Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
The sherries for this tasting were very kindly provided free of charge (including delivery cost) by the Sherry Notes blog in conjunction with the Consejo Regulator of the Jerez DO and the various bodegas who produced the sherries in question.
Readers of the blog will know I am a bit of a sherry nut. I think it is one of the truly great wines of the world and a reoccurring theme on the blog is me bemoaning the fact that most restaurant wine lists are sorely lacking in sherries (which are food wines par excellence, so those restaurants that neglect them are in my humble opinion seriously missing a trick).
This is mainly due to its versatility, the stunning array of flavours that come with the wildly differing styles and the fact it is such good value.
Sherry offers the full gamut of styles, from bone dry manzanillas and finos all the way up to super sweet pedro ximenez wines. In between you have (Edgar Allan Poe’s favourite) amontillado, (mysterious) palo cortado, (the often enigmatic – you think it is going to be sweet but…) oloroso, (nan’s favourite, but don’t discount it) cream and (the, along with PX, non palomino of the pack) Moscatel.
One of the defining characteristics of sherry is the criadera and solera system. For the vast majority of sherry there is no vintage, with the criadera and solera system operating as a complex blending mechanism whereby wines from different casks are mixed and older years of sherry wines are refreshed periodically using younger wines.
As a result you gets a mix of ages in terms of the wine (rather than it being from one single year). This can lead to remarkably old average ages for these wines, which age very differently from single vintage wines.
I had the pleasure of tasting, direct from the butt, a palo cortado with a average age of over 100 years at Bodegas Mons Urium (an incredibly rare and expensive wine). This was just part of some unbelievably generous hospitality from the lovely people that are Rocio, Alonso and Mario at Urium, afforded to me and Mrs. SF, on a visit there during a holiday in Jerez.
Due to the predominance of the criadera and solera system, vintage (añada) sherries have been somewhat rare beasts for sometime (they use to be the norm prior to the 19th century and I saw a sherry from 1750 in the cellar at Rekondo in Donostia), but are becoming somewhat on trend again.
These wines operate outside of the criadera and solera system, so are not (or are to an extent where it is only negligible) periodically refreshed using wines from other casks. This makes for distinctly different wines than those that come out of the criadera and solera system, with añadas wines having a very different aging profile to solera wines. With fortification of these single vintage wines you can see similarities between añadas sherries and port wine.
The Sherry TT (Twitter Tasting) is a now annual online tasting, as part of International Sherry Week, with 5 sherries tasted online by 15 participants chosen from around the world. This year participants were from 10 different countries, as far afield as Argentina and Canada.
The, generous, tasting samples of the wines are shipped free of charge to the lucky participants (which included little old me) and arrived, in good time and shape, for the tasting.
They all looked rather alarming like an array of urine samples showing the descent of a person from being in reasonably fine fettle (far left below) to a grisly end (far right below).
Despite this, I was confident that there was going to be liquid gold in them thar samples.
With samples to hand, on a night (9th October) during International Sherry week (8th – 14th October in 2018), my fellow tasters and I all settled down by our respective electronic devices ready to chew the fat over the merits of the wines (one of my favourite pastimes).
The theme this years was añadas (vintage) sherries (hence the unsually long preamble – even for me – explanation of these) and Ruben of Sherry Notes (with assistance from the various sherry producers and the Consejo Regulador in Jerez) had put together a fine selection of añadas wines
Picture courtesy of Sherry Notes.
I got myself well prepared with a selection of British Cheese from the Cheese Pantry, jamon serrano and some salted almonds and so it began.
Below is what I thought of the wines.
Manzanilla de Añada 2012 4/11 (Bodegas La Callejuela)
This wine is a rarity amongst the already rare, with añadas wines tending to be more based on the oxidised rather than biological styles of sherry.
11 butts of the 2012 must were held back by the bodega and effectively left to their own devices rather than entering the criadera and solera system. Each year, from 2015, the bodega has released bottlings from one of these butt. This offers the ability to track the evolution of the wine over the years, with the 4/11 represents this wine being the 4 release out of the 11 butts.
This was quite atypical of your standard “solera” manzanilla, with a much darker colour (solera manzanilla can be quite a neutral colour) indicating a touch of oxidation. This had the look of a much older Manzanilla pasada wine (like those I tasted a while back at a Jeroboam Club event in Bristol).
On the nose there was a lovely nuttiness, with a touch of sweetness and fruit.
On the palate I got some pleasing green apple and vanilla notes, as well as a distinct nuttiness.
To me (although other tasters disagreed) it did not have the trademark salinity/coastal aromas and taste of a solera manzanilla.
Definately got touches of oxidisation here and this seemed to me to be well on its way towards an amontillado. It has certainly got to that stage much quicker than a solera manzanilla would have, showing how vintage sherries mature more rapidly than solera wines.
Lovely wine to kick things off and rather nice with the jamon and almonds I had armed myself with as nibbles.
Can’t find a UK price for this, but it is around the €19 mark (50cl) in Spain. Very good vale for money this wine.
Palo Cortado Macharnudo Alto Vintage 2000 (Valdespino)
This wine, as well as being from a single vintage, is from a single butt and from grapes from a single vineyard. In sherry terms that makes it rarer than hen’s teeth. Only 500 half bottles of this particular vintage have ever been released. As such being able to taste this wine puts me in a rather exclusive club.
Lovely colour to it – very inviting.
On the nose it has a distinct creaminess to it, with stone fruits and caramel, loads of caramel. I got an almost clotted cream toffee aroma at the end. Rather intoxicating stuff.
