Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review
Sherry is an adult beverage that is a victim of the past. The word “sherry” conjures up images of elderly ladies sitting in a living room (doilies on the tables!) drinking a sweet cream sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Cream anyone? What people do not know about sherry is that it is made in a wide variety of styles. Sweet and dessert wines are less popular these days, which has made sherry naturally fall out of style. However, today we will talk about two DRY styles of sherry that may be more up your alley.
This week is International Sherry Week! I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new! What a perfect time to jump in. Let’s first cover the basics of sherry, so you know what you’re getting yourself into!
There are three white grapes allowed for use in Sherry: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel. The main environmental influences for the grapes used in sherry are the unique white chalky albariza soils (which help retain moisture) and the warm, dry weather.
Sherry is a fortified wine made only in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The main styles of sherry are: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and PX. The best way to explain what sherry is is to explain how it is made. The two ways to age sherry are biologically (under flor, which is a blanket of yeast) or oxidatively. All the styles listed above fall into these two categories, or somewhere in the middle. But we’ll explain that in a minute!
First, a neutral base wine is made and fermented to a low alcohol (11-12%). The wine is then fortified, in which a neutral base spirit is added to increase the alcohol (15-18% depending on the style). The wine is then placed into oak barrels that are not completely filled to the top and is now ready to enter the “solera” for aging. A solera is a process for aging the wines in barrel. See the picture below from the SherryNotes website (which I highly recommend you visit if you want to learn more about sherry!). The bottom barrels are the oldest and the top barrels are the newest. There are different barrels for each year/vintage. Every year some sherry is pulled from the solera and bottled and every year more sherry is added into the system and it is fractionally blended with the older vintages.
A description of the styles of these samples lies below within the tasting notes.
Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado Sherry $24.99
An amontillado sherry starts out being aged biologically under the flor yeast. It is then moved to an oxidative solera. This is why the main markers for amontillado sherry are oxidative and nutty notes. This wine is a pale amber color, has bracing acid and is super duper nutty. There are also savory/umami notes as well as a woody note. This wine has a veryyyyyyy long finish.
Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado Sherry $24.99
Palo cortado is a rare style of sherry. The wine starts biologically aging under the flor yeast, but sometimes the flor does not develop properly, so it is moved to an oxidative aging system. For this reason, the wine has a combination of aromas/flavors from both systems. It is a more complex wine and perceived to be of a higher quality. This wine is a medium/deep amber color, very strong acid and is richer than the amontillado. The nuts are a bit toastier, almost like garrapiñadas roasting on the street. I also get dried orange peel, caramel, candied ginger, and baking spices (cinnamon and cardamom). There is also a lactic note, which is typical of a Palo Cortado.
Good food pairings for this wine include: cured meats, nuts(!), and cheese. It is a lovely companion to a charcuterie plate to get the party started! These wines are both perfect as we move into fall and look for something other than simple whites and the ubiquitous rosè. These wines have character, a savory note, and are quite warming.
Disclosure: I received this sample for review
I had intentions of drinking this wine on election night and going live with this blog post the following day. However, the unexpected outcome of the election had me in a state of shock that no amount of fortified wine could get me out of.
What do presidents drink? Historically, the answer is Madeira.
What is Madeira? And how did it become a presidential drink? Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of the same name. The island is located 625 miles off of the coast of Portugal, so naturally, it became an important stop on the trade route from Europe to the New World in the 16th century. In fact, the North American colonies consumed about a quarter of the island’s production by the late 18th century. Initially, the wine was unfortified, but by the time the ships reached the New World, the wine had spoiled due to sun exposure on the hulls of ships. To combat this spoilage, the wine would be fortified with a neutral grape spirit. This would increase the alcoholic strength of the beverage and protect it from spoilage. However, the wine was still subjected to maderization, which is the natural aging/oxidation of the wine from the exposure to the sun and the movement/rolling on the ship as it traveled. This gave the wine “baked” flavors of: caramel, nuts, coffee, etc. In the New World, particularly in the North American colonies, Madeira was held to high esteem and became a drink for the upper class, including our first presidents. Thomas Jefferson was a Madeira drinker and George Washington was said to down four glasses of Madeira every afternoon. In fact, Madeira was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Today, Madeira no longer has to ride on a ship for a few weeks or months to develop those signature maderized flavors. Maderization is achieved in two ways. The slower, more natural canteiro process is where the wine is left in casks on racks (called canteiros) in lofts and are heated by the sun. This can take anywhere from 20 to 100 years! The artificial process called estufagem, is where wine is pumped into containers (called estufas) made of stainless steel and heated to mimic the maturation that used to happen on the ships. This process can take anywhere from 90 days to 6 months.
Ok, back to 2016. Yes, we have a new President, and while this isn’t a political blog, I’m not afraid to say that I am a combination of mad as hell and scared shitless for what the implications are for our country. Only time will tell. Speaking of time, the Madeira Club of Savannah, an “old boys club” in Georgia where the members get together regularly and drink old Madeira, has been meeting regularly for over 250 years. They even survived Prohibition. That’s pretty damn cool in my book.
