Author: east bay cru

It’s no secret we are both obsessed with Italian wine. So the fact that we met working for the man who wrote the Bible on the subject is really not that crazy. The crazy thing is that we live less than a mile away from each other. Even more crazy is that we live so close to California wine country we get the privilege of tasting some amazing new-style juice from amazing up and coming wine makers. So here is our blog about just that—our travels in and throughout the California wine scene. -Erin and Holly Check us out twitter: @EastBayCru

Sherry. Because the best things in life are rarely easy.

Back in my hay day I did some pretty solid, pretty fly bartending at the neighborhood Applebees in Livermore, California. We had this bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry in the corner that for years lay unopened, lonely and lifeless. One slow afternoon, however, my Applebuddies and I decided to crack that bad boy open and discover what lurked inside. It was how it sounds- creamy, super sweet, somewhat offensive, largely repulsive and invariably responsible for decades of Americans turning their heads at this delicious table wine. In addition to the false,  syrupy sweet reputation Sherry has obtained, it also has the misfortune of being more difficult to explain than Greedo shooting first. Fortunately, we now live in a universe where Sherry is praised by somms, where wine bars and restaurants alike are working to change its reputation, and where I’m here to answer all your burning questions.

—Because I strive for brevity, I’ll use this post to talk about dry styles of Sherry only. We’ll talk about the sweet stuff on a day where I’m feeling, well, sweeter.

The Location

At its core, Sherry is a fortified wine that comes from one of three towns in the Andalucía community of Southern Spain- a region dubbed by wine geeks as “The Sherry Triangle.” The three towns that make up The Sherry Triangle are Jerez de la Frontera (‘Jerez’), El Puerto de Santa María (‘El Puerto’) and Sanlucar de Berrameda. They lie fairly close to each other, yet each town boasts its own micro-climate, and each micro-climate brings its own distinct flavor to the wines.

The Grapes

There are three grapes allowed in Sherry production: Palamino Fino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Palamino Fino is the number one stunner, the star of the show, the total ball hog. It makes up 95% of all Sherry production, it is responsible for all styles of Sherry that are not considered sweet and it’s the only grape we are going to talk about today. It grows mostly in a soil called albariza- a white, chalky, limestone rich soil accredited with giving a neutral grape like Palamino Fino its pazaz.

The Science

There are a few elements that make sherry the delicious beast that it is. One of these main elements is the Solera System. When you walk into a sherry bodega, it doesn’t look like your average winery. The floor is covered with a layer of dirt and sand so barrels can be sprayed with water. The ceilings are high, encouraging sea breeze and salty sea air to waft through the bodega. The sherry barrels are stacked directly on top of each other, typically three or more barrels high and often times in very long rows to create what’s known as the Solera System. The Solera System is a method of fractionally blending newer vintages into older vintages in such a way that the finished product is a blend of all the ages. As the Solera ages, so does the average age of the wine. Solera itself literally means “on the ground” or “floor”, and it refers to a stack of barrels that pull wine gradually from top of the stack (the newest vintages) to the bottom of the stack (the oldest vintages.) No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each barrel. 

Another main element is a special thing that happens in the Sherry triangle, mostly due to weather and proximity to the ocean. The conditions in this specific region of Spain cause a layer of ambient yeast, called flor, to grow naturally on the surface of the wines. This layer, or veil, of flor is the main contributor to the flavor of every dry style of sherry except for oloroso. Flor is what gives sherry the intensely unique, insanely briny and extremely dry flavor profile found in fino and manzanilla- two types of sherries that spend their life under this veil of yeast. 

The Styles

Fino and Manzanilla- These guys got the flor. Both finos and manzanillas are aged entirely under flor. They are the driest wines in the world, as that layer of yeast manages to suck up any notion of creaminess or body attached to the wine. Full on flor power leaves you with an insane salinity and a complete dryness. The difference between a fino and a manzanilla is solely geographical. Fino can come from both Jerez and El Puerto. Manzanilla can only come from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the weather doesn’t fluctuate as much throughout the year, and the sea breeze infuses the sherries with intense flavors of salty sea air. Style wise- manzanilla is typically leaner than fino, but it varies from producer to producer. Drink this wine as a palate cleanser and with salty foods like olives and jamón. Or get a fuller style of fino and drink it with your whole meal.  Pro somm tip– this style of fully aging under flor is called ‘biological aging.’

