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Emilio Lustau, Sherry Dry Amontillado, “Los Arcos” NV

by Tim Elliott on February 16, 2011

Lustau Dry Amontillado bottleLike a lot of American wine lovers, Sherry is a personal blind spot. It’s not that I haven’t had good or great Sherry – in fact the only wine I have ever rated 100-points is a Sherry – it’s just the style is hard to get your head around.  For starters, many Sherries are intentionally oxidized to create a unique beverage that takes some getting used to. But the main problem, as I previously blogged this afternoon, is that freshness is an issue. And, unfortunately, this is the situation we have tonight with my selection for Wine Blogging Wednesday 70.

Emilio Lustau is one of the better Sherry houses and is widely available here. In fact, it’s the only major producer that I have not yet tasted making it perfect for this month’s theme to taste Spanish wines we have not yet tried. To top off the trifecta, I can’t remember if I have ever tasted an Amontillado, a type of Sherry made in the same way as Fino but then oxidized either intentionally or due to the flor yeast dying in the barrel. These days most Amontillado is made by fortifying the Fino to 18% alcohol which kills the flor yeast and then aged for 6 or more years. The resulting wine is both dry and savory combining the best of the fresh and salty Fino with the nuttiness of oxidation and further reduction in the solera. But as I posted earlier, there is a shelf-life to Amontillado of up to 3 years past the bottling date.

Tasting notes:

Emilio Lustau, Sherry Dry Amontillado, “Los Arcos” Solera Reserva NV ($17) – Tawny-copper in color with aromas of orange peel, almond and raisons. Pecan and toffee flavors finishing dry with cocoa on the finish but a bit dried out and overly oxidized even for a Sherry. Seems like it’s best days are behind it but still interesting. Bottled May 17, 2007.

18.5% ABV
T-cork closure
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Score: 82

Buy this wine online

adegga listing
CellarTracker note
Snooth listing

Thanks go out to Gabriella and Ryan Opaz from Catavino for hosting the revival of Wine Blogging Wednesday this month. And I will look to pick this very same wine up soon with a more recent bottling date to compare tasting note. Watch for the announcement of next month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday coming in the next couple weeks.

How To Decode Sherry Bottling Codes

by Tim Elliott on February 16, 2011

Sherry back labelToday is Wine Blogging Wednesday 70 and I’ve chosen Sherry in keeping with the theme of Spanish wines we have never had before. Sherry has a lot of issues gaining mindshare with the American consumer but one of the most basic is turnover of stock since some Sherries – Fino and Manzanilla in particular – are best within the year they were bottled. Even other styles which will hold in the bottle for years have a shelf-life that consumers should be aware of.

The problem is Sherry is not vintage dated but a blend of many years slowly aging in the solera. Each year a portion is drawn from the bottom barrels and bottled. For commercial reasons Sherry producers stamp a bottling code on each bottle as it comes off the line. This allows importers and retailers to rotate stock but remains somewhat cryptic for the consumer. But once learned you can use this information to make a more informed buying decision.

The two most common coding systems start with an “L” printed on the back label along with a 4 or 5 digit number. In the 4 digit code, the first digit after the “L” indicates the year followed by the day of the year the Sherry was bottled. So the “L7137” code on the bottle pictured here translates to the 137th day of 2007, or May 17, 2007. If the bottle has 5 digits after the “L” then the first 3 digits indicate the bottling day and the last two are the year. So “L18409” would indicate the 184th day of 2009, or July 3, 2009.

There are some other variations of these codes but 90% of the time here in the U.S. you will see the two listed above. The best writeup I’ve seen online on this is over at the Wine Lover’s Page but for some reason it didn’t turn up when I searched on my phone in the store. I wish it had since the Amontillado selected for tonight’s tasting is almost 4 years in the bottle, more than likely at the end of it’s life. Of course it could also be fine as some others have noted. We’ll see a bit later on.

My friends at Catavino have another helpful post about this subject that includes a handy freshness chart:

  • Fino/Manzanilla: Consumed no more than 12-18 months after bottle date and no more than 1 week after opening.
  • Amontillado/medium: Consumed no more than 18-36 months after bottle date and no more than 2-3 weeks after opened.
  • Oloroso/Cream: Consumed no more than 24-36 months after bottle date and 4-6 weeks after opened.
  • Pedro Ximenez: Consumed no more than 24-48 months after bottle date and 1-2 months after opened.

WBW 51: Baked Goods

by Tim Elliott on November 14, 2008

Well it’s Wine Blogging Friday for me this month, but hopefully I can sneak into the summary. The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday this month comes by way of Philly-based wine blogger Joe who goes by 1WineDude online. And it’s a complete departure from our basic formula of wine variety, region or something a bit quirky. In fact, he has challenged us to actually drink madeirized — or intentionally heated and/or oxidized — wines. This style of wine is found in Madeira, Australia’s Rutherglen Tokays and Sherry. But Joe was also mindful that these wines might not be available everywhere so he included all fortified wines including Porto for his “Baked Goods” theme.

