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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…

Jerez – A Tasty Treat and Halloween Candy Solution

November 3, 2020 1 comment

Yes, I know. Halloween is history now, so why am I even mentioning it?

Because I know that those Halloween candies are still lurking around, and will be for a while. And Halloween candy is not something which would make you crave the wine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are wines out there which will help you get rid of the candies – with pleasure. What am I suggesting? Let’s talk about Sherry, also known as Jerez.

Jerez wines (officially known as Jerez-Xérès-Sherry) take its name from the town Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, with the grapes coming from the vineyards surrounding the town. Jerez is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Europe, tracing its roots to more than 3,000 years back. Sherry is a fortified wine, and it came to being around the 8th century when the distillation process was invented. As a fortified wine Sherry can be compared to Port, however, the major difference is that Port is typically fortified in the middle of the fermentation process, to preserve the sugars in the wine, where Sherry wines are typically fully fermented, and then fortified, so with the exception of the particular style of Pedro Ximénez, most of the Sherries are dry wines.

There are many styles of Sherry wines, offering various levels of dryness, complexity, and oxidative qualities. Sherry wines are often also produced using the solera method, where the wines of the different vintages or constantly combined and resulting wines might represent a blend of hundred of vintages. The world of Sherry is quite complex, so if you want to read about all the different styles, this Wikipedia article contains a lot of good information.

González Byass started in 1835 in Jerez de la Frontera, in the heart of the Sherry country. Now in the 5th and 6th generation, González Byass is one of the major sherry producers, combining a number of Sherry brands under one umbrella. I had three sherries from González Byass to play with the candies – let me tell you how did it go.

First, the dry wine – Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Jerez Oloroso Seco. As it is a dry wine, it expectedly didn’t work too well with most of the candies, but I found some options:

Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Jerez Oloroso Seco (18% ABV, $25, Palomino 100%, aged for 8 years in solera)
Light amber color
Hazelnuts, sapidity, herbs
Hazelnuts, clean acidity, Rosemary, beautifully complex
Worked best with Payday because of explicit saltiness – not really with Reese’s or KitKat

The bottle on the right is directly from the wine fridge and it is ready to drink – the Harveys letters are blue

I recently wrote about Harveys – after years of personal neglect, this became a gateway wine for me to warm up again to the world of Jerez. As Harveys is quite sweet but not super-sweet, it provided the best pairing option for the majority of candies.

Harveys The Bristol Cream (17.5% ABV, $20, 80% Palomino, 20% Pedro Ximénez, a blend of 7 yo Fino, Oloroso, PX and Amontillado Soleras)
Dark amber color
Light herbaceous nose, a touch of dried fruit
Dried fruit on the palate, good acidity, refreshing
Nice with Reese’s, works well with KitKat, excellent with Payday

Nectar is seriously sweet wine (residual sugar of 370 grams per liter), but it is nevertheless very balance and delivers tremendous pleasure. The Pedro Ximénez (usually abbreviated as PX) is one of my most favorite dessert wines in general. The Pedro Ximénez grapes are dried on the mats for 2 weeks before pressing, losing 40% of liquid and becoming practically raisins – this explains the depth of color you can see in the picture above.

Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximénez Dulce (15% ABV, 25%, 100% Pedro Ximénez, aged for about 8 years in solera)
Very dark amber color, almost black
Dried figs, dates, inviting.
Dried figs all the way, delicious, clean acidity on the finish, perfect balance
Great with KitKat, complements
Excellent with Reese’s, okay with Payday, Butterfinger – not so much

There you are, my friends. Don’t sweat the Halloween candies – pair them with a good Sherry. Or you know what – you can actually dump the candy – Sherry should be enough to keep you happy. Cheers!

 

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