Amontillado- So amontillado starts it’s life under flor, but after a certain amount of time (at least two years by law), the cellar master breaks the veil of yeast by further fortifying the wine, leaving the wine to age in the barrel, fully exposed to oxygen, for a good amount of time before being bottled.  Some of the finer amontillados will live for eight or ten years under flor, giving the wine this beautiful dry, salty flavor as a base and then layering it with the nutty richness caused by aging and exposure to oxygen. Amontillados can be served with roasted nuts, richer sauces, full on meals and savory desserts.

Palo Cortado- A somewhat confusing category, palo cortado is similar to an amontillado, but more of a freak accident then a planned event. It is a rare style that the cellar master has chosen to be a fino, accidently loses its flor to become an amontillado, but somehow takes on a flavor profile more like that of an oloroso. Although every bodega differs, the flavor is generally more like that of an oloroso- complex, roasted and velvety while maintaining some of the salty characteristics of a fino. Palo cortado has gained a fair amount of popularity over the past few years, and a lot of houses are manipulating its rare style. For the real deal palo cortado holyfield, stick to your trusted wine shop and your trustee, ultra knowledgable sommelier. 

Oloroso- Oloroso is kind of the yang to fino’s yin. It’s the Han Solo to Princess Leia. While fino is delicate and lean, oloroso is bigger and more bulky. Oloroso lives its whole life without seeing flor, therefore aging oxidatively in the barrel for years and years. The more the wine evaporates as it ages, the higher the alcohol content gets. Most olorosos clock in at about 20% alcohol, some even higher, and they develop a distinctly bronze to chestnut brown color. The best olorosos should be dry to off dry. Sweet olorosos are typically not the business. Olorosos have aromas of figs and nuts, and are velvety and complex on the palate. Drink for or with desserts or rich foods.  Pro somm tip- this style of aging without flor is called ‘oxidative aging.’

Despite the fact this is probably my longest post, this only begins to touch on the world of sherry. For complete, geeky and easy to read info on the subject, read Talia Baiocchi’s book, Sherry or Peter Liem’s book, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla Follow these cats on Instagram, too.

Blogged at: Anina, SF

Soundtrack: J.I.D The Never Story

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Wanderlust, Galicia

I’ve mentioned before that Galicia is one of my favorite places on the planet, and hands down one of my favorite wine regions in the world. Often overlooked for San Sebastián or Barcelona, this autonomous community in northwest Spain is lined with beaches, inundated with rivers, packed with green hills and mountains and stocked with some of the best seafood in the world. You could spend weeks here hiking, beaching and eating your weight in pulpo, but here are my personal tips (in no particular order) for experiencing one of the best vacations Spain has to offer. (more…)

Fazenda Agrícola Augalevada and My Life as a Professional Translator

Galicia is one of my favorite places on the planet. The beaches, the green hillsides, the mountains, the rivers, the pulpo(!) and, above all, the wine all come together to create one of the most beautiful experiences you can find in Spain. Right in the middle of Galicia, a stones throw from Portugal, where four different rivers meet, lies the region of Ribeiro. In this relatively small wine region sits a tiny plot of the only biodynamically farmed vineyards in the Ribeiro and the wines of Fazenda Augalevada. (more…)

A Love Letter to Barcelona

I want to take a moment here for Barcelona.

I was just in Barcelona a little over a week ago. I had a shift in plans during the last month of my trip, so I somewhat unexpectedly spent the last four days in Barcelona with my friend, Miriam. That Sunday, we had plans to drive to H20 Vegetal, a natural wine fair a couple hours outside of Barcelona. It was going to be pretty epic. At least 5 of the producers I’d met on my travels were going to be there, I was going to get the chance to sample the Ratafia I’d made in Terra Alta and- no joke- my favorite Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, Night Market + Song, was cooking food there. It was going to be kind of Spanish send off  that would take “It Rains in Spain” from a wine blog to a James Beard award winning novel (ha.) Only come Sunday we wake up to find there are zero cars for rent in Barcelona. There are no trains to take, no friends with whom we could get a ride. No wine fair. We were crushed. (more…)

Lessons from an Airport

Airports. I’m tired of crying in them. I’m tired of being in them, really. This is the second time I’ve cried in the Santiago de Compostela Airport. This time it’s my fault. It’s raining. I look to my left, another girl is crying. She has someone holding her, though, so it’s probably for different reasons.

