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Exploring Sherry #17: Romate Don Jose Oloroso

Yes, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? In truth, a full three months have passed since my last foray into the Sherry universe, which was with the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso. I think we have a problem with a time distortion around the Bordeaux primeurs (something else to blame the Bordelais for!) because I can’t understand how I have lasted three months without a glass of Sherry.

Romate Oloroso Medium Dry label

This wine comes from Sánchez Romate Hermanos, which was established at the end of the 18th century – in 1781, to be precise – by a local chap named Juan Sánchez de la Torre. The firm went from strength to strength, their wines appearing on tables everywhere from the House of Lords in the UK, to the Vatican. Remarkably, the firm remains in the hands of a local family.

As the label indicates this is a Medium Dry Sherry, nevertheless the sugar concentration is not high, and the sweetness doesn’t dominate. In the glass the Romate Don José Oloroso has a gloriously toasty, caramel-bronze hue with a green rim. The nose is enticing, full of typical dried-wood notes, the typical oloroso oxidation here dancing around the scents of toasted walnut, a caramelised suggestion of sweetness, as well as pistachio, marzipan and some gentle allspice and ginger nuances. It is immediately soft and textured on the palate, showing its residual sugar, although it feels nicely balanced, the sweetness not dominating. The complexity suggested by the nose comes through, with plenty of drier, oxidative elements lending a contrast, and the acidity keeps it fresh and well defined. A wine full of charm, and beautifully bright and lively for an oloroso. 17/20 (May 2016)

Exploring Sherry #16: Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso

My interest in Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was piqued by an encounter with the Don Fernando sherries carried by a certain UK supermarket. Proof, perhaps, that it doesn’t do any harm to let a little of your stock go down the own-label route; I’m not at all sure, if it weren’t for these wines, exactly how and when I would have discovered this bodegas.

Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was born in the 1960s, founded by Fernando Andrada-Vanderwilde, and was named for Fernando III, an influential 13th-century king who was canonised by Pope Clément X in 1671. It was revitalised following its acquisition by Norwegian Jan Pettersen in 1999.

Fernando de Castilla

There are essentially two ranges of wines; the Classic range, generally up to nine years of age, and the superior Antique range, which may be as old as twenty years on average. No prizes for guessing which range this wine comes from.

I am a little clueless as to the story behind the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso; the Fernando de Castilla website is informative with regard to its weight (1.03 kg per bottle, 835 kg per pallet), and dimensions (310 x 69 x 69 mm) but says nothing of the origin of the wine, the aging, the solera, and so on. One taste, however, and I soon forget such oversights. This wine has a fine, golden, light-bronze hue, with tinge of green age at the rim. There are wonderfully expressed aromatics, toasty, with crisp and warm walnuts, pistachio too, lightly peppery and savoury, very defined and very enticing. And the palate is remarkable, warm and yet energetic, soothing and comforting, but with taut and tangy acidity to give it energy. In the midpalate it unfurls to reveal further charm and complexity, endowed here with texture and the umami of high quality stock, broad and deep, savoury and full of conviction. This is ridiculously delicious, and definitely a candidate for my favourite sherry so far. 18/20 (February 2016)

Exploring Sherry #15: Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

Back into the Sherry seat now, with a look at this wine from Bodegas Hidalgo. Every Sherry drinker (and some non-drinkers too I suspect) knows La Gitana, one of the best known Sherry brands in existence, with its instantly recognisable gypsy label. Less widely appreciated, I suspect, are the other wines in the premium range from Hidalgo. They have similar branding, but they can’t match La Gitana’s ubiquity (it accounts for 70% of Hidalgo’s production).

Bodegas Hidalgo is a long-established bodegas, having been founded in 1792 by José Pantaleón Hidalgo, who hailed from Santander in northern Spain (much closer to Rioja than to Jerez). Six generations later the business remains in his family’s hands, and his descendents have about 170 organically-managed hectares in the Balbaína and Miraflores vineyards.

Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

La Gitana is a gypsy woman, whereas Faraon is essentially a patriarch, the male head of a family or gypsy clan. The oloroso so named comes from a solera where it is aged for seven years (at least) before bottling.

In the glass the Bodegas Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon shows a golden, toasty-caramel hue, with a faint but broad green tinge at the rim. It has a very classic nose, showing a faintly oxidised oloroso character, with a touch of dusty-dry baked earth, baked orange, dried fruits, walnut wood and clove spice. There is a rather full presence on the palate, a fairly substantial wine here, showing lots of impact but also a cutting energy to it, with plenty of tingling, peppery, spicy sensations around the edges. It feels quite polished, firm and robust rather than elegant or silky, but still a very full, warm, pleasing style, and it has length too. Overall, good. 16/20 (January 2016)

Exploring Sherry #14: Dos Cortados

Having breathed new life into my exploration of Sherry I seem, since my encounter with the Don Fernando wines, own-label efforts from Fernando de Castilla, to have enjoyed a good run of really interesting wines. Next in the line up was a return to what remains one of my favourite styles, palo cortado.

The Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados is a fascinating wine not just because the quality in the glass is good, but because it affords a glimpse into the aging of palo cortado wines. Before we start, let me return to some words I wrote in my post on the Leonor Palo Cortado, explaining how wines are transformed from fresh and lively fino into the elegantly bronzed style that is palo cortado:

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 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.

Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados

The process might involve a little more than than, in particular the wines can be adjusted with alcohol to protect them, after which they are left to age oxidatively. Returning to them many years later, the alcohol adjustment may have to be repeated, in which case a second mark (cortado) would be made on the barrel to record this – hence the wine is now dos cortados.

In the case of the Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados the wine is aged on average at least twenty years. This has a really smart-looking bronze hue in the glass, with a broad green tinge to the rim. It starts with a fairly challenging nose, vibrant, slightly high toned, with some notes of dry-baked earth, dried walnuts, raisins and smoky coffee. This is followed by a firm, nicely framed palate, with bitter fruits and some dry-baked and desiccated orange peel. The feel of it is very vinous, with very bright acidity, a rolling warm blanket of smoke bilowing over the top, and an acid bite in the finish. A fascinating wine, clearly mature and confident in its very evolved state. Tense and long, and lovely with it. 16.5/20 (December 2015)

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. Remarkable 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.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albarino 2014

A couple of months ago I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal, and the best drinking I found when there was Vinho Verde. I particularly enjoyed some of the single-variety Alvarinho cuvées, from the likes of Soalheiro and Palácio da Brejoeira among others. I wrote up some tasting notes at the time, here: A New Vinho Verde.

And then a couple of weeks ago, this bottle arrived. Same variety, different country.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño 2014

Although I’m no expert on Rias Baixas I do know that Lagar de Cervera is the Galician outpost of La Rioja Alta, for a long time one of my favourite Rioja bodegas (I don’t claim any expertise in Rioja either, although I have at least visited the region). The fruit is chilled, pressed, and then tank-fermented, and 50% underwent malolactic fermentation, followed by some time on the lees. The 2014 Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño has a pale hue, and a richly expressed nose, full of pithy citrus notes, as well as cool white peach flesh and also a lightly saline suggestion. There are some slightly bitter edges to the palate which I like, with flavours of lime, mint, perfumed white peach and white currant. It feels savoury, tense, bright, textured but cool with a steely core. I wouldn’t have guessed there was 50% malolactic fermentation here for sure. Overall very good, and it would stand up very well to all those Alvarinhos I tasted. Under screwcap. 16.5/20 (October 2015)

Disclosure: This bottle was a received sample.

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)