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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 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 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 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 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 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 process can continue for many decades, so the resulting wine obtains tremendous level of complexity. Depending on 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 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 being aged for at least 20 years (this is what VOS means). Very complex nose of nuts and caramel. Salty and gamy on the palate, with hint of applewood smoke and again great complexity. This wine would perfectly complement 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 region called Montilla-Morales, which is neighboring the 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 a great pleasure. This wine shows exceptional nose of immense complexity and pronounced herbs , such as oregano and sage. Similar saltiness on the palate as 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 the 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!

Weekly Wine Quiz #18: Wine and Independence Day

June 30, 2012 4 comments

While last week’s quiz was definitely influenced by the hot weather, I want to still have one more quiz related to the history of wines, just to finish my imagined series. It also will be very appropriate, as in a few days we will be celebrating Independence Day here in US.

Imagine it is July 4th, 1776. Declaration of Independence is presented and voted for at the meeting of Continental Congress representing 13 colonies, signifying independence from the Great Britain. The room is cheering, and the glasses are poured for celebratory drink. Do you know what exactly was poured in those glasses?

Have fun! Cheers!

Wine and Time

January 10, 2012 3 comments

Of course time had being here forever, always moving, and always in one direction (someone, please prove me wrong!). Wine had being around for about 8,000 years, first appearing in the ancient Georgia (no, not the one down south, but the one from the Caucus region, on another continent). Wine is one of the few products literally not changed for such a long time in its form and its production methods – sans reverse osmosis machines, electrical presses and micro-oxygenation boxes. Considering such a long history, you can imagine that relationship between wine and time is very complex, and you would be right.

First, time is a necessary part and an attribute of the wine making process. For the vast majority of wines, if you read winery’s description of the wine, you will see something like “aged for so many month in …”. Sometimes the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. Sometimes the wine is aged in clay vessels (very popular in Georgia now, the vessels are called Kvevri and produce very distinct wines). Lots of red wines are aged in oak barrels – American oak, French oak, Hungarian Oak, new oak, old oak – variations are endless. For many wines, duration and the type of the aging is a sole decision of winemaker (no pressure, but this decision will greatly affect quality and the taste of wine, and will define success and failure for it). For some of the wines, aging in a specific type of barrels is mandatory before the wine can be released – Rioja Gran Reserva should be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrel and 3 years in the bottle to be officially designated as Rioja Gran Reserva. Barolo must be aged for 3 years, at least two of them in the oak barrel, and Barolo Riserva should be aged at least for 5 years. During the aging process, the wine is changing. Oak imparts very specific flavor, which we, humans, tend to like. Oak aging also acts as a preservative and helps wines to live long life.

Once all the aging is complete (in the tanks, barrels and bottles – whatever the aging was), wine is released – and this is when the second phase of the wine and time relationship kicks in.

This second phase is as tricky, if not trickier, as the first. Have you heard the phrase “needs time” in relation to the particular bottle of wine? If you will look at the wine reviews in Wine Spectator or any other publication which provides wine reviews, you would often see one of the phrases “Drink now”, “Best 2014-2020”, “Best after 2013” – these are the suggestions for how long the wine should be kept in the cellar before it should be consumed.

Why is that? What with all this aging? Why not open the bottle right away and just drink the wine? What was discovered at some point (don’t ask me when, but it was long time ago) is that wine actually changes its taste as it spends time in the bottle (the aging). And it doesn’t just change the taste arbitrarily, it tastes better. Young wines are often sharp, or somewhat single-toned in their taste – you might get pronounced acidity, or only sweetness, or lots of white apples – but only white apples. During aging, trace amounts of air are making its way into he bottle, and they lead to the wine changing its taste, improving to the better in majority of the cases – it becomes complex, bite softens up, bright and diverse fruit tones compensate for the pronounced acidity and the wine brings a lot more pleasure compare to the young wines. Mature wines deliver more pleasure – this is the whole philosophy behind wine aging.

Simple and easy, right? Well, this is were everything becomes complicated and confusing – as not all the wines should be aged (do not try to age Beaujolais Noveau, please) and also it is very tricky to make sure you would drink the wine at its peak – as whatever comes up, goes down in mother nature. This is where time transforms from the friend to the foe – and as a foe, it is merciless. After reaching maturity and staying there for a while, the wines are typically starting their decline in the taste (wine loses fruit, become very acidic, may be oxidized – and it stops delivering pleasure). Different wines made in the different styles will have different peak times and different lifespans. Some of the Jerez, Madeira and similar wines can go on literally for the hundreds of years. Good Rioja, Barolo or Bordeaux can be perfectly aged for 50 years or longer. Simple Cote du Rhone might only last for 3-5 years, same would be true for many of the Chardonnay wines. There is not crystal ball telling you precisely how long the wine will last and when will it taste the best – human trial and error is the best way to find that out. Of course there are many factors which might help you to decide whether to age the wine and if yes, for how long – the winery, the winemaker, the region’s wine style, success of the vintage and many others – but in the end of the day you would need to do the work (err, I meant the wine drinking) as the wine ages to find out when it tastes best to you.

