By Franz Scheurer
Sherry has an image problem! Little old ladies huddling in musty corners sipping cream sherry is hardly the identity that one of the world’s most wonderful drinks deserves.
The Spaniards got it right. They move from place to place, spending hours nibbling on tapas and drinking fabulously fresh, dry and invigorating Fino Sherries. It is a national pastime and it is fun. It stimulates conversation, pampers tastebuds and generally improves your capacity to enjoy yourself.
We do not have this tradition in Australia. It is hard enough to find a couple of places in Sydney that serve acceptable tapas, let alone a string of places to drop in and out of during one evening. However, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy a Sherry in your home, paired with the right food.
A Fino or a Manzanilla improves oysters no end. It brings out the flavours in olives and makes for a great starter. Amontillado Sherries work very well with cured meats and spicy sausages. Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Sherries are a great alternative to dessert wines and can work wonderfully with Foie Gras.
When you buy Sherry, it is important to buy from someone who has a good turnover. Once bottled, Sherry is best consumed quickly. Treat Sherry like a wine, once opened, drink it quickly. You may keep it for a day or two, in the fridge, but please do not leave the opened bottle in your liquor cabinet and drink it 6 months later. You don’t do it justice.
Dry Sherries are made from the Palomino grape. Sweet Sherries are either a blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximenez or 100% Pedro Ximenez, which produces the sweetest, most concentrated and luscious Sherries.
Before 1830 all Sherries were sweet and were made as vintage Sherries, allowed to oxidise from day one in wooden casks. It took an accident to produce the yeast Flor that we now immediately associate with the production of Sherries in the Solero system. The Solero system, where a number of casks are joined together, being topped up from one end whilst dispensed from the other, makes it a lot easier to keep the wines consistent. Imagine the size of the solero system that houses Tio Pepe, constructed from 30,000 casks in one single system, where the wine ages an average of 5 ½ years. Between 1830 and 1890 the vintage Sherries slowly died out, as the market in the UK preferred a consistent product, and it took until 1990 before Gonzalez Byass managed to revive the vintage Sherries, which they now release, in very limited numbers, from aged stocks. They are the only Sherry producer who is releasing vintage Sherries.
Broadway Liquor Distributors (The Australian Importer) brought out Martin Skelton from Gonzalez Byass and organised a structured tasting, with food, last night.
Starting with Fino, the Tio Pepe was showing off its new bottle and label and was joined in the same flight with the Eleganto Fino and the El Rocio Manzanilla. Very pale in colour, meant to be drunk chilled, these three wines should be a lot more popular. They are simply fabulous. The Manzanilla, especially, had an almost irresistible charm, minerally, almondy, bone dry and wonderfully elegant. Accompanied by Serrano Ham, Green Olives and Bread they captured everyone’s imagination.
The next flight compared the Elegante Medium Amontillado, the Alfonso Dry Oloroso, the Del Duque Amontillado and the Apostoles Palo Cortado, best consumed at room temperature. Slightly higher in alcohol, darker in colour, more intense and creamier they showed off their superior age and made the Spicy Sausages come to live, brought out the flavours of the Suckling Pig and complemented the saffron in the Paella. The Del Duque, a consistent gold medal winner for Gonzalez Byass is superb, very dry with a reasonable amount of acid and creamy. The Palo Cortado, a very rare kind of Sherry, as it starts life as a Fino but ends up, due to the Flor not taking properly, as a dry Oloroso, was the star of this flight. This 30-year-old wine is silky smooth, beautifully balanced (it is slightly sweetened with PX) and very complex.
The third flight, matching the dessert, a selection of sweet Sherries. The Solera 1847 Sweet Oloroso a 30% PX and 70% Palomino blend, dark amber with a respectable amount of acid for balance. Dwarfed by the Matusalem Sweet Oloroso, another consistent Gold Medal winner, dark and chocolaty followed by the star of this flight, the Noe Pedro Ximenez, almost black, treacly, deep and mysterious, with a staggering sugar contents of 438g per litre!
With coffee they served us the Vintage 1964 and 1969 Dry Olorosos. With a nose reminiscent of a good brandy, these wines weigh in at 23.9% alcohol, bone dry, beautifully clear, extremely complex and an utter joy. Mind you, I would have preferred to try them at the beginning of the night. My palate has a hard time recovering from something as powerful as the Noe.
An extremely successful night and the best news: all these wines are available, in limited numbers, from Broadway Cellars at very affordable prices.
For more information:
96 Glebe Point Road
Glebe NSW 2037
Tel.: 02 9660 3908