On the palate there is that caramel and creaminess again with lovely hints of tobacco, spice and a touch of saline. Great length to this wine, with it staying on the palate for an age. As it lingered and lingered I started to get gorgeous notes of polished wood.
Tasting it a couple of days latter, the aromas and tastes included butter doused, salted, popcorn (not unlike the popcorn flavoured jelly bean) and a rich roasted coffee. So many layers to this wine.
Really special stuff.
The price of this wine is around the £95 mark for a 37.5 cl bottle, so very pricey stuff.
Oloroso 2001 Colección Añadas (Williams & Humbert)
It is fair to say the Williams & Humbert have been one of the bodegas that have really driven the revival in vintage sherries and as a result any tasting of añadas wines would be incomplete without one of their wines
I couldn’t find out a huge amount about this sherry prior to the tasting, with little information regarding qualities produced etc.
What I did find out was it was made from free flowing “must” off grapes from vines aged between 20 years and 60 years from pagos Añinas and Carrascal.
As an oloroso it is aged in the absence of flor, so the wine has direct contact with the air (and its oxidising effects) for the whole of its aging process.
Oloroso is, to me, often a bit of a tease. On the nose it can offer up tantalising notes of sweetness (toffee and candied nuts) tricking the mind onto expected the same on the palate, but many (althought not all) do not then give the expected sweetness in the taste as they are required to be dry. This often takes the drinker by surprise and this sensory deception is part of the reason why the oloroso style of sherry wine is one of my favourites.
Here the añadas style makes for potential a sweeter wine, with the cutting off of the termination process leaving residual sugars in the mix.
Lovely colour, with an almost rose ting to it
On the nose, it didn’t have the level of sweetness I was anticipating for an añadas oloroso. Not necessarily a bad thing I would hasten to add.
This wine gave off quite fruity (I got raspberries), with some nice woody notes and toffee. I also got distinct hints of bitter orange in there.
On the palate, it was very smooth and warming – with lots of vibrant fruit, rich woodiness and gentle spices. Not perhaps the deception of sweet on the nose and dry on the palate of many a solera oloroso, but a really rather fine wine I thought.
Price wise, this can be bought retail for around the £30 (plus shipping cost from Spain, I can’t seem to find it in UK) for a 50cl bottle. Very good value, I thought, for a wine of this quality.
Palo Cortado 1987 (González Byass)
This wine comes from a mere two casks, with it having spent 6 years aging biologically (under the flor) and a further 22 years via oxidisation maturation. It is an en rama wine, so it has been bottled without any filtration or clarification.
It has a seriously dark, with a deep rich mohogany, hue to it.
On the nose it was beguiling stuff, with the initial hit being umami to the max giving off a real savouriness. After that first sniff, the complexity really started to come out with notes of coffee, mocha and even a touch of the sea.
On the palate, it totally blow me away. Oh dear Lord it was gorgeous stuff. There was citrus, salted caramel and vanilla, with a touch of warm buttered toast as it lingered (for an age). I think I was out on a limb as against the other tasters with my butter toast tasting note, mind!
This is a very rare and sort after wine (only 987 bottles were ever released of it) and its price reflects this. Talking around the £220 a bottle (75cl) mark for this wine in the UK (if you can get hold of it at all – Owen Morgan at Bar 44, who knows a thing or two about sherry, has suggested to me it can be obtained a fair bit cheaper if I just look a bit harder – find it for me for under a ton Owen😁).
Pricey and perhaps difficult to justify unless you have really deep pockets (I don’t), but what a treat it was. A real high days and holidays wine.
Añadas 2000 (Lustau)
To finish off it was a cream (this type of wine used to be called a sweet oloroso but rules say it can’t be anymore, although I will – as an old stick in the mud- always regard them as such) from Bodegas Lustau (I am a big fan of their wines, having visited the bodega a few years back – have their 1997 and 1998 añadas and a number of their other sherries in my wine room).
This wine is naturally sweet from super ripe grapes and the stopping of the termination process early, with this leading to residual sugars remaining. In theory this wine and the process by which it is made has a lot in common with port.
The colour was a lovely mahogany
It had a very interesting nose – red soft fruits and a line of citrus in there – quite surprising given its colour (which gave the expectation of a real sticky number).
On the palate there are lovely honeyed notes to it, with a delightful fruitiness that gives it a very pleasing touch of acidity. Sweet, but not tooth achingly so, with the acidity keeping it from being cloying.
Very good value at around the £20 mark for a 50cl bottle.
It was an utter privilege to taste these añadas wines and be a part of this year’s #SherryTT and I would like to thank Ruben of Sherry Notes for organising it and allowing me to take part (can I put my name down for next year already? 😁).
It was a hugely successful event, leaving a Twitter footprint as against the SherryTT hashtag of over 4 million within an hour. I understand that is quite good (I have no idea about stuff like that if I am honest).
Some absolutely fabulous wines on display, all of which I loved. They really showed off the delights of añadas sherries.
So what was my wine of the night I hear you ask?
If I take price out of the equation, I thought the two palo cortados really shone. Both beautifully elegant and balanced wines, with the Gonzalez Byass wine just shading the Valdespino for me. Both are, however, very pricey.
If I apply price to my assessment of these wines, I think I would probably plump for the Williams & Humbert Oloroso 2001 Colección Añadas. For £30, this offers up an awful lot on both the nose and the palate. The Bodegas Lustau añadas was a markedly different style, but also offers up exceptional value and is probably the easiest of these wines to source. You can (at least until recently) pick it up in Mark & Spencer, I believe, for around £20 (50cl bottle). Very fair price for a lovely wine.