This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Dec. 8, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20081208.php.
To warm a winter night
Sherry? I can hear some of you saying "Meh." As I wrote in a report on this Spanish nectar a while back, SHerry owns an unfortunate and not entirely fair stereotype: Many think of it as sickly sweet stuff that your elderly aunt would keep in a dusty old cut-glass decanter from Easter until Christmas, or that your grad-school English prof would pour in tiny sips during after-class soirees.
But the current popularity of Spanish tapas and Latino bocaditos has prompted quite a few wine lovers to reconsider Sherry. And the arrival of winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere offers another good reason to take a new look at this warming drink.
Like Madeira but in contrast with Port (which is invariably sweet), Sherry comes in a wide range of styles, from the relatively light and bone-dry Fino (and its neighbor, Manzanilla) through the richer Amontillado and Oloroso to the thick, syrupy-sweet Cream Sherries and Pedro Ximenez, the latter so dessert-like that some aficionados prefer it poured over ice cream rather than sipped from a glass.
Today's featured wine is a bit of a hybrid between styles. It's called "Palo Cortado" ("Cut stick") because old-time Sherry makers used to mark the barrel with a cross-shaped symbol when a batch intended as Fino or Amontillado mysteriously lost its blanket of traditional flor yeast and began to oxidize. The result was a wine that fell stylistically between an Amontillado and Oloroso: Rich, full-bodied byt dry, not sweet.
For those who shun traditional sweet Sherries but can, er, warm up to the idea of a rich, unsweet model, Palo Cortado forms a logical choice. Nowadays, rather than waiting for nature to throw out an occasional surprise, many producers blend it intentionally by mixing Oloroso and Amontillado to achieve a tasteful in-between.
You'll find my notes below on an excellent example, "Peninsula" Palo Cortado from the respected producer Emilio Lustau.
Most Sherries, by the way, are non-vintage, and while all except Fino will keep well on the wine rack or in the cellar, it's nice to know how old your bottle really is. Fortunately, most modern Sherries contain a bottling date in small print on the back label. Although it's coded, it is fairly easy to interpret. For details, page down to the section "How old is my Sherry?" in my previous Sherry report,
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Emilio Lustau Palo Cortado "Peninsula" Sherry ($21.99)
Clear bronze with glints of gold. Nutlike aroma focuses on freshly cracked pecans, with a hint of lemon zest in the background. More of the same on the palate, full and dry, pecans and snappy citrus in a long finish. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Oakland, Calif.; Selected by Christopher Cannan. (Dec. 5, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Rich, dry Sherry works with a surprising range of dishes, from cracked nuts to French onion soup to oysters on the half-shell. We generally enjoy it on its own, though, as an after-dinner drink on a nippy evening.
VALUE: Rising prices make good Sherry a bit less of a bargain than it used to be, but in fairness, the $20 range remains more than competitive for a wine of this quality. Compare its pricing, for example, to Port.
WHEN TO DRINK: Richer-style Sherries, sweet or dry, will last for years, but the high alcohol content tends to preserve them rather than foster evolution in the bottle.
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, we're skipping some editions at this point, and the Wine Advisor FoodLetter, customarily distributed on Thursdays, has been on break. I hope to resume it before long.
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