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Celebrate Versatility of Sherry

November 12, 2021 2 comments

Sherry. Jerez. Xerez.

I’m sure you’ve seen the name, at least one of the three. But when was the last time you actually had a sip of sherry? While you are trying to recall, let’s talk about it.

The winemaking area where the eponymous wine is produced, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, is located in the south of Spain and is one of the oldest winemaking areas in Spain and in the world, producing wines since 1100 BC. Nowadays, Sherry is known as a fortified wine – meaning that a neutral spirit was added during wine production to stop the process of fermentation. However, the fortification of Sherry is relatively a young phenomenon, developed in the 17th-18th centuries – until then, Sherry was simply known as a high-quality wine. After developing its unique style as fortified wines aged typically for 8 years using the solera method (the wine is partially taken from the barrel for bottling, and the barrel is topped off with the wine from the new vintage, repeating the process for many years), Sherry became one of the most popular Spanish wines, competing for the crown with Rioja. Phylloxera infestation at the end of the 19th century delivered a lethal blow to the Sherry wine industry, from which it never fully recovered.

Sherry wines are unique and even mysterious. Only three grapes – Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel, are used in the production of sherries. Actually, Palomino is used in the production of about 95% of all Sherry wines. Five different styles of dry Sherry – Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso, are produced from the same palomino grape, each one with its own unique characteristics. Then you have a range of Cream sherries, typically combining one of the Palomino-based dry sherries with Pedro Ximénez, to achieve various degrees of sweetness. Last but not least would be Pedro Ximénez (typically abbreviated as PX) and Moscatel sherries, delivering oozing sweetness – but, when done properly, offering balancing acidity, and becoming heavenly nectar.

I discovered the world of Sherries more than 10 years ago, and really enjoyed that discovery for a while. Until for some mysterious reason (there is a mystery in Sherry, I’m telling you), I stopped enjoying most of them with the exception of PX. I was a bit confused as to why and how it happened and even shared my frustration and the attempted comeback in this post. Then a few months back, I poured myself a little glass of Oloroso from the leftover bottle from the past tasting (the beauty of Sherry – it can keep almost indefinitely after opening, don’t try that with wine), looking for the pre-dinner drink – and I was back in love. Pure mystery, but I’m not complaining.

Considering its range of styles, Sherry is one of the most versatile wines out there. You can pair it with your mood, as the expressions of the dry sherries are literally unmatched in the world of wine offering non-fruity complexity (nuttiness, salinity, herbaceousness, crisp acidity, and more); sweet sherries simply bring you into the world of hedonistic indulgences. You can also perfectly pair a whole dinner with Sherry, starting with a simple aperitif, as I did with the aforementioned Oloroso, and ending with PX, either by itself (good enough) or with a dessert (even better).

Oh yes, the dessert. This week, November 8 – 14, 2021, is designated as Sherry Week (#SherryWeek2021), a worldwide celebration of this unique wine. As part of the festivities, I received samples of the Sherry wines produced by González Byass, one of the purveyors of the fine Sherry wines. Moreover, the sherries were accompanied by dessert, and suggested pairings! I got a selection of pies from Tiny Pies to pair along with the Gonzalez Byass Sherries as follows:

  • Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso 
  • Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream
  • Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
  • Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez

Let me say first a few words about Tiny Pies. Tiny Pies company was born in 2010, in Austin, Texas, with its history starting from a simple question – quoting from the Tiny Pies website in the words of one of the founders, Amanda: “One day in 2010, my son, Andrew, innocently asked why he couldn’t take a piece of apple pie to school. I tried explaining to him that it wouldn’t be easy to eat. Andrew then suggested that we make a pie he “could eat with his hands””. The rest is history- today Tiny Pies operate 4 locations in Austin, and they also ship their pies countrywide, and yes, you can eat them with your hands.

Now, the sherries. Out of the four sherries I received, I was well familiar with 3 – Oloroso, Harveys Bristol Cream, and Néctar – instead of repeating my notes, you can find them in this post. González Byass Solera 1847 Cream Dulce (18% ABV, $17/375 ml, 75% Palomino, 25% Pedro Ximénez) was a new wine for me. At first, I got very excited about 1847 in the name, as I thought that maybe this is when the original solera was started and maybe it is still going (which would make it a 170 years old wine, not bad, right? :)). I asked the publicist this question, and the answer was a bit more prosaic but still worthwhile: The founder of González Byass, Manuel Maria González, founded the winery in 1835. His son turned 1 in 1847, so he decided to name the Sherry after the year he turned 1. Otherwise, the wines spent 8 years in solera, and each barrel is used for approximately 30 years. So one way or the other, but 1847 is not a random number.

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Of course, I tasted the wine by itself, and it was delicious – dark amber color, complex and herbaceous nose. The palate was full of dried fruit, chocolate, and figs, with good acidity and perfect balance.

And now, to the pairing!

I obviously went along with the recommendations – here are my notes:

Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso:
Interesting. Some contrasting notes, but not great. Best pairing – Pedro Ximenez. Worked perfectly, matching the cinnamon profile of the apple pie.

Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream:
Very nice. Excellent match on the nuttiness. Not so good with Cream 1847. Harveys complements perfectly and refreshes the palate after the bite.

Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
Very good, pairing by the contrast. Sherry perfectly cuts through the sweetness.

Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez
Not good. Néctar flavors clashed with the Cherry pie. Tried with all the sherries, and the only working was Harveys Bristol Cream, as it complimented the flavors of the cherry pie.

This was definitely a fun exercise – it is interesting to note that at least one of the 3 sweet sherries paired perfectly with the dessert – however, the Oloroso pairing with dessert was lost on my palate.

While I’m sharing my experience here, I’m really hoping that this would spark at least a little interest in you, my readers, to seek and try a sherry. Sherry wines are not gimmicks, they are versatile, inexpensive, and give you almost unlimited time to finish that bottle. No need to wait for Sherry Week 2022 to experience Sherry – visit your favorite retailer and give it a try. And then let’s compare notes…

Seeking Peace with Sherry

December 26, 2019 5 comments

Sherry, a.k.a Jerez or Xerez can be considered a graduation wine for the all-encompassing wine lover (pun intended or not, but I believe Sherry is actually a part of the last exam for the WSET diploma candidates, so you can read whatever you want into this). While Sherry has a very long history, it completely lost the clout it had in the 17th–18th centuries, and today it is more of a wine for the people in the know, a sort of the secret handshake for the true wine aficionados. “Do you like Sherry”? “Of course” – that answer would instantly create the bridge of understanding between the participants in the dialog.

Harveys Bristol Cream sherry

Sherry is fascinating. It is not just another white wine. It offers a very complex taste. Sherry production involves some elements of magic – identified as Flor and Solera. Sherry usually undergoes the long aging process in the barrels. Sometimes, the thin veil, a layer of yeast is formed on top of the wine aging in the barrel – this layer is called Flor. Flor is thick enough to protect the aging wine from the oxidation, but it also requires a very specific level of alcohol in the wine in order to survive. If the wine will finish its aging while protected by the flor, it will become a fino or manzanilla Sherry. However, the formation and survival of the flor is the thing of the mystery.

And then there is Solera. In the solera method of aging the wine, which is often used in the production of Sherry, the set of barrels is always topped off with the younger wine, moving wine from one barrel to another as the wine ages. The barrels are never emptied and never washed, thus if the solera was started 100 years ago, there will be traces of the 100 years old wine in your glass – how cool is that?!

Now, it is time for the hard truth. 7 or 8 years ago, I truly enjoyed the range of Sherry wines, starting from the driest fino and manzanilla, and all the way to the “liquid sugar” Pedro Ximenez – here is the article I wrote back in 2011; I also talked about Sherry in the Forgotten Vines series of posts. Today, I’m avoiding dry Sherry like a plague, as I’m unable to enjoy it much. When I’m offered to taste a sample of the Sherry, I usually have to politely decline. Talking to the fellow bloggers who are raving about their love of Sherry, I usually try to avoid making eye contact as much as possible, so I don’t have to share my opinion.

When I was offered a sample of a Cream Sherry, my first reaction was “no, I’m not touching the Sherry”. But then I thought “hmmm, Cream Sherry – this should be a premixed liqueur, like Baileys and Cream – I can probably do that”, so I agreed to review the wine.

When the bottle showed up with all the explanations, I quickly realized that I was wrong in all of my assumptions.

First, there is no cream in Cream Sherry. It is simply a special style of Sherry – not dry, but not as sweet as Pedro Ximenez would be. The wine I got was Harveys Bristol Cream – and there is a slew of fun fact I would like to share with you, both about the Cream Sherry style and about this particular wine (courtesy of González Byass, a producer and importer of this wine):

Harveys Bristol Cream cream sherry“Did you know that Harveys Bristol Cream
1) …was first created and registered in 1882 by John Harvey & Sons in Bristol,
England, creators of the “cream” Sherry category?
2) …is not a “cream” liqueur, like Baileys, but a Sherry? They decided to call it
a cream Sherry because the richness rivaled that of cream.
3) …is a blend of more than 30 soleras of Sherries aged from 3-20 years? And
it’s the only Sherry made from 4 different styles of Sherry: Fino,
Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez.
4) …is the only Spanish product with a Royal Warrant from the Queen of
England since 1895?
5) …first came to the United States in 1933 and quickly became a best-seller.
6) …is best served chilled? We think it’s perfect at around 50°-55°F.
7) …is defined by its blue glass bottle and now has a label with a logo that turns
blue when Harveys reaches its perfect temperature.
8) …can be stored in the fridge for up to one month? Although it rarely lasts
that long.
9) …pairs really well with cookies, especially Oreos?
10!…is the number one selling Sherry in the world?”

Secondly, I happened to enjoy this wine! Beautiful mahogany color, more appropriate for cognac or nicely aged scotch, a nose of hazelnut and a touch of fig, plus unmistakable Sherry salinity. The palate shows caramel, burnt sugar, hazelnuts, a dash of sea salt and perfect, clean acidity, which makes this wine a real pleasure to drink. Add a fireplace to this wine over a cold winter night, or a cigar on the deck in the summer, and you got your thirst of guilty pleasure fully satisfied.

Will this be a pivotal wine for me to find Sherry love again? I can’t say it for sure, but I will definitely try. If anything, I’m now at peace with Sherry. And I’m off to pour another glass.

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