Blandy’s Alvada Madeira SRP $18 (500mL) 19% ABV
This wine is a combination of both Bual and Malmsey grapes, two of the “noble” varieties. It is aged for 5 years in seasoned American oak casks using the traditional Canteiro aging system. This is a beautifully complex wine. The nose has intense notes of raisin, prune, roasted nuts, toffee, coffee, and even lime peel. The wine is medium sweet and has less primary fruit flavors (raisin) and more tertiary notes of coffee, chocolate, toffee, and butterscotch. Overall I’d call this wine elegant and refined. Very complex. A couple fingers worth of Blandy’s Alvada, and your insides are warmed for the night.
Fun fact: The Blandy family is unique for being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their original wine company.
Disclosure: I received these bottles of Port as samples for review.
Happy Halloween to everyone out there! Last night I had a few friends over to carve pumpkins, share a meal, and try out some Port cocktails. When I received these samples, I knew that I wanted to do something different instead of standard tasting notes. It is the Fall season (though I’m in LA and it’s about 80 degrees out) and Port cocktails felt appropriate for All Hallows Eve!
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so why not turn my blog R&D into a little event...I am an event producer and all.
Recipe for a party:
1. Invite a few close friends over. There were six of us in total.
2. Craft three Port cocktails. I am not a mixologist, so I decided to use tried and true recipes I found online HERE. I made small adjustments, as I did not have 100% of the ingredients on hand.
Recipe 1: Port Julep. At the bottom of a glass you dissolve 1.5 tbsp of superfine sugar with 0.5 oz of water. Then add 6-7 mint leaves and muddle. Add 1 oz tawny Port, 1 oz VSOP Armagnac (I used Cognac, as I had it on hand), and 1 oz rum. Pour back and forth between two glasses a few times. Add more ice to top off glass and garnish with a mint leaf.
Recipe 2: Bar Drake Manhattan. Combine 2.25 oz bourbon, 1 oz ruby Port, and a bar spoon of maple syrup. Pour back and forth between two glasses a few times, add a dash of bitters, stir, and pour into glass. Garnish with a burnt orange peel.
Recipe 3: Saint Valentine. Into a cocktail shaker add ice, 1.5 oz white rum, 0.5 oz ruby Port, 0.5 oz Grand Marnier, and 0.5 oz lime juice. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lime wedge. Surprisingly, this one reminded some of us of a Cosmopolitan.
3. Whip up a Fall-friendly dinner to accompany the cocktails. I landed on a hearty vegetarian goulash. The gravy was made with 4 kinds of mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic, with the base coming from vegetable stock, red wine, and port wine. Over egg noodles, this was a perfect fall dinner.
4. The results! I crafted all 3 cocktails and asked everyone to put in a vote for their favorite cocktail. Believe it or not, it was an even split. Two voted for the julep, two for the Manhattan, and two for the Saint Valentine. Overall, everyone (including myself) was pleasantly surprised at how well the Ports worked with the different cocktails.
What the heck is Port?
Port is a fortified wine made in Portugal. There are many different grape varietals allowed in Port production. With Port, the fermentation process is interrupted before all of the sugar converts into alcohol. So what you end up with is a slightly lower alcohol wine with residual sugar (aka a sweet wine). As with any fortified wine, a distilled spirit (at a very high ABV) is added. This spirit addition raises the alcohol level of the wine. In the end you have a fortified wine that is sweeter than normal wine and with a higher alcohol level. There are many different styles of Port including: ruby, tawny, white, rose, reserve, LBV, crusted, vintage, single quinta vintage, etc. Today we are sampling three different Ports of varying styles.
Graham’s 10 Year Tawny Port 20% ABV $36 SRP
Tawny Port is a Port that has been aged in wood and takes on the tawny hue. The grapes used are also less ripe grapes from cooler climate vineyards, which contribute to the wines lighter color as well. Aged tawnies are generally made from higher quality wines. This wine was bottled in 2014 and in general, aged tawnies can deteriorate if spent too long in the bottle. This wine will have a shelf life of 2-4 months after opening. Good chilled. This tawny port carries notes of nuts, honey, and figs. It is quite complex and was my favorite of the three.
Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port 19.5% ABV $18 SRP
This is a premium ruby-style Port. Ruby Port is aged in bulk and bottled young to retain the ruby color and youthful primary fruit aromas. A “special reserve” which is a premium ruby, is a wine with more color and depth. With this particular bottle, the wine spent extra time in oak casks (4-5 years total) and retains a luscious red cherry flavor. This bottle will keep about 6 weeks after opening. The nose on this wine is youthful with strong fruit concentration that you would expect with a ruby. Lots of red fruit on the nose and palate (cherry, strawberry, and plum).
Dow’s 2011 Late Bottled Vintage Port 20% ABV $24 SRP
Vintage Port is made only in the finest years and from the best vineyards. It is a wine from a single year and bottled between the fourth and sixth years after harvest. Unfortunately the LBV I received was corked, so I will not review this bottle.
After the tasting, I made everyone their own cocktail based off of their votes. We then enjoyed some of the Port neat with a hunk of pungent blue cheese…..DELICIOUS!
How will you be spending your Halloween tonight?