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Exploring Sherry #13: Don Fernando

I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since the last bottle of Sherry popped up on this blog. That was the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado back in August. I blame 2015 Bordeaux; I have spent some time travelling and tasting, and writing too. Sherry ended up on the backburner for a while.

But now it’s back! I continue today with episode 13, featuring a supermarket bargain.

I almost never write about supermarket own-labels and brands (the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado – exclusive to Waitrose unless I am mistaken – was a rare exception). The reason for this is two-fold; first, own-label wines never teach you anything about a region, and second, wines available only from a UK retailer are of little interest to the majority of my readership, which has a much more global feel.

I will make an exception today, though, because the wines are so good.

Don Fernando Oloroso

Don Fernando might not be a familiar name even to regular Sherry drinkers, but these wines are sourced from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a renowned and well-regarded bodegas. It is a boutqiue operation, only really established a few decades ago, and quality is high. Both of these wines, available in Marks & Spencers, are very good, but it is the Oloroso that really does it for me.

Don Fernando Fino: An unfiltered fino. This has a fair, lemon-gold hue. Quite confident aromatics, good flor notes here, with a dry, sandy, driftwood backbone, and touches of green olive. It is also lightly salty, a touch marine, but it is still appealing. It has a substantial start on the palate, certainly textured, quite seamless in its presence, fresh with good bite, bright acids, and a long warming finish. Challenging, upright, and very nicely polished. Very good. With all its texture and character, this feels a little like a halfway-house between your standard fino, and an upmarket en rama bottling. 16.5/20 (November 2015)

Don Fernando Oloroso: Things move up a gear here. This wine is sourced from the first criadera (the level just before solera, the final stage in the solera system before bottling) of the Antique solera system, Antique being the upper-class range at Fernando de Castilla. This has a very rich, deep, shimmering golden-brown hue, tinged with red. And it has a wonderful nose, hugely expressive, filled with walnuts and wood polish, lifted by an orange zest freshness. What is most striking about the palate, apart from the hugely characterful concantration that is, is the texture, which is as broad as it is deep, the wine sliding across the palate like liquid velvet. Despite this it remains dry, energetic, grippy, tense and structured. It is also really long in the finish, which is infused with nuances of dried walnuts. Reamrkable quality for such a widely available wine. Fabulous. 17/20 (November 2015)

One thing’s for sure, I did learn something from these wines. I learnt that I need to investigate the wines of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla more thoroughly.

Exploring Sherry #12: Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado

In more than fifteen years of writing on Winedoctor I have always tended to steer towards identifiable domaines, where every bottle tells a tale. Wines from négociants, co-operatives, supermarket own-brand bottlings and so on all have their place in the wine world, but rarely have they ever piqued my interest. I think the main reason is that with such bottles vital details of the wine’s story – its origins, the terroir, the person who tended the vines – are obscured. The label, instead of being informative, suddenly becomes something of a barrier.

In Sherry, I have found an exception to this personal rule. Perhaps it is because the process of making Sherry tends to obscure some of these details anyway. Perhaps it is because it is usually pretty obvious which bodega has been charged with supplying the wine. Or perhaps it is just because some own-label bottlings are really, really good. How do I know this? Well, here’s one example (and it won’t be the last)…..

Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado

The Delicado Fino is produced exclusively for UK supermarket Waitrose by Gonzalez Byass, and its origins are not too obscure, as it is sourced from the Tio Pepe soleras, which gives us a link back to the recently enjoyed Tio Pepe En Rama. Its presentation clearly evokes thoughts of the Finos Palmas wines, but the wine inside is – to the best of my knowledge – distinct from that range.

