Whites

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…)

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…)

Celler Frisach- Drink, Drink, Drink

Bodega Celler Frisach is in Corbera d’Ebra, a small town in the region of Terra Alta about two hours southwest of Barcelona. Corbera is your typical 1,000 person community. Everyone knows each other, everyone says hi to one another and at some point throughout the day everyone occupies a seat at one the two cafes on the town’s main drag. There are even a couple cool bars in Corbera, one of which I’m particularly fond in that it reminds me of a dive bar in Missoula Montana, Al’s and Vicks, for which I hold a number of heart-twisting feelings. (more…)

Clos Lentiscus, Wild Thoughts

Last week’s Catalonian travels took me to Penedés, the land of Cava for a vineyard tour, an aura reading and a tasting at Clos Lentiscus. Clos Lentiscus is a biodynamic operation run by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó. They produce both still and sparkling wines made from an assortment of indigenous varietals.

The Bodega and vineyards of Clos Lentiscus are historic, wild and energetic. They sit in the Protected Parc Natural of the Garraf Massif- a coastal mountain range south of Barcelona, between the towns of Castelldefels and Sitges*. The vineyards are surrounded by forest and planted around the 1,000 year old Mastic tree (Pistacia Lentiscus) that has become their trademark. Coastal marine wind is a major component in the freshness of the wines here. It blows through the vines, combats the summer heat and regulates temperature and acidity. They are Bio-D to the fullest extent. Poop cones, moon cycles, quartz crystals and dowsing rods are just a few tools that are used to find minerals, water and energy in the vineyards. The vineyards are trimmed as needed by local sheep and the Bodega’s horse, Ringo (a favorite Beatle of mine.) They farm their own colony of honey bees, both to pollenate the vineyards and to make honey for dosage in some of their wines. Fennel and wildflowers grow throughout the vineyards. Water basins are left out for the wild boars, a calculated solution to prevent them from eating the grapes. The wines are natural- no herbicides or pesticides, no chemicals, no added sulfur- and every one of them is on point.

Winemaker, Manel Aviñó drove me through the vineyards and the nature park, taking me to high elevations to experience the wind that blows up from the Mediterranean and to look over the various landscapes of the Penedés. The Bodega itself is lined with amazing antiques- shelves of old stemware, an armoire for which my mom would murder, a tiny room full of ancient amphorae. The wine cellar is dark and capacious, a place for the wines to hibernate before they are hit with dosage and smacked back to life again. Before tasting the wines, Manel even used the dowsing rods to check my aura, something I’ve never had done. I was thoroughly frightened for the public inner beast reveal, but he simply told me I read “strong woman”- so we’ll leave it at that.

The wines benefit from radiant aura of their own. From the still xarel.lo to the vintage dated sparkling samsó (cariñena) they are lively and enthusiastic. A couple favorites were the Greco de Suber Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature- a método tradicional sparkler made from malvasia de sitges, the local variety of malvasia. Dry, refreshing and focused with a hint of fruit and white flower. Also the Sumoll Reserva Familia, a sparkling monovarietal Blanc de Noir made from the indigenous sumoll grape. A little more savor, a little more pensiveness, still knows how to party. Whichever bottle of Clos Lentiscus draws you in, grab your crystals, get your boots on and pop a flower in your hair. You are about to have a wild good time.

 

*Pro Tip: Sitges has a pretty fly beach. It’s a little touristy, but there’s a bar that serves a nice Aperol Spritz and manages not to interfere with the overall atmosphere. The train will take you right there, but I parked easily in the surrounding neighborhood. Great for swimming and chilling the F out.

Blogged at: Miriam’s flat, Gràcia, Barcelona

Soundtrack: DJ Khaled, Rihanna- Wild Thoughts (possibly on repeat)

 

Succés Vinícola and the Power of Positive Energy

There is a lot of emotion that goes into making bottle of wine. You feel it when you watch someone drive through their vineyards the morning after a hail storm, when you watch someone trimming vines at 7am and continue to work until they are wrapping up cases at midnight, when you see a winemaker smiling after hours of talking about and pouring her/his wines at a tasting. We’ve all got our shit, but good, passionate winemaking emits a vibe that gets passed along from the vineyard, to the winery to the glass. As a somm, this enthusiasm is transferable on my end, as well. The more I believe in a bottle of wine, the more I smile and sing along to Beyoncé while I’m pouring someone a glass, the more people genuinely dig it. It’s a powerful energy, my fellow humans, and along with a little abv it can really make ya warm on the inside. (more…)