Sunday, 17 August 2014

My Passion for Sherry

Forgive me brethren (whiskyfabric), it has been over three months since I last blogged......

Three months!!!? Where the hell have I been?

To be honest I really don't know where the time has gone, but I had 'lost my mojo' at the beginning of my absence, in terms of writing, and once I'd stopped, it has been incredibly difficult to recover the pace I was once setting. I guess I was burning the candle from both ends and something eventually had to give, Unfortunately it was the writing that has suffered. Then, just when I start to get my mojo back, my computer starts playing up. If you follow me on Twitter you'll already be aware of the hopeless internet connection I suffer, but losing the ability to blog was something I wasn't prepared for!

So how do I get this blog back on track? Well for now, I'm using a program that I can pick up anywhere to write to, but using my phone or old ipad mostly, and then I'll copy and past when I can access a computer to post the piece until I can get a new computer installed.

But for the subject of this post, I thought I'd tell you about my recent hunger for Sherry. This has only come about through my passion for Whisky. As part of my continuous professional development (CPD in CV speak) I wanted to investigate sherry to experience the flavours that's imparted to sherry cask matured Whisky. 
There are some very attractive sherry bottle labels around
I knew nothing about sherry and really didn't know where to start. My experience of sherry would probably be similar to most, a bottle would come out at Christmas time, and my Mother and Grandmother would have an occasional glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream over the holiday period and then it would disappear back into the cupboard for another year. My curiosity never went any further than acknowledging this ritual, although I'm fairly certain that I would have tried this when I was much younger.

We used to eat out at an Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening when I was working in the Far East. At the end of the meal the owner would bring out a chilled sweet Thai sherry alongside some almond biscotti, it was always a nice end to the evening.

So after remembering my sherry history it was back to my new quest. It seemed that many whiskies were stating that they had been matured or finished in Oloroso casks so that's where I thought would be a good place to start, and bought a bottle of it, while I searched the Internet for further information about Sherry.
I've always wanted to have a go with a venencia and recently got the opportunity - one is on my shopping list!
So what is Sherry?

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes, Palimono grapes mostly (and yes I've started reading up grape varieties too) grown in Andalusa. It's also an Anglicized name of the town Jerez (Xeres) where sherry is protected, just like Scotch Whisky is.

Spanish producers have registered the names Jerez / Xérès / Sherry and will prosecute producers of similar fortified wines from other places using the same name. 

From my first bottle of Oloroso I went onto to buy a bottle of Fino (as I once was lucky to taste a fabulous Bowmore 1964 Fino cask) and then Manzanilla and Amontillado was on my shopping list as I declared Sundays to be reserved for Sherry, well at least until the evening when I would be looking to return to a glass of whisky!

I learned quickly that sherry is not as sweet as I was expecting, apart from a few types of Sherry and of course the sweetened or Cream Sherries that my Grandmother would have enjoyed. No, most sherries are quite dry, despite having glorious sweet noses. I also learned that Sherry was meant to be drunk alongside food, hence the Spanish Tapas bars

Sherry doesn't really keep well once opened either so it's best to buy smaller bottles if you're drinking on your own, don't rush out and but a flagon of dry sherry unless you're entertaining a large group of friends! My earliest sherry purchases came from the Wine Society. If you enjoy a glass of wine and you're not a member, you really need to ask yourself why! If you live within striking distance of Stevenage where their members shop and tasting room is located then you really need your head examining if you're not considering membership! It's one of my favourite places to visit on a Saturday morning. There are always a selection of new wines and sherries to taste, a huge selection of wines and knowledgeable staff to guide you. They also have a good range of sherries!

I also started picking up bottles in our local supermarkets, both Tesco and Marks and Spencer stock smaller bottles which are perfect for a couple of weekends enjoyment. Unlike whisky they don't keep well once opened, so I tend to only open one at a time and don't open another until I've finished the last.

Some of my picks so far

Fino: Crisp, dry, yeasty, nutty and tangy, fino is the freshest and most delicate of sherry styles, an bottled at around 15% abv. Fino is aged in barrels and protected from oxygen during its development by the flor or film of yeast. Fino, like most sherries is a versatile food companion, and like a white wine, should be drunk chilled.
Sherry Reviews
I've tried a few Fino's and have had a couple of bottles of The Society's as well as one from Tesco's Finest Range however the Sanchez Romate has been my favourite so far
Manzanilla: This is an especially light variety of a Fino Sherry made in the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda rather than in the cities of Jerez or Puerto de Santa Maria and because the more humid environment in the bodegas here encourages a thicker flor layer, these wines are typically lighter and even fresher than fino, often with a distinctive salty tang 