All the men in Galicia wear the same cologne.

This is it, the last leg of my trip. I’m headed to Barcelona for three more days and then home. What have I learned? I know how better to drink Gintonics. I know how to get gas, to order food. I can take a coffee, drive a car, kill roaches in a hotel room, buy groceries. I almost learned how to cook an octopus. Could I do all of that already?

In the last two days, though, I’ve learned 4 new varietals, I drank one of them out of a barrel. Yesterday I drank Ferrol out of a barrel with Luis Rodriguez. On Monday I tasted the wine I helped make last year at Fazenda Prádio. Last week I drank Txakoli like a champion and the week before I drank the wines of one of the funniest, foul-mouthed men I’ve met since my Grandma Jan. I’ve stained my hands making Ratafia. I’ve learned about mildew, about vine training, about planting vines on volcanoes. I’ve learned about sulfites and no sulfites and wind and drought. I’ve learned about solera systems, about making barrels and about aging in amphorae. About sacrifice and loss and replanting for the good of the region.

When I get home I’ll learn how to cook that octopus.

Spain is an incredible place. All of the people I’ve talked to, the winemakers I’ve met- each with different ideas but all with the same goal in mind. There is so much happening here I don’t know how many blog posts it will take to relay the message. I hope I’m the right person to do it. I hope a little Picasso and a stroll through El Born will give me inspiration to pull it all together. Otherwise, what the fuck was I doing here?

I think next I will learn how not to cry in airports. It’s so dramatic, really. Wildly unnecessary. A solid waste of time when I could be enjoying a Gintonic.

Perhaps I’ll start that lesson next time. See you soon, friends.

Blogged At: Santiago de Compostela Airport, Galica

Soundtrack: Tensnake 58 BPM

Matías i Torres. Island Time.

Matías i Torres is a tiny operation set in the small town of Fuencaliente, on the island of La Palma. La Palma is one of the 7 Spanish-owned Canary Islands, a collection of mountainous, volcanic islands formed by the Mid Oceanic Ridge** that sit about 70 miles off the coast of Africa. La Palma is relatively small in size, and its topography is all over the place. Lush, green forests sit just up the hill from black, possibly active volcanoes. Banana plants, a major export, line the edges of the island. Vines sit directly on top of the soil here, and the bright green and yellow branches pop against the porous, black volcanic rock. The water surrounding the island is an indescribable color of bright blue, also amplified by the charcoal volcanoes and the black sand beaches that line the shore. It is an incredible place, and for now, less inundated by tourists than its fellow Canary Islands. (more…)

On traveling alone

Traveling alone has its moments. One day you are inspired by adventure, coincidence and improbability and the next day you are getting kicked in the dick. My ex husband told me, after a few months of sobriety, the best thing about being sober is that you have feelings again…and the worst thing about being sober is that you have feelings again. I think this paradox translates to the process of traveling alone. Every day is a new experience I get to feel in its entirety. I get to throw myself out there, to make 100 percent of the decisions, to communicate with people in an area where I don’t even really speak the language. It is one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve felt as a human being but, no lie, every once in a while it’s hard AF.

Today I miss my dog, I missed my flight and I’m missing my best friend’s 30th birthday. It’s a kicked in the dick kind of day. At the end of tomorrow I will have met up with some amazing friends from San Francisco, I will have seen them dance Flamenco in Sevilla, I will have gone out in a dress for the first time in a month and I will have (hopefully) forgotten about today.

So tonight, while I’m in this twilight zone region of Tenerife South, drinking a Brandy Alexander and eating strawberries, I’ll thank my lucky stars I have friends here in Spain, that I own this absolutely heroic MacBook Pro, that I have a mom that answers text messages and that I’m lucky enough to live a life like this in the first place. Tell you what, though, tomorrow can’t come soon enough. Vale, babies. See you soon.

Blogged at: Grand Muthu Golf Plaza Hotel LOBBY (There’s no wifi in my room:)

Soundtrack: Eels, Fresh Blood