In the glass the wine has a rich, golden-yellow hue in the glass. There are some lovely flor notes on the nose, very classic, very expressive too though, with nothing subtle here. It is fino with a little age on it I think, but not too much. Underneath the flor there is some desiccated orchard fruit character, dried apples especially. It feels really fresh and lively. There follows a full, broad style on the palate, textured but light-footed, with a delicate acid backbone. This has really good poise and a real sense of harmony, the whole wine gently waltzing through to the finish, where it rounds up in a long and lightly grippy end. This is really nice stuff, characterful and refreshing. 16.5/20 (August 2015)

Exploring Sherry #11: Lustau Amontillado Botaina

In 2008 Lustau bought up a number of bodegas, soleras and brands from the old firm of Pedro Domecq, including the fino brand La Ina, and the associated Botaina. The two wines are related, Botaina being an amontillado created from La Ina after the death of the protective flor. The solera is named for Antonio Botaina, the proprietor of the vineyard from which the wines entering the solera were produced. Having been started in 1918, the average age of the wine coming out of the solera is currently somewhere between twelve and fifteen years of age.


Although I’m not familiar with the old Pedro Domecq wines I get the feeling there was room for improvement, certainly Lustau seems to be credited with achieving this, to some extent anyway. In terms of price, these seem like very competitive entry-level wines that do the job, even if they aren’t that exciting.

The Lustau Amontillado Botaina has a golden toasty-brown hue in the glass. To be straight with you it takes a little while to get going; certainly on the first evening it felt really quite flat and untalkative, but throughout the rest of the week it showed better, revealing scents of toasted nuts, grilled citrus fruits, a little dry and dusty earth with a touch of bake to it, and some notes of coffee bean and liquorice. It isn’t exactly exuberantly bursting from the glass, but there is some complexity here within the wine’s subtle stance. The palate is very cool and confident at the start, textured through the middle, as well as being fresh and energetic, deliciously dry, with nuances of baked orange slices, cardamom and pepper spice, and a long tingling finish. From initial disappointment this is one wine that really grew on me. What’s more it offers some decent value. 16/20 (June 2015)

Exploring Sherry #10: Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

I first tasted Tio Pepe’s En Rama a couple of years ago. I was quite smitten with it. The style is quite distinctive, rather like your everyday fino on a very basic level, but with everything turned up a notch. More flavour, more texture, more aroma, more character. I’m sure most people reading already know this, but whereas most finos are prepared for market with filtration and clarification, giving rather pale but stable wines, the En Rama wines are treated with a much lighter touch. The term en rama translates literally as on the branch (or on the vine might be more appropriate) the idea being that these wines are much closer to the ‘real thing’, with much less of the character stripped out.

Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe En Rama

The Tio Pepe En Rama from Gonzalez Byass is the example that has gained most traction, but there are also En Rama wines from Lustau, Barbadillo and maybe a dozen other bodegas. This is the sixth release for the Tio Pepe En Rama, and of those I have tasted this seems to me to be one of the most striking, pungently aromatic releases so far. In the glass in has a very pure and convincing lemon yellow hue. And it has a very forward and open nose, very confident, with plenty of depth, showing fruit character reminiscent of preserved lemon and dried citrus peel, along with a pungent flor streak that calls to mind almonds, bread crust and hay, as well as a little smoky, funky depth in the background. The palate is full, with more smoky-nutty flor notes, but also a broad base of preserved fruit substance giving the wine more body than most finos. Very fresh, with not an angular edge to it, and a cool but substantial finish, long and full of lightly bitter notes. A very impressive release. 17/20 (June 2015)

Exploring Sherry #9: Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos

My Sherry explorations continue, and recently I alighted upon (metaphorically that is, literally would have been painful) a good value everyday drinking Sherry from Lustau called Los Arcos. It sits in their Solera range, so it is entry level really, but it is a really good entry level wine. One that I have been very happy drinking over the past couple of weeks.

Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos

Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado: This has a richly coloured, orange-gold hue in the glass, with a little hint of green at the edges. The nose is quite enticing, filled with caramelised citrus peel, notes of toasted almonds, with a slight oxidative seam coming though in the shape of scented wood shavings and even a little baked earth. The palate is energetic and fresh, harmonious, with a very . polished texture at the start. Although this is labelled and marketed as dry I think it is far from bone dry, and indeed there is even a little tinge of sweetness to it through the middle, although nothing overt, more a bolstering of the wine’s confident character than a tower of sugar. This is all secondary to the very complete, seamless character in the middle, showing some grip and punch here, vigorous and bright, with a dried yet savoury fruit concentration resting atop that confident substance. A very drinkable Sherry indeed, rather ready to please, with a long finish. 16.5/20 (May 2015)

Exploring Sherry #8: Harvey's VORS Amontillado

I’m busy writing up my various reports on the 2014 Bordeaux vintage. But that doesn’t mean I have to drink only Bordeaux, far from it. And my interest in Sherry hasn’t waned at all. In fact, I’m coming to an end of my little stock of Sherry bottles, so recommendations on what to drink next will naturally be appreciated (don’t all shout at once).

Meanwhile, though, I have been checking in on this VORS Amontillado from Harvey’s, and it’s pretty good.

Harvey's Amontillado VORS

Harvey’s 30 Years VORS Amontillado: This has a gorgeous, burnished orange-bronze hue, with a pale green tinge to the rim (which was an independent finding, honest – I’ve only just noticed the ‘tasting hints’ on the label after taking the photograph above). The nose is very reminscent of walnuts and coffee grounds, spiced with a dried-fruit concentration with an orange zest lift. It all seems to hold together really well. On the palate there is great harmony as well as real energy, the overall character polished, with citrus peel brightness and notes of walnuts and a white-pepper spice, all wrapped up in a delightfully vinous texture. It is clean and zippy in the end, with a long, tingling, energetic finish. An excellent choice. 17.5/20 (April 2015)

Exploring Sherry #7: Emperatriz Eugenia

It has taken me quite a while to get around to the next instalment of my infrequent and informal Exploring Sherry series, but the wait has been worth it. This wine, an oloroso from Lustau, is a wine worth experiencing. It comes from a solera begun in 1921 to celebrate the visit of Emperatriz Eugenia (i.e. Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III and Empress Consort of the French) to Jerez. Eugénie de Montijo died in 1920, many decades after her husband had also passed away, and years after her son was killed in a Zulu attack when serving with the British in South Africa. I can only assume that the visit for which the solera was established to commemorate occurred some years earlier.

Lustau Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia

Nearly a century on and the solera is still going, and going strong too if this wine is anything to judge by. The Lustau Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia has a golden amber-bronze hue, with lightly golden rim. It has a bright and rather high-toned nose, some tell-take driftwood oxidation notes, with scents of walnut, toast and dried citrus fruits. It has fine complexity, with smoke and toasted almond character coming in later. There follows a beautifully composed palate, gloriously full and broad, finely polished with a seamless feel at the start, so harmonious and yet so characterful. It slides gently into a very vinous midpalate, before the velvet curtains part to reveal some strident grip and energy within, along with fine acid brightness. Although this has a very typical oloroso profile I find the precision and bright character in the middle of the wine completely enticing. Long, gliding flawlessly into the finish. Excellent. From a 50 cl bottle. 17.5/20 (February 2015)

Exploring Sherry #6: Don Nuno

Another exploratory moment in the world of Sherry now, and despite having realised I usually prefer Amontillado to Oloroso, this week it’s another Oloroso, this time from Lustau. Well, I don’t want to limit myself so early in my Sherry journey now, do I?