Like Fino it needs to be served chilled and drunk fresh so always buy from a shop or online retailer that has a good turnover of bottles There's also an extended aged version or has been partially oxidised, called Manzanilla Pasado that has a richer, nuttier flavour
Sherry Reviews
The Manzanilla Pasada from M&S was lovely but my latest find from La Guita has been very nice
For food pairings with Fino and Manzanilla I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site here:

Amontillado is a variety of Sherry that is first aged under flor but which is then exposed to oxygen, producing a sherry that is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso. Naturally dry, they are sometimes sold lightly to medium sweetened but these can no longer be labelled as Amontillado. Amontillado is an amber-coloured sherry that is nutty and complex, with a long finish. It is fortified to around 17.5 ° alcohol to protect it during its development, and because it has been aged oxidatively does tend to last for longer once opened. I've kept smaller bottles at room temperature, but have chilled the litre bottles from The Wine Society. I love the nutty flavours of an Amontillado so keen to explore others.
Sherry Reviews
Again bottles from The Wine Society and Tesco's Finest Range have been sampled and enjoyed
Palo Cortado is a variety of Sherry that is initially aged like an Amontillado, typically for three or four years, but which subsequently develops a character closer to an Oloroso. This either happens by accident when the flor dies, or commonly the flor is killed by fortification or filtration.

The label on the back of this bottle from Cayetano Del Pino states: This is an excellent example of the rare Palo Cortado style. It is an elegant wine with an intense nutty aroma and an attractive roundness on the palate, an impressive length of flavour from long ageing in butts.
Sherry Reviews
This Palo Cortado has been one of my favourites so far and I've had a number of bottles and keep one in hand, just in case!
For food pairings for Amontillado and Palo Cortado I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site again here: 

Oloroso ('scented' in Spanish) is a variety of Sherry aged oxidatively for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, producing a darker and richer wine. With alcohol levels between 18 and 20% abv Olorosos are the most alcoholic Sherries. Like Amontillado, naturally dry, they are often also sold in sweetened versions called Cream Sherry. As with Amontillado "Sweet Oloroso", "Rich Oloroso" and "Oloroso Dulce" are prohibited terms now.

My first bottle came from The Wine Society and it was a bottle of their Viejo Oloroso Dulce, a term no longer appropriate and no longer available! I've also bought a bottle or two of Tesco Finest range (for a while they were selling these at under £5 a bottle) and more recently one from Marks and Spencer. I love the rich nutty flavours and can see how some of these traits pass through to Oloroso cask matured whisky.
Sherry Reviews
I love the rich nose from an Oloroso and will be popping back to M&S for another of this one
Matusalem is made by enrichment of a dry Oloroso sherry with 25% Pedro Ximenez, followed by additional ageing in its own solera, and is produced in very small quantities compared to the other sherries. This is so rich and opulent in feel but not quite as sweet as the nose would suggest. I bought this Matusalem because I remembered Dalmore have used Matusalem casks to mature their whiskies, notably The Dalmore Cigar Malt, King Alexander etc. It was also going for a song in Costco one Christmas, less than £15 for a thirty year old sherry seemed like the bargain of the season. It was only a small bottle but so incredibly complex, both nose and palate are awash with notes of a walnut syrup (if there is such a thing) dates, raisins, figs, candied orange peel and pudding spices. I've just bought a another bottle.
Sherry Reviews
Just purchased another bottle of this recently - decadent!
Pedro Ximenez or PX is made from air-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes, with fermentation stopped early by the addition of spirit. I first thought this would be too sweet for me, but bought a bottle from Marks and Spencer that seemed to be calling my name. It is deliciously sweet and for me, full of blackcurrants and prune syrup! I enjoy it as it is or chilled and have even poured a glass over my fried banana and ice cream dessert. Currently we have a bottle of English Whisky's PX open
Sherry Reviews
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with PX and will be buying more of this!
Cream sherries are more commercial products that have been sweetened by the addition of Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez, they are quite different to the 'single malt' sherries but are still worth investigating, especially if you have a sweet tooth!

What's next for me? Well a trip to Jerez is definitely something I'm dying to do and must be in my plans for 2015. I also want to get myself a Venencia so I can hone my sherry pouring skills  at home. I will of course continue to pick up bottles of sherry on my shopping trips, always looking for something new. If you have any suggestions for me, please don't hesitate to let me know!

So what are you waiting for? As a whisky drinker you have a moral duty to drink sherry!

1 comment:

Thali Ho said...

Well done getting into sherry. We spent 2 weeks in Jerez trying to connect sherry and whisky and found the relationship isn't what the whisky makers would have us believe...