people gravitate towards that as we continue to see interest in Burgundy increase. There are so many similarities based on the cru the site and the producer, as well as the weight and freshness for such a fair price, it’s hard to look the other way. I mean even if you come off Etna, you have a substantial number of producers from Occhipinti to Cos and they aren’t even on the mountain and they are making great wines as you know, whites and reds.

The other area is the Alto Piemonte. I think where Sicily is now, in the next ten years the Alto Piemonte will be getting there.

Me: And those wines are phenomenal.

Ken: Yeah, they’re unbelievable.

Me: But I don’t think that Valtellina is going to have the ability to garner such an enthusiastic and passionate following as something like Sicily, because it is so small and the wines and region are so specific. Whereas Sicily is really experimenting what they are going to hang their hat on, I mean they have numerous varieties that are intriguing and cerebral and delicious, and not really expensive. I mean Occhipinti’s Frappato is still coming in around $40-$50 retail.

Ken: Yeah and you are also purchasing like the top stuff, I mean $40 for the top wines? C’mon! That’s incredible value for money!

Me: Well thanks a lot I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and I guess I’ll see you at Texsom!

Ken: Yeah maybe we’ll talk again after! Cheers!

Not So Grape Expectations

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By the time I arrived at 2900 Speedway in Austin, my partner in vinous crime was feverishly cleaning his apartment, attempting as we all do to appear squeaky in the face of impending company. He was disheveled, though enthusiastic about our pursuits for the day. After all, with the TEXSOM competition looming less than 2 weeks away, he has a lot to do. And I have committed to helping my friend prepare in a meaningful and sadistic way.

I don’t really knock when I arrive and for the first time in a while it seems I’ve caught him a smidge by surprise. I was 15 minutes early. Our last preparation session witnessed us hammering away diligently at note cards focused on that exalted region of regions: Bordeaux. In this session it came to light that mi amigo was really passionate about Sociando Mallet, which he hadn’t tasted yet. He would later divulge that the reason for this was precisely because it wasn’t a classified estate but a lone wolf, perched watchfully high atop the Medoc, above St. Estephe (His favorite Bordeaux appellation to date) and at the avulsion of the Gironde from the Atlantic ocean.

I tucked this nugget of insight into my mind. The following week we received the first of some of the 2014 vintage Bordeaux at the shop, which had me working what seemed like hours on end prying gilded treasures from splintered oak boxes. My shop truly has a world class selection of Bordeaux, and our company was built upon it. In between my shelf shuffling and rounds of bottle and case Tetris, I spotted 3 lonely bottles of 2006 Sociando Mallet at the beginning of our Medoc/Moulis/Listrac section. I decided a quick break was in order. Looking over what we had, my collegues’ voice echoed in my head, passionately ringing and intense. I had to get a bottle for us to try together, as we had made plans the following week for an all day review session, followed by dinner and libation.

But which vintage? That was the true test of mettle. We had 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. The 2009 and 2010 were both out, while I do love those vintages in Bordeaux, (2009 being my favorite actually) they were reported to be impossibly tannic at the moment. 2011’s and 2012’s have been drinking nicely lately, especially 2nd labels, but I really relished the thought of getting a bottle with a bit more age, because most Bordeaux loves a good 10 years to get acquainted with itself, and reveal it’s true layers becoming conversational and lubricating the intellect.

2006 it is. Thus I revealed it upon arriving, lovingly placed in a wine cradle with a fresh, crispy serviette underneath. Framed as if on exhibition. My friends’ eyes widened and he became jubilant and gave me an aggressive hug. He was excited, his wine list is all Italian save a few Champagnes, and in my opinion the best in the state. But this does prevent him from playing around with Bordeaux all that often. But first, work had to be done.

After an exhausting 8-hour study session of us beating each other’s brains to a level of fatigue redolent of a full day of heavy landscaping, and a walk to refresh the mind and spirit, we sat down and opened both the Ramonet and the Sociando Mallet.

Now the confluence of meat and potatoes: Expectations.

When I drink Bordeaux or Burgundy, I have a high level of expectation. And that night proved vehemently just how dangerous expectations can be. Both wines deserved their own glass. First, the Ramonet.

Here’s what I wrote down upon opening:

2013 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Rouge – $55

Very bright and lifted nose of fresh bing cherries, fennel pollen, rose petals with a powerfully mineral thread pulling all the elements into harmony. Lively and dancing on the palate, the acidity vibrates like a wind chime and the tannins are silky and soft. An impressive effort given difficult vintage. Fine and pure.

Expectations met, and exceeded. The bottle was in great shape.