So, does it worth to age wines if you don’t know what will happen to them in the end? For anyone who is into wines, and who had an opportunity to try a mature wine, the wine which reached its optimum taste, I’m sure this is a no-brainer question – yes, of course, and please, please give me more.

How one can experience aged wines? You got a few options. First, you can age it in your own cellar. Second, you can buy aged wines, either in a good wine store, such as Cost Less Wines in Stamford or Benchmark Wine Company. Note that you have to buy aged wines only from the trusted source – not aging the wines in the right conditions will simply ruin them, so you have to trust your source. Third option is to attend a wine tasting, such as PJ Wine Grand Tasting, where you can taste really amazing wines. However, you don’t have to wait of the Grand tasting, which takes place only once a year. If you live in a close proximity to Stamford, CT, you can attend a wine tasting at the Franklin Street Works gallery on Thursday, January 19th at 5:30 pm (here is the link for RSVP). The event is free and open to all. Here are the wines which will be presented in the tasting (the list might change at any time):

2003 Riesling, Mosel Saar River, Germany

1998 Merlot, Italy

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, Napa Valley

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, hyper-decanted using Nathan Myhrvold’s methodology.

So you should come and experience the relationship between time and wine for yourself – there is a good chance that you will even enjoy it! Cheers!

Tasting Some Of The Oldest Wines Ever: Jerez

October 26, 2011 5 comments

Once again this year I was lucky enough to seize a great learning opportunity – a wine tasting seminar at PJ Wine store in New York. This time the subject of the seminar was Jerez, also known as Sherry (or Xerez). Jerez is one of the most interesting wines in the world, as its production methods (aging, in particular) are very different from most of the other wines for two reasons:
1. It is left to purposefully oxidize for many years during aging process (something winemakers are desperately trying to prevent while making and then storing regular wines).
2.It is constantly blended with the older wines through the method called Solera, sometimes going back for a few hundreds years (you can find some additional information about Jerez in this post at The Art of Life Magazine).

During the seminar we tried 8 different wines from Sanlucar – the area which is located close to Jerez, but has more marine influence as it is located on the coast of Atlantic Ocean and next to the Guadalquivir River on the right. This location creates unique conditions for Flor – an algae-like film which grows on top of Jerez in the barrel and protects it from oxidation – where Flor can grow all year around (this is the not the case in Jerez, where Flor doesn’t lasts a full year). Another important factor is Albariza soil, which is a chalk-based, similar to the soil in Champagne, which adds an additional acidity to the wines.

Here are the tasting notes for the wines as we tasted them.

1. Vinicola Hidalgo “La Gitana” Jerez-Xeres-Sherry Manzanilla NV:
Completely unoxidized. Nose of flor, but very clean, nice, beautiful acidity, hint of white fruit, very dry. Goes well with bocorones, white vinegar cured mackerel.

2. Bodegas Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada – 92 pts (Wine and Spirits): greater intensity on the nose, touch more fruit intensity. Touch of oxidation, aged for about a year. Great with green olives.

3. Vinicola Hidalgo “Napoleon” Jeres-Xers-Sherry Amontillado NV– 90 pts (WA)
same as the first wine, but with oxidation. Very nice, a lot more complexity,

4. Bodegas Hidalgo Jerez Cortado Wellington, VOS +20 years – 91 pts (Wine and Spirits)
Wow – soft, beautiful, but pales out next to number 5

5. Bodegas Hidalgo Wellington Palo Cortado, VORS +30 years
Palo Cortado is finest example of oxidized sherry. Phenomenal wine, solera started in 1750, soft, smooth, tremdous flavours, nuts, hint of saltiness, roasted figs – outstanding…

6. Bodegas Hidalgo Faraon Olorosso – 91 pts (WA)
Very nice, soft, smooth,

7. Bodegas Hidalgo Alameda Cream Sherry NV – 91 pts (WA)
Very nice, round, soft, sweet, but balanced enough. some baked apples.

8. Bodegas Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo Triana:
Wow! Figs, plums, jam, phenomenal concentration on the nose, same on the palate. This is liquid fig jam, balanced, good acidity – outstanding! This is the blend of 100 vintages, through the Solera method. My personal favorite from the tasting.

