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Holiday libations: Part 1

These are strange times indeed.

For instance on American Thanksgiving my wife and I shared the usual turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but only with each other.

We lit the candles and sat by ourselves at the rather large dining table. We had to settle for phone conversations with her family and our sons in the USA and Canada.

But it is now the month of Christmas and some sherry should be in the house – for cooking and sipping. All year round for that matter.

The solera method of ageing is best known for use during sherry production but it is also used at times for beer, vinegar and brandy. Although it varies, the traditional idea of a solera consists of a stack of barrels – say five on the bottom with layers above tapering to four, three and two. Sherry for bottling is drawn from the bottom row and new wine is added at the top. As it works its way over years to the bottom, it is said that the traces of old wine “teach” the new wine how to develop complexity and character.

Sherry is one of the world’s earliest wines, with a history in Spain going back a few thousand years. It is said that Magellan spent more money for supplies of it to carry on his earth-girding trip than he did on weapons. What a peaceful and wonderful idea.

Shakespeare loved it and who could describe it better: “A good sherris sack hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends you into the brain, dries you there of all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it. Delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.”

Williams @ Humbert Dry Sack Medium Sherry solves the problem if you are not sure whether you should buy a sweet (cream sherry) or a dry. Produced since 1906, please do not be misled by the term dry in its name as it contains about 22 grams of sugar in a bottle that you can compare with 100 grams in cream sherry and 75 grams in a typical bottle of Port.

On the nose there are sweet almonds and lots of toffee with caramelised peanuts, honey and dates. On the nose, there is a hint of damp cellars. Medium sweet indeed, but not too sticky at all when chilled. The tangy flavour still comes through, resulting in a slightly bittersweet palate. You will find sweet baked apples, some dried apricot and raisins, with soft hints of walnuts. Soft traces of tannins as well.

Wine Enthusiast says: “Welcome back to the classic off-dry sherry that helped make the category's reputation. It's amber in colour, with toasted almonds, citrus peel and cinnamon on the nose. The mouthfeel is solid and not too overtly sweet, and the finish is coated with burnt brown sugar. Best served on the rocks, or at least with a very good chill.” $21.95 (Stock #4015).

The word “fino” on a sherry label tells us that it is a dry wine and Tio Pepe Fino from the firm of Gonzalez Byass is the most asked for in the world. Let me explain how fino is “born” in the cask. Following fermentation of palomino grapes to between 11 per cent and 12 per cent alcohol, the wine is fortified to 15.5 per cent alcohol and then enters the Tio Pepe solera.

Due to the 15.5 per cent alcohol and the unique temperature and humidity in the Jerez cellars a layer of yeast known as the ‘flor’ will form on the surface of the wine. In order for this flor to form properly, an empty space of 100 litres is left in the cask. This flor is the most important influence on the fino wine as it protects it from oxygen and gives it its unique aroma and character. The wine remains for a minimum of four years following the traditional solera system under the flor.

On the nose sharp yet elegant aromas of the yeast from the flor balanced with toasted almond notes typical of the palomino variety. On the palate completely dry with reminders of almonds.

My earliest memory of sherry is that my mother always had to have a healthy dose of Tio Pepe in any soup. This is a tradition for me and there is always a bottle available for such use. James Suckling has this to say: “90/100. This is a prototypical fino sherry with all the salty and yeasty character you expect. Also dried-apple, pear and lemon-zest character. Generous, but very dry and salty on the palate with a refreshing touch of austerity. Where are the olives?” $23.85 (Stock #3975).

Some of you may be saying, “This is Christmas time, so how about a very special treat?” Just fine with me. I suggest a half bottle of Gonzalez-Byass Matusalem Cream Sherry 30 Year Old that rates a close to perfect score of 97/100 from James Suckling who writes: “Concentrated and complex dried-fruit character that spans the fruit spectrum from citrus through to raisins. There’s a ton of caramel, too. Yet, miraculously, this isn’t a jot too much. Rather, the acidity shines a laser beam of light-like clarity onto these riches. Great length. Drink this sweet-sherry marvel now!”

Decanter magazine has this opinion: “Nuts and coffee on the wonderfully complex nose, with hints of cheese, rich, deep chocolatey palate with coffee and spice in the delightfully long finish.” $40.60 (Stock #3943).

For the same price for a half bottle you could also try Gonzalez Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado VORS (very old rare sherry) that again, rates 97 points with Suckling and this opinion: “Forget fashion and go for gold! Enormously complex, toasted and caramelised nuts, married to wonderful creaminess that is all lit up by acidity that’s so supernaturally vibrant that you barely realise this has any sweetness. Very long, subtle and uplifting finish.” (Stock #3942).

Once opened fino will keep for just over a week; medium for two to three weeks; sweet (cream) for four to six weeks. Like any opened wine, it will keep longer if refrigerated.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

Whether for cooking or sipping, sherry is a Christmas tradition

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Published December 04, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 02, 2020 at 2:02 pm)

Holiday libations: Part 1

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