I knew at some point there would be an occasion to write about Sherry, a wine I’ve had over the years but didn’t really get into until a visit in June of 2007 to El Puerto de Santa María in the so-called Sherry Triangle. As a guest of Osborne, I visited their winery and tasted Fino literally pulled from the solera. But the most surprising part of this visit was a dinner with only Sherry served. I knew the starter would be easy with a Fino or Amontillado and the dessert course would be matched with a sweet Sherry of some sort but the entree would be a challenge. That’s when I was introduced to Oloroso which was a revelation at the time. But the best wine that night was a sweet Sherry made from a very old solera and the Pedro Ximenez grape. I rated it a 99, the only wine I have ever rated that high.

But before I dig my notes out for that wine let me flash forward to this week when I was looking for a Sherry to review for this tasting. As someone now a bit more educated about Sherry, I know that Fino is best consumed before 6 months from it’s bottling date. Most every Sherry producer has some sort of bottling code that indicates the day and year of bottling. Many times these are cryptic with Roman numerals used for the year but Osborne uses a more understandable code. So while I am continually disappointed in the stores here in the Twin Cities where Fino is “fresh” at 9-10 months past bottling, I was surprised to see a bottle of Osborne Pedro Ximenez “1827” on the shelf with a bottling date of  June 23, 2007… just 5 days before my visit to the winery.

For those not familiar with how Sherry is produced, a quick aside before my tasting notes. The production of Sherry is very old, in it’s current form since the the Moors ruled Spain some 1,200 years ago. Some, according to this piece in Wikipedia, track this style of wine back to the city of Shiraz in modern day Iran, literally the cradle of viticulture in antiquity. The production of Sherry starts with grapes grown in very chalky soils around Jerez, Spain from Palomino or Pedro Ximenez. In the latter case, the grapes are dried for two days before pressing and fermentation begins to concentrate their sugars. After primary fermentation, the wine is fortified with brandy to levels of alcohol determined by the style of the final wine. Fino or Amontillado are fortified to 15 degrees alcohol so that flor yeast can survive to complete the wine. Oloroso is fortified to 17-18 degrees alcohol to prevent the growth of flor and the wine is primarily shaped by oxidation in the solera.

The solera is a system of large barrels between 3 and 9 in number usually stacked in a pyramid shape. This allows for the young wine to be introduced at the top of the solera to fill the lower barrels where the finished wine is drawn for bottling. Sherry is aged in barrel for a minimum of three years but this time in barrel is much longer for more highly prized and rare Sherries. Through reduction and oxidation the resulting wine gains complexity and since all the barrels are neutral, no aromas or flavors from the oak. This is a truly unique and old school style of wine that I hope more wine lovers will try.

Tasting Notes:

Bodegas Osborne
, Pedro Ximenez “1827” Sherry ($21) – Mahogany in color with powerful aromas of fig, molasses, espresso, hazelnuts and some heat from the alcohol. Rich and sweet in the mouth with fig, maple syrup, cocoa and caramel flavors finishing very long with enough acidity that balances the luscious sweetness. Decadent, delicious and an excellent value at around $20 a bottle. Also very nice poured over vanilla ice cream as it’s own dessert.

17% ABV
Screwtop closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

Bodegas Osborne, Pedro Ximenez “Viejo” Sherry ($100/sample tasted at the winery) – Almost black in color with very complex aromas of fig, dates, espresso, dark chocolate, molasses and a hint of baked orange. In the mouth, very rich and layered fig, caramel, baked orange, spice and nut flavors mingle with quite a bit of sweetness that is balanced by acidity. This wine has a finish that seems to go on forever. One of the most extraordinary tastings of my life and as close to a perfect wine I have ever encountered. Buy it, if you can afford it.

16% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★★

Thanks to Joe, the 1WineDude, for getting me back into this style of wine. I’m going to continue to explore Sherry both here and on my podcast… and might even post those recordings made in Spain some 17 months ago.

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Looking For Fresh Fino?

by Tim Elliott on July 22, 2007

Osborne's Fino QuintaSince my return from Spain I’ve missed having fino sherry as an option for an aperitif or enjoying with dinner. It really matches nicely with seafood where it’s citrus and salty character evokes the sea. But since fino is the product of an interesting biological process where flor yeast grows on top of the wine to protect it from oxidation, getting a fresh bottle is important.

Luckily the sherry houses stamp codes on the back-label to assure the savvy customer of it’s freshness and I’m sure retailers use these codes to rotate their stock. Since fino has about a year of life in the bottle before decline, I set out to find one in a few local stores here in the Twin Cities suburbs (south of the river, for locals).

What I found was that all the bottles of fino on hand were at least one year from bottling with a few nearly three years of age. Not good if you want to develop a following for this unique and versatile wine that depends on freshness. So I’ll have to venture down to Minneapolis and St. Paul to check out the stock at a few of the better wine stores in my search for fresh fino; stay tuned for my tasting notes.

To decode the bottling date, look on the back label for a code which starts with “L” and has a series of numbers. There are a couple of variations with either the bottling date and year in 2 digits at the end or the year in one digit at the beginning followed by the bottling date.

Here are a couple examples:

  • Osborne: L18406 = bottled in 2006 on the 184th day, or July 3rd.
  • Emilio Lustau: L5165 = bottled in 2005 on the 165th day, or June 14th.

Hat tip to the Wine Lover’s Page for a good article on this subject and whoever keeps the Wikipedia page on fino. For a great overview on sherry, check out Ryan’s “101” post over at Catavino.