Williams & Humbert Amontillado ‘As You Like It’
My explorations of sherry have broadened somewhat in recent weeks. When I began my rediscovery this most famous of wine regions, I kicked off with palo cortado and amontillado, dry and savoury styles with the potential for wonderful balance and great complexity, and likely to tickle my palate in all the right places. I think these wines are my preferred styles when it comes to sherry; there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a glass of slightly cool amontillado to bridge the gap between a long day’s work and a much-anticipated dinner. Nevertheless, I have been keen to broaden my horizons, looking at different styles from Jerez, including Manzanilla, which originates exclusively from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies on the Gulf of Cadiz. As a consequence I have been drinking, in recent weeks, everything from Manzanilla Pasada to aged oloroso, and I have even been looking at some sweeter styles.
Among the sweeter wines one that particularly impressed was As You Like It from Williams & Humbert, a bodegas that dates back to the 1870s. Established in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams (perhaps more famous as the founder of the Boys’ Brigade) and his sidekick in business Arthur Humbert, the bodegas remained in family ownership for many decades before falling prey to takeover by José Medina y Compañía, a business established by José, Nicolás, Jesús and Ángel Medina, who were all involved in the Sherry trade in one way or another. Having acquired the business in combination with a Dutch multinational Ahold, the Medina family subsequently bought out their partners, and today they have full control over the dealings of Williams & Humbert.
The range of wines (and brandies, other spirits, as well as local foodstuffs) now sold under the Williams & Humbert label is considerable, and As You Like It is just one small cog in this very big machine. Nevertheless, I perceive the quality here as being high, and I think it worth casting the spotlight onto the wine for a moment or two. It is a Sherry of some age, the wines that went into it having an estimated 30 years behind them on average. It is, so the story goes, a blending of 27 butts of Sherry which had lain unloved in the Williams & Humbert cellars for three decades before, impressed by the quality of these wines (which seem to have thrived on neglect, from this tale), the cellar master decided to blend and bottle the wines in their entirety. The style is amontillado, but with a sweeter, more complex and more intense character than younger, typically drier and rather more taut wines of this style.
As You Like It displays a rich, toasty, golden-brown in the glass, with a wide, green-tinged rim. The nose is no less rich than the wine’s appearance, with an expressive character, more than suggestive of some richness. There are notes of walnuts and dates, with a warm, toasty, vanilla and salted-caramel-tinged richness, this latter aroma moving more towards black treacle and liquorice as the wine warms in the glass. This all comes with a woody, lightly oxidative note which runs throughout the wine, but remains merely one part of its rather complex make-up. The palate feels cool and structured, and comes across best when served with a light chill on it, to help it gain some definition to the warm breadth of alcohol (20.5%) and evident sweetness. It is as rich as the nose suggested, but has a bright acidity too, bringing in nuances of oranges alongside all the coffee, woody and nutty elements. It has a lovely presence in the mouth through to the end, showing concentration, and is certainly energetic and bright in the finish, and of course it is very long too, just going on and on and on. I think I prefer drier styles in all honesty, my own preference being for a dry, pre-dinner pick-me-up, but there is no denying the quality here. This is a delicious drink. 17/20 (18/2/13)