Now, the Sociando Mallet upon opening:

2006 Sociando Mallet -$44

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Very savory and earthy nose. Hot sauce, roasted green pepper, a touch of oak. Green green and more green. Very lean style, missing fruit and weight on the mid palate though there is an element of dried berries which is attractive. Coarse tannins and a bit flattened out on the finish. Needs air. 

I was disappointed at first. The alcohol coming in at a slim 12.5%, I began to wonder if the grapes had trouble ripening, or if simply this was the style. Either way, we decided to pour a glass of Ramonet, drink cheerfully while preparing dinner, and let the Sociando breathe.

Whilst cooking dinner we would occasionally come back and sniff the Sociando and came to the conclusion over and over again that it was indeed changing quite a bit. Dinner almost completed, I sat down to nail in a final opinion on the Sociando Mallet.

2006 Sociando Mallet -$44

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

11 years on this wine has an extremely savory nose. Dried tobacco, currants, cherry and peppered hot sauce with an element of canned peas. Very vegetal. Attractively fresh palate with coarse tannins and refreshing acidity, finish is medium long and whispers elements of finely fresh sawn cedar and sweet spice. Good wine, but not for everyone, make sure you enjoy earth bombs, there is some fruit here, but it’s not your typical Medoc wine. Hitting a good stride.

It was glaringly apparent that I had misjudged this wine upon opening.

Initially I had rated the Ramonet higher. But interestingly, it hadn’t changed at all in the glass. It smelled and tasted identical to when we first opened it. Pure, fine, delicious and elegant red burgundy with none of the perils and pitfalls of a dirty cellar. Though it was a tad one dimensional.

The Sociando however, was like a completely different animal. Transforming before my eyes from a harsh and angry Rhino, to a sleek and seductive leopard.  Full of charm and allure, it was a very unique style. Not what I expect when I purchase a wine from the Medoc, but it had so much character, and obviously was a stack above most other petit chateau, really earning it’s spot as one of the top non-classified estates in the Medoc.

My friend pointed out that while we both initially liked the Ramonet, by the end of the evening we had a lot more to say about the Sociando-Mallet, and had hardly talked about the Ramonet at all. This drove the point home.

We are going to have expectations, it’s unavoidable. They will color your opinions and hopefully your experiences to greener, more well informed pastures. But don’t let them close your mind. Remain inquisitive and observant, and you will derive so much more pleasure from wine than taking a sip and immediately passing judgement. Spend time with a wine, someone worked for an entire year for that to end up in your glass, give it time to argue, and listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottle Spotlight: 2012 Qupe Syrah – Santa Barbara, California

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A lone ranger, or a Rhone Ranger? Bob Lindquist of Qupe has become synonymous with Syrah, and with bottles like this it’s easy to see why. After tasting so many disappointing examples of over-extracted, lavish oak bomb Syrahs from California, it’s a breath of fresh air to imbibe something as mouth-wateringly scrumptious as the 2012 Qupe Santa Barbara Syrah.

98% Syrah and a meager 2% Grenache sourced primarily from the famous Bien Nacido vineyard, as well as Sawyer Lindquist vineyard. Organic and biodynamic farming. This is the first vintage of this bottling, prior to the 2012 vintage, Bien Nacido and Sawyer Lindquist were single vineyard wines.

This bottle seriously delivers on all promises at it’s very attractive $25 retail price tag. It’s everything great Syrah should be: Smoky, spicy and peppery with fresh violets, dried lavender, sage, and gobs of sun-kissed black and blueberries. An impressive thread of graphite and crushed stones runs seamlessly through a long and refreshing finish.  It’s hitting a powerful stride in quality drinking right now, but should keep well for several years in the cellar. Superb.

I love Sherry, but I understand why you may not

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Sherry. Few beverages are so commonly misunderstood. It’s still worth it to wrap your head around the complex system of classification that makes sherry what it is.

I love Sherry. I can’t think of another wine that takes more work to make, that ends up across the pond at a more reasonable price than sherry. And yet, for all it’s complexity and nuance, Sherry sales are still on the decline.  I find dry Sherry delicious. But most people don’t. There is a common thread among those who really get into wine that you do get bitten by the sherry bug at least once. From there you begin what I can only describe as a long and desperate plea, trying to win people over to Sherry’s charms. I feel it’s my responsibility as a beverage professional to try and spread the gospel of sherry, before this amazing beverage becomes lost to the ages.

Sherry’s challenges:

1) It doesn’t have the “delicious factor”.

Sherry is a challenging beverage for most people. While it’s flavors are complex and it’s aromatics powerful, it misses the mark for most folks on sheer deliciousness. 

2) If you haven’t tried sherry before, it almost certainly won’t taste like what you expect.

