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Sherry is not always sweet
Emilio Lustau Single Cask Dry Oloroso Sherry
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From time to time I like to preach the gospel of Sherry, an unusual Spanish wine too often and most unfairly stereotyped as sweet and insipid stuff.
Although some Sherries are indeed sweet, many are bone-dry, and either way it's a wine capable of real complexity and power. But Sherry is so completely different from table wine in the French and Italian (and Californian and Australian) tradition that many wine lovers find it difficult to get to know.
Before we get to today's tasting - an "Oloroso" Sherry that's full-bodied but entirely dry - let's take a quick refresher on the major styles of this wine from Jerez in Southern Spain. (Jerez is pronounced "Hay-reth" in Castilian Spanish, by the way, a name that early English visitors mangled into "Sherry.")
The lightest Sherry is called "Fino" ("fee-no"), a delicate and bone-dry wine that's fermented in open containers protected under a fuzzy white blanket of an unusual natural yeast called "flor." Naturally strong, but not fortified with brandy as are the heavier Sherries, Fino often evokes almonds with its aromatic scent, and it makes a delicious before-dinner aperitif. (Manzanilla, made in a neighboring town, is virtually identical, although some tasters find in it a "salty" quality allegedly reflecting the nearby seacoast.)
Amontillado - made famous in Poe's short story - is also dry, but it's fortified and is a more full-bodied wine than Fino. Next step up the stylistic ladder is today's wine, Oloroso, also fortified and dry, and even more full-bodied. Some Olorosos are sweetened after vinification and sold as "Cream" Sherry, the very sweet style that gives all Sherry its reputation for cloying sweetness.
But for a really serious sugar dose, save your taste buds for the dessert Sherries made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes, so syrupy and thick that they can literally be served over ice cream.
Because of its open-air production, Sherry is naturally oxidized, resulting in pleasant nutlike flavors that may range from almonds to hazelnuts to pecans or walnuts. Usually blended from numerous vintages in a unique system of barrels called "solera," Sherry is rarely labeled with a vintage date.
Strong, sometimes sweet, Sherries are most often served as aperitifs, as noted, or as after-dinner drinks. But if you're adventurous, try doing as they do in Jerez and serve Sherries with a variety of foods. From nuts and cheeses to onion soup or even turtle soup, they can make unexpectedly good pairings with a range of foods. And despite a reasonable popularity around the world, Sherry remains surprisingly affordable, with even a limited-production "single cask" bottling like today's tasting available under $20.
For more information about Sherry, I recommend the English-language pages of the wine region's official governing body, the Consejo Regulador of the Denominations of Origin:
(This site is also available in German and Spanish - click the national flag icon for the language of your choice.)
Very clear dark amber color, with a delicious aroma of fresh pecans, characteristic Sherry, full and appealing, with nuances of mixed nuts, brazil nuts and cashews, to lend complexity. The flavor is very full-bodied and dry, no hint of residual sugar, with mouth-filling nutlike flavors consistent with the nose, all framed by warm alcohol and snappy acidity. The appetizing quality of fresh cracked pecans carries through in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Emeryville, Calif. (July 11, 2002)
FOOD MATCH: Fine sipped by itself as either an aperitif or after-dinner drink; marries nicely with a mild, nutlike Swiss or French cheese like Fol d'Epi or Emmenthaler.
VALUE: It would be difficult to find the equivalent of this special single-cask bottling in any other wine niche for twice the price.
WEB LINK: Emilio Lustau offers a comprehensive Website at
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Chianti ... Rufina (July 10)
A visit to Gascony (July 8)
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Monday, July 15, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.