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Forgotten Vines: Jerez, a.k.a Sherry

February 24, 2013 5 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed and even web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Forgotten Vines” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also, note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Jerez Don Gonzalo OlorosoI hope by now you learned a lot of secrets of the wine world – from great Rioja to second labels, French Sparkling wines, and wines of Languedoc. While there are still lots of secrets to discover, let’s take a break and change the subject a little bit. After all, we are on the hunt for unique experiences, aren’t we? What do you say if we will look for something which is hard to find? Would that be unique enough? Keep in mind, we are still talking about wines, not UFOs.

What will make a wine “hard to find”? Limited production would be one of the major factors – if there are only 100 cases made, and wine is good, of course, it will be hard to find (needless to say it will be also appropriately reflected in the price). Putting limited availability and cult factors aside, what if we simply forgot that some kind of wine exists, would it be then “hard to find”? Of course, it would. And believe it or not, with all the glut of wines coming into the world daily, there are still wines which are almost forgotten, which now became quite rare and “hard to find”. Let’s name the names: I’m talking about wines which had their glory days in the 16th through 19th centuries, and these wines are Jerez (also known as Sherry), Madeira and Marsala (yes, of course, you know Chicken Marsala dish, but Marsala was there first, before someone decided to cook chicken in it). Let’s explore those “forgotten vines”, as they are really worth it – but you will be the judge.

Is there something common between those wines except that they are forgotten? Yes, they are all fortified wines (to complete the list of fortified wines we need to add here Port – but Port will be a subject of a separate discussion), which means that they all had an addition of pure alcohol which acted as a preservative and affected the way the wine will be aging. Fortification also allowed the wines to be transported over long distances in the barrels, keeping them fresh.

Now, let’s extend the pleasure. Let’s talk about these wines one by one. And for no particular reason, let’s start with Jerez. Jerez wines come from Spain, and of course, the name is linked to the name of the place – a town called Jerez de la Frontera. The history of the wine goes all the way back to the beginning of the past millennia, with glory years spanning from 16th to the end of 19th century  – an epidemic of phylloxera, a grapevine louse, devastated the region in 1894, and Jerez wines never made it all the way back. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the region, you can take a look at Wikipedia pages.

Jerez ( which is also often called Sherry) is produced mainly from the grapes called Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximenes, and it can be made in a variety of styles from very light to dark and heavy. There are a few interesting notes about making the Jerez. First, as we mentioned before, the wine is fortified with the addition of the brandy. As brandy added after the wine is fermented, typically Jerez is a dry wine – sweet versions are produced by blending in some sweet wines. Once brandy is added, Jerez goes through the aging process, which is called the Solera method. In this process, the wine is aging in the system of the barrels, where the youngest wine goes into the first barrel; however, when the new wine is added, some of the wine which was already aged for a while is moved to the next barrel. Such a process can continue for many decades, so the resulting wine obtains a tremendous level of complexity. Depending on the level of alcohol in the wine, a thin layer of yeast called Flor can develop in the barrels, protecting the wine from oxygen and allowing it to mellow out and obtain a very low level of acidity.

Enough talkinViejisimo Jerez 1922g – time to open a bottle.  Let’s start with Don Gonzalo Oloroso VOS Jerez. This wine had been aged for at least 20 years (this is what VOS means). Very complex nose of nuts and caramel. Salty and gamey on the palate, with a hint of applewood smoke and again great complexity. This wine would perfectly complement the cheese and cured meats, but it is very pleasant to sip by itself.

The next wine, Bodegas Toro Albalo VieJisimo Solera de 1922 comes from a region called Montilla-Morales, which is neighboring Jerez and also can produce wines of Jerez style. Are you paying attention? 1922! It is not every day you can drink the wine which is almost 90 years old, and not go broke after the first sip (this wine costs less than $40/bottle). It is even better when such a wine gives you great pleasure. This wine shows an exceptional nose of immense complexity and pronounced herbs, such as oregano and sage. Similar saltiness on the palate as the previous wine, with excellent acidity, very balanced and complex at the same time, and very dry.

I hope I told you enough to make you want to try Jerez – you should definitely do it, and I’m sure you will not regret. And if you will be blown away – please let the rest of us know – as we would want the same. Cheers!

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