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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 #5: Alfonso

It is back to Gonzalez Byass with my latest Sherry, the Oloroso Seco named Alfonso. Oloroso is an oxidative style, as the fortification of the wine at an early stage in its life inhibits the development of flor, the yeasty layer which does so much to protect fino and amontillado from the effects of oxygen. I think I am developing a personal preference for amontillado over oloroso, but of course it depends on the individual wine.

Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso Seco

This particular Sherry is a blend of wines with an average age of at least eight years. In the glass it displays a profound, orange-bronze hue, certainly very deep and concentrated, typical of an oloroso. The nose belies the wine’s oxidative history, with scents of baked earth and a touch of caramel the main clues, but there are also interesting notes of spiced oranges and sandalwood. It has quite a peppery palate, polished and vinous, with oxidative, raisined, wood-framed fruit framed by firm acidity and a full cutting finish. Long, and tinged with hazelnut notes. Overall a rather grippy and robust wine, perhaps not the most elegant, but there are some good points here, and it is certainly true to its style. 15.5/20 (October 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 #3: Lustau Puerto Fino

Time to check out another Sherry now, and after the wonderful Leonor Palo Cortado from Gonzalez Byass it is time for a shift in style, back to Fino. I think I prefer the haunting complexity of a palo cortado or amontillado to the fresh and tangy bite of a fino, but it’s not really exploring if you stick to what you know and like, is it?

Lustau Puerto Fino

This particular fino, from Lustau, is aged in a solera system in the town of El Puerto de Sainta Maria (on the coast near Jerez, south of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), hence Puerto Fino. The wine, 100% Palomino (nothing unusual there, I just thought I would mention the Sherry grape at least once), is aged in a solera for at least five years before release. It is classically fino in style, having spent its life protected from oxidation by the flor. The cooler coastal climate is said to engender a thicker layer of the yeast than is found elsewhere, and thus a more delicate wine.

This particular half-bottle of the Lustau Puerto Fino is labelled as Lot 3275. In keeping with the fino style it has a pale, fresh, clean hue. There follows an interesting nose, showing first some forward notes of toasted almond, and then there is some good flor character coming in behind. The palate is full, fresh, with a nutty edge, and it shows a very dry character despite the twist of texture it possesses. The spicy citrus nuance running underneath it all, sliding into a peppery finish and a little length, is not without some appeal. A good wine, with a little persistence in the finish. 15/20 (August 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)

Exploring Sherry #1: Lustau Papirusa

I have dabbled with Sherry for a long time now, but for many years never really ‘getting’ it, if you see what I mean. But over the last couple of years I have really fallen in love with these wines, with their sometimes haunting aromas and their fantastically complex characters.

Sherry remains undervalued, and is therefore underpriced on the shelves. This brings many benefits for consumers, one of which is that here, in the UK, the big supermarkets can source their wines from some of the very best names in the region. Many own-label supermarket wines are made by Lustau, which is a little like having you own-label claret made by Denis Durantou, or your own-label Sancerre made by François Cotat.

I have been drinking some of these own-label wines, and will continue to do so, but I thought I should also branch out and try some other names, and other styles. First up, Manzanilla.

Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies a short distance along the coast from Jerez, the beating heart of the Sherry landscape. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, as I discussed in this write up of a Lebrija, from González Palacios. The style is traditionally bright and breezy, and that certainly comes across in this wine.

The Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa is aged 4-5 years in an American oak solera before bottling, and it seems like a very good example of the style. This appears to be, according to the back label, Lot 3333. A pale and bright hue here. The nose is very appealing, showing a salty sea breeze intertwined with the pungency of flor. It has a very dry palate, nevertheless it also has a full and substantial presence, with crisp, defining acidity. It shows breadth and yet remains light footed, a sensation reinforced by a dry, tingling energy on the finish. There are touches of citrus leaf and blanched almond to complete the picture. A good start to this Sherry exploration. 15.5/20

A footnote: I couldn’t help wondering where the term papirusa came from. It seems to be a Spanish word meaning “beautiful woman”; it is derived from papiros, the word for cigarette, but it took on a new meaning when many beautiful, chain-smoking Polish immigrants arrived in Spain. They became known by the papiros they smoked, and eventually this evolved into papirusa. So this wine is a “beautiful lady”. Of course, this could all be apocryphal, so any Spanish speakers who want to put me straight, feel free to get in touch.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

In all honesty, beyond the Loire and Bordeaux, so focused is my attention on these two regions, the list of truly ‘great’ wines from other regions is rather short. Some wines do stick in my mind though, usually for the different experiences they offered. The 2008 World’s End Crossfire is one good example of this; I taste and drink very little from California, if indeed anything at all, so any bottles that come my way are bound to be of interest. This particular wine was all the more noteworthy for being a Jonathan Maltus wine, and I think there were traits within that I also see in his wines from closer to home, in St Emilion.

