Last night (March 16) Lynn and I hosted the SOB tasting of Spanish Sherry wines. It was a monumental tasting with a wide range of high quality wines in a variety of types and styles. Most of the wines were procured by Billo Naravane, along with some participants' bottles. The wines were served open rather than blind because of the wide range of types and styled. They were accompanied by tapas.
Today, Sherry is largely misunderstood. The widespread perception is that they are sweet wines, such as Cream Sherry or Medium Dry Amontillado. Actually, there is a range of complex wines, most of which are dry or nearly so. Here is the range of wines we tasted, with my notes and scores.
Fino - Fino Sherry is wine (nearly all from the Palomino grape) that develops flor yeast on top the the wine, preserving the wine's freshness. A bodega will bottle a third of its solera (casks that are racked from one to another) each year. The flor usually lasts up to eight years. Finos are dry and bottled at lower alcohol, usually 15 or 16%. We started off with two Finos.
Faustino Gonzalez "Cruz Vieja" Fino en Rama - This showed an amber color and an intriguing nose of almonds and smoke. The flavors were very tangy, with woodsy notes and lemon peel, finishing crisp, slightly nutty and fine. 15% alcohol. 19/20 points.
Raineri Perez Marin "La Guita" Manzanilla - Manzanilla is Fino from Sanlucar de Barrameda, south of Jerez, near the coast. This one showed a pale gold color and a tangy nose of lemon, almond and sea salt. The flavors showed bracing Palomino purity, with notes of melon peel and lemon rind, followed by a nuanced very dry finish. 15% alcohol. 19/20 points.
Amontillado - After the Fino flor yeast begins to die off, at about eight years, the wine turns into Amontillado. While much Amontillado is sold as medium dry, these are superior dry Sherries.
Lustau "Escuadillo" Rare Amontillado - Deep orangish copper colored, this possessed nose of roasted nuts,orange peel,mahogany wood and spices. The flavors were broad, yet focused, with a swath of sweet-dry, nutted flavors, turning dry on the lingering finish. 20% alcohol. 19/20 points.
Gran Barquero Amontillado - Medium copper orange colored, this showed a nose of roasted nuts, orange peel, cigar box and incense. The flavors were deep, penetrating and complex, The back picked up notes of anise and burnt toast, followed by a lingering dryish finish. 20% alcohol. 19.5/20 points.
Bodegas Tradición 30 Year Amontillado, VORS - The initials stand for "Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum," a designation for 30 year old Sherry. his showed a copper color and a mature nose of orange peel, dried roses, Marconi almonds. Made in a lighter, but complex style, with notes of dried fruits and anise, and a long finish. 19.5% alcohol. 19+/20 points.
Gonzalez Byass "El Duque" 30 Year Amontilado VORS - Deep copper colored, this possessed an intriguing aged nose of dried orange peel. roasted walnuts and caramel, with scents of musk and smoke. The flavors picked up notes of chicory, burnt coffee beans and charcoal, followed by a nutted, brandied (21.5% alcohol) near-dry finish. 19.5/20 points.
Palo Cortado - This is a type of Sherry that has characteristics of Fino and Oloroso.
Valdespino "Viejo C.P." Palo Cortado - This showed a light copper color and an intriguing nose orange peel, roasted nuts and dried rose petal. The flavors came on as being medium bodied, but complex, with notes of roasted Marconi almonds, lemon tang and old oak. 19/20 points.
Gonzalez Byass "Apostoles" 30 Year Palo Cortado VORS - Deep amber-mahogany colored, this possessed an intoxicating nose of sun baked bodega, roasted walnuts, orange peel and dried roses. The flavors were simultaneously sweet and dry, noticeably oxidative but still resonant, followed by a long, nutted, slightly brandied finish. 20% alcohol. 19.5/20 points.
Fernando de Castilla "Antique" Palo Cortado - This 25 year Palo Cortado offered a medium copper color and exotic aromas of dried roses, nuts and smoke. The flavors were exquisitely wrought, with notes of grilled nuts and orange peel, followed by a tangy, warm (20% alcohol) near dry finish. A superb example of the lighter, complex style. 19.5/20 points.
Oloroso - Oloroso is Sherry that has become further oxidized with aging in the solera. Much Oloroso is sweetened, as in Cream Sherry, but the best are dry or nearly so.
Valdespino "Don Gonzalo" 20 Year Oloroso VOS - VOS stands for "Vinum Optimum Signatum." This showed a copper-mahogany color and seductive aromas of roasted sweet nuts, orange peel and incense. The flavors were rich and complex, with notes of coffee and bitter nuts, followed by a dry finish. 19/20 points.
Gonzalez Byass "Matusalem" 30 Year Oloroso VORS - Composed of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximenez, this showed a brownish copper color and a nose of roasted nuts, burnt leaves, toffee and mocha. The flavors were opulent and sweetish (from the P.X.) with notes of coffee beans and lanolin, followed by a lingering sweetish finish, counterpointed by fine acidity. 20.5% alcohol. 19.5/20 points.
El Maestro Sierra "1/14" Oloroso - Number 100 of 250 bottles, this 30 year old Sherry showed a medium copper color and intoxicating aromas of dried orange, peel, apricots, and cocoa. The flavors came on sweetish at first, but turned dryish, with notes of dried fruits, roasted walnuts and almonds, toffee, dried orange peel, all followed by an alluring, long, elegant finish. As an archetypical aged Oloroso, this gets 20/20 points.
Pedro Ximenez - This is the grape used to sweeten wine, as in Cream Sherry. It can also be bottled as a sweet varietal Sherry, such as this one which we finished off the tasting with.
Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez, Montilla-Moriles - The grapes are laid out in the sun to dry, producing a sweet, complex wine. From a solar started in 1927, this showed a deep mahogany color and an intense nose of raisins, tobacco, toffee and dried roses. The flavors were opulently sweet, yet with a dry undertone, imbued with licorice, cocoa, vanillin and nuts. The nutmeg and clove accented finish was long and sweet, balanced by fine acidity that supported the wine through its long sojourn in the bodega. 16% alcohol. 19.5/20 points.
As you can see from the above notes and scores, these are extraordinary wines. They are not cheap. The 30 year old VORS Sherries cost about $50 for a 375 ml. bottle, somewhat less for the others. But given their quality and complexity levels, they are well worth it.