On the next picture, you can compare the intensity of color between Pedro Ximenez (much darker) and Cream Sherry wines:

And here are the correspondent wines:

All the wines were very good, however I would say that first Manzanilla, then number 5 Palo Cortado and last Pedro Ximenez where my favorites, with Pedro Ximenez being simply unforgettable. Most of these wines are available from the PJ Wine and they are all very affordable.

This was definitely a great experience, and I will be glad to repeat it again (and again). Until the next time – cheers!

P.S. PJ Wine Grand Tasting Event will take place Friday, November 18th, at Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.  If you want to experience 2006 Cheval Blanc, 2000 d’Yquem, 1990 Mouton-Rothschild, 1985 Haut-Brion, 1952 CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva, Krug, Cristal, Dom Perignon and hundreds of other wines – all in one night at one place (!!), don’t miss this event!

Spanish Wine Festival, In Pictures

June 28, 2011 3 comments

About 10 days ago, I attended Spanish Wine Festival, organized by PJ Wine in New York. I can give you a summary of the event using only one word: Overwhelming. It is challenging to produce any kind of detailed summary, because there are literally no bad wines in such a well organized tasting event. There are some wines which will leave you indifferent, then there are some which are great, but not ready, and then there is great amount of wines where you go from “wow” to “wow, this is great” and to “wow” again. Therefore, I will simply give you a report in pictures. No, I didn’t get a picture of each and every wine I tried. All the wines shown below are personal favorites, and they are all highly recommended. And the good thing is that PJ Wine regularly carries most of them.

Well, let’s go.

1999 Vega Sicilia Unico and 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, from Ribera del Duero. These are the wines to be experienced – balanced and luscious:

2006 Clos Mogador, Priorat – powerful and balanced:

Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja – 1976 Gran Reserva, 2000 Rosado and 1993 Blanco: 18 years old White Rioja and 11 years old Rioja Rosado – both are fresh and vibrant. Wow! And Gran Reserva – beautiful and mature wine, which will still keep going for a while.

Bodegas El Nido line, including flagship 2006 El Nido – gorgeous layered and balanced, and requiring another 10 years to really blossom:

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero, including full Malleolus line – wines of incredible balance and elegance:

More Rioja – Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 1995 and 1999, as well as CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 2001

1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 and 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial – probably the best Rioja wines. Period. Classic and amazing.

Representing Toro: 2007 Numanthia and 2007 Termanthia, silky smooth, balanced and powerful:

More Rioja – 2004 Martinez Lacuesta Reserva, great wine from the great year:

Starring Garnacha from Campo de Borja – 2008 Alto Moncayo and 2007 Aquilon – beautiful, soft and spicy:

Jerez, a.k.a. Sherry  is coming back – take a note of it. All Barbadillo wines were simply delicious, and Colosia Amontillado was also right in the league:

I would like to thank PJ Wine folks profusely for arranging such an amazing line up of wines for the event. And if I can make a suggestion, myself (and I’m sure, hundreds of other wine lovers)  would really enjoy PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in the Fall – we can only hope that PJ Wine will be kind enough to organize one…

About Coffee, Plus Some Updates

May 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Why coffee? First, this is the answer to the last “What is it” post – it is actually Kona coffee berries (picture taken at Greenwell Farms in Kona, Hawaii). The reason to chose that picture was simple – I was fascinated by a number of similarities in coffee production and wine making  – in both cases I’m talking about very good coffee ( Kona is one of the best coffee types in the world) and very good wines. Coffee berries are picked by hand, and also they are picked selectively – only individual ripe berries are taken from the bunch, and the rest is left to ripen. Coffee beans have their skin removed (sounds familiar?), and then they are left to dry under the sun (same as the grapes used for production of Amarone, one of my favorite wines). Once the coffee beans are dried and cleaned, they are left to rest for at least a month or two, before they will be roasted – and this is the step which is enforced by the years of experience and tradition, and nobody asks for explanations – this have to be done just because it has to be done. Again, the same element of mystery and tradition as in production of a good wine. And last, but not least – complexities of the final beverage. Good coffee, similar to the good wine, has layered complexity and brings a lot of pleasure. Anyway, I will look for more obvious picture for the next “what is it ” game.

Now, let’s talk about updates. First, the Treble certificate from the Wine Century Club has finally arrived! Not that I want to brag, but let me share the picture with you:

‘nuf said – getting to the Quattro level will not be too easy, so don’t expect to see a picture of another certificate any time soon.

Lastly, I’m continuing writing posts for The Art of Life Magazine. Last two posts were in “Forgotten Vines” series, talking about Jerez (Sherry) and Madeira, both wines are hard to find, but worth seeking – you can find posts here and here.

That’s all for now, folks. Cheers!

Expectations…

May 7, 2011 Leave a comment

What is in the cellar for Mother’s Day on Sunday:




What will be in yours?