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 MarÃa 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.
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.
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.
Natural cork closure
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.