Lustau Oloroso Don Nuño

The Don Nuno Oloroso comes from the Lustau Solera range, which seems to be pretty much their entry-level. The wines come from Lustau’s own bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. I guess, bearing all this in mind, that I shouldn’t expect it to live up to some of the Almacenista and other wines I have been drinking (ahem! – sorry, tasting) recently. In the glass it has a very rich, golden, red-bronze hue. The nose suggests driftwood, with notes of baked earth and nuances of walnut caramel reflecting the oxidation, with a high-toned edge to it all. It certainly feels concentrated and has impact. The palate is fairly dry, firm and energetic despite the oxidation, spicy and textured too, but with a very robust rather than finessed stance, a somewhat coarse sense of structure, and a long, tangy finish. An attractive wine but overall feeling rather chunky and rustic. 14.5/20 (November 2014)

Exploring Sherry #4: Lustau Amontillado del Puerto

I continue my exploration of Sherry with another gem from Lustau now. Lustau was the first Sherry bodega that I really got to know, my very basic knowledge helped along by a Lustau tasting dinner featuring many of their wines, ending in the delightful Old East India Solera Reserva, at the Don Pepe restaurant in Liverpool. That must have been at least a decade ago now.

This wine is another from the excellent Almacenista range.

Lustau Almacenista José Luis González Obregón Amontillado del Puerto

José Luis González Obregón was once a cellar-master for a large bodega, but he decided to retire in order to establish, in 1989, a family bodega. The business then passed into the hands of his nephew, Manuel González Verano. There are a large number of soleras here, but one in particular – the Amontillado del Puerto, a tiny solera of just ten butts – is taken off their hands by Lustau. Tasting it, that seems like a pretty smart decision on Lustau’s part.

The Lustau Almacenista José Luis González Obregón Amontillado del Puerto has a rich hue in the glass, a burnished orange-gold. The nose is remarkable, all dried wood and baked earth at first, the dry and dusty suggestion of baking sun on terracotta pan tiles, then suddenly there are notes of orange oil, mint, and liquorice root too. It is, quite literally, fascinating. There follows a glorious texture to the palate, all vinous and savoury, with a dry and spicy-peppery energy. There is flavour complexity to eclipse the nose here, vanilla brûlée, toasty and rich yet dry and energetic. And in the finish, it is very, very long. This is cracking stuff. 17.5/20 (September 2014)

Exploring Sherry #2: Leonor

Back to Sherry now, and the world of Palo Cortado. As proper Sherry buffs (i.e. not me) know, the palo cortado style traditionally originates with wayward behaviour in a fino solera. With fino, the wine in each barrel has a coating of flor, the layer of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation (and yet, confusing to my palate, laces it with acetaldehyde, adding an aroma that is otherwise a firm feature of oxidation, while the wine remains pale, pure and fresh).

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master (could you use the word almacenista here? …. probably) would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor

These days I suspect the production of palo cortado is left less to chance than the traditional description above. It is a very popular style (well, I adore it, anyway) and it seems fairly widely available, often at a good price. As with many sherries I drink, even fino, I find the wine is never at its best on the first day; a day or two open seems to bring it all together with a greater sense of harmony. This was certainly the case here.

The palo cortado style is rather vaguely described as half-amontillado (wines which age protected by flor, initially at least) and half-oloroso (wines which age without flor, i.e. oxidatively). I find it often has a very elegant, poised precision which can be missing from other styles, yet it has the same haunting scent complexity. This bottle, the latest in my Sherry adventures, is a fairly recently-introduced wine from Gonzalez Byass, a palo cortado aged (on average, it will be a blend of different wines) at least twelve years.

The wine, christened Leonor, has a very fine, convincing, toasty hue, with a golden rim. The aromatics seem fairly full on at first, as if they are all jostling for attention, but after some air – by which I really mean a few days of stoppered rest – this really comes together to show a much greater sense of harmony. The nose is one of baked earth, dried citrus zest, white raisins and pepper, with a fine, nutty seam underneath. The palate now feels polished, certainly harmonious, textured with a supple substance, and a dry and complex middle. Importantly, there is great energy to it, with evident zip on the finish. This is long and punchy, and just lovely to drink. 16.5/20 (July 2014)