Sherry has multiple styles, which range from bone dry all the way to painfully sweet. This is the first hurdle people encounter when attempting to even purchase a sherry.  Because of this lack of delivering on expectations, most people just write it off.

3) It’s really freaking confusing

The way sherry is classified makes for some very confusing terms and the deeper you go, the more rabbit trails are laid out before you. Tread carefully when learning of sherry, it’s so easy to get lost along the way. 

Sherry’s Strengths:

1) It’s cheap.

Truly great sherry can be had across most of the styles for between $10-15 USD. While getting the best of the best will definitely run you a couple hundred dollars, you can still try the different styles and find something you like and it won’t destroy your pocketbook.

2) It goes with almost everything.

Sherry truly does perform magic at the table. Particularly the dryer styles. And since there are so many different styles to choose from, I’ve found it often intriguing and delicious to serve only sherry during multiple course meals. The more powerful  and oxidized styles are great with richer dishes. 

3) It’s incredibly unique

No other beverage in the world tastes quite like sherry. It’s the benchmark, so much to the point that in the trade often we describe other oxidative styles of wine as “sherry like”. It has developed over a very long period of time to become an iconic wine of the world.

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Sherry is made from 3 grapes: Palomino, Moscatel, Pedro Ximenez

Dry styles are typically made from Palomino, while Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez can more typically be found in sweeter expressions.

Sherry hails from the region of Jerez, in the province of Cadiz in south-western Spain. In this extraordinarily hot and dry climate, the chalk white and moisture retentive Albariza soils are extremely important. After a strong rain, an ensuing blast of hot sunlight “bakes” the soil into a hard, impenetrable top layer a few inches thick. This layer combined with the light-reflective quality of the soil, keeps the root system of the vines cool, and prevents undue heat stress to the vines. A truly remarkable and unique terroir.

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Photo: Albariza soils in Jerez

Another interesting thing about sherry is that the vast majority of it is made from multiple vintages blended together. Much like in champagne this technique helps to create consistency of flavor and is part of sherry’s extraordinary character. While I could get into the Solera System – (barrel aging system for sherry), I’m looking to keep this somewhat short and sweet, so I’ll save that for another article.

DRY SHERRY

In an attempt to make this easier, it’s important to note that dry sherry styles can first be split into two categories: biologically aged, and oxidatively aged.

Biologically aged = Aged under Flor

Flor – a living, breathing, and dying yeast that under just the right conditions will develop as a soft white film on top of the wine in barrel, effectively protecting it from oxygen. 

These wines are produced from the primera yema, or “first press” of grapes and fortified to 15.5 percent before aging:

Fino – light, dry, delicate and floral. The perfect accompaniment to fish and shellfish dishes.

Manzanilla – also light, similar in style to Sherry, but must by law be aged in the seaside town of San Lucar de Barrameda

Amontillado – while amontillado begins it’s life as fino typically, for whatever reason the flor either dies off or doesn’t completely form, this gives Amontillado a bit of oxidation but also has  the character of being aged under flor. Amontillado is more nutty and has stronger caramel and toffee notes. It is fortified to 17-18% alcohol and so is a bit more full bodied than fino or manzanilla

Palo Cortado – a rare and ambiguous wine in that the only legal definition of a Palo Cortado is that it must have the aromatics of an amontillado, with the flavor and palate richness of an oloroso

Oxidatively Aged = Not aged under flor

Produced from the segunda yema or “second pressing” of the grapes. The base wines are richer and more textured to begin with.

Oloroso – nutty caramel flavors with dried yellow fruits and spices. Very complex and intense palate

Sweeter Styles:

Cream sherry- can be broken up into Pale/Medium/Cream sherry styles. These are Oloroso wines sweetened with naturally sweet Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel wines.

Pedro Ximenez – intensely sweet, Pedro Ximenez sherry or “PX” as it sometimes goes by is made by either picking the grapes extremely ripe, or by drying them out in the sun. The resulting style is so sweet and viscous it almost resembles dark maple syrup or molasses. It has flavors of figs, raisins, dried plums with lots of spice and oak character. Make sure you have something to eat with this stuff. Fantastic with chocolate.

Moscatel – made from one of the great ancient grapes of the world: muscat de alexandria, the naturally sweet sherry style of Moscatel. Also intensely sweet much like Pedro Ximenez the moscatel variety produces powerful floral and honey aromatics. 

Sherry will always have it’s advocates, and I will be one of them. I will spend my life serving it to unsuspecting guests, and watching their elated, or crest-fallen expressions after tasting it. I will be traveling to Jerez at least once to get a better grasp on this remarkable beverage I so heartily enjoy. But I don’t expect everyone to love it as much as I do. It is my wish and hope however, that at the very least everyone give sherry a chance. It deserves our attention.