The 1998 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine I encountered a month or two ago was also fairly smart, but without a doubt the best non-Loire non-Bordeaux red wine experience of 2013 was the 1983 Chave Hermitage, which I drank at dinner with Jim Budd, Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard (it was Jim that brought the wine to dinner). Not only was this an excellent example of Hermitage (and it’s not that long since I last visited this particular part of the Rhône – was it 2012?) but it also brought back lots of memories of Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I once frequented, one where I learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable palates. This was just the sort of wine that would have cropped up in a Chester tasting. This bottle was in excellent nick, and was certainly one of my top reds of the year, full-stop.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Interestingly, the Rhône also yielded a very memorable white this year, the 2012 Pierre Gaillard Condrieu (above), a wine which spoke more of minerality and precision than most Viogniers could dream of doing. And Alsace also did fairly well, as I really enjoyed the 1993 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile – proof that Riesling really is immortal, regardless of whether or not the wine has residual sugar, as well as the 1998 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg. Not even one of Olivier Humbrecht’s top wines, this was a lovely example of why this domaine is so famous.

Some white wines for which I had high hopes managed to disappoint, including two from a trio from Domaine Cauhapé from the 2003 vintage. Only the 2003 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Noblesse du Temps really impressed, although even here I would have enjoyed more acidity I think. Well, that’s 2003 for you (I keeping saying this, I know).

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Alright, so there are some decent wines here, but if there is one vinous theme I will forever associate with 2013 it is fortified wine, especially a burgeoning appreciation of Sherry, as well as some great fortified wine discoveries in Madeira. From Spain, the Cayetano del Pino (above) wines impressed greatly, especially the Palo Cortado. Being honest, I actually wrote about this wine on New Year’s Eve 2012, so I mush have drank it before 2013 began, but I’m including it here anyway. Well, why not? Also pretty good was the Osborne Sibarita Very Old Rare Oloroso, a rather full-on style for a 30-year old wine, but pretty good with it.

Things got really serious with Madeira this year when I visited the island during the summer. I was besotted with the Barbeito Madeira Colheita Canteiro Verdelho 1996, which I have since added to the cellar, but was blown away by the Barbeito Madeira Sercial 1910, closely followed by the Barbeito Madeira Malvasia 1834 (below). These wines have such fabulous vigour and life, it was impossible tasting them to believe they were 103 and 179 years old respectively. And from Blandy’s there were other memorable wines, including the Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Verdelho 1995 and particular the Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1968. None could match the Barbeito wines though. Getting an appointment at Blandy’s was pretty difficult, and eventually their UK importer set one up for me. This was more successful than my appointment at Henriques & Henriques, which I arranged myself, only to be stood up when I turned up on time, hence the absence of a Henriques & Henriques report after my return. Did somebody say the Madeira producers were struggling?

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Returning to Spain for a moment, I discovered a new region named Lebrija thanks to UK wine merchant Warren Edwardes. Lebrija lies next-door to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and seems – in my limited experience, admittedly – to have the potential for top quality wines which are apparently sold at rock-bottom prices. The González Palacios Lebrija Old Oloroso was my favourite of the two wines I tried. I know the wines of the Douro far better than I know any of these aforementioned regions, and yet I have had few memorable Ports this year, the only noteworthy bottle being the 1983 Warre’s Vintage Port. To be honest though, although this was a very fine bottle – 1983 was a good vintage, but not a remarkable one – I don’t think I would regard it as truly ‘great’, although the older Madeiras described above certainly were. I have, perhaps, been converted.

That’s enough looking back at 2013 I think. Tomorrow I will publish my disclosure sheet for the year, then it’s on with 2014. I can think of plenty of other Sherries I want to try.

A Fine Fina from Lebrija

I mentioned in my report on the Lebrija Old Oloroso from González Palacios, published at the start of last week, that I also tasted the M. Fina Flor de Lebrija, also from González Palacios, another sample sent by Hyde Park Wines. It’s very good, and deserves writing up.

As I explained in that post, the Lebrija DO is newly created, largely thanks to the efforts of González Palacios. Previously, fruit harvested in this region would have been destined for the bodegas of Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. But the winemakers of Lebrija did not get it all their own way, as they have been prevented from describing their wines as Manzanilla, the wine associated with the latter of these two wine towns. This is what, unofficially of course, the M. in M. Fina stands for.

González Palacios M. Fina

The González Palacios M. Fina is no ordinary Sherry or Manzanilla look-a-like though, as this wine has spent 12 years aging in cask before bottling. Consequently it has a deeply-coloured straw hue. The nose, though, is vibrant, full of flor notes, with scents of oranges, a little nuttiness too, but overall it is fresh and lively. There follows a confident palate, full, fairly rich, certainly very dry in character, with some nice energy to it. This is nutty, honeyed, and integrated, and best of all it shows great harmony and energy. 15.5/20 (September 2013)