Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! One of the most interesting categories of wine is fortified wines which includes Port, Madeira and Sherry and what better time to discuss this style of wine then December, where the snow starts to cover the city and families and friends begin to prepare for holiday celebrations. For these cold times, nothing warms the body and soul like a sip of Sherry. What is Sherry and what are the differences between the different styles? Let’s take a look!

Sherry traditionally comes from Spain and one of the most prominent locations for top-notch Sherry production is in Jerez. Sherry is made almost entirely from the Palomino grape varietal and can be found in every sweetness level from bone-dry, to luxuriously sweet. Another grape which is used more rarely is the Pedro Ximenez varietal, aka PX. I tasted the incredible Gonzalez Byass 30-year V.O.R.S. (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum or Very Old Rare Sherry) which is made entirely of PX grapes, but this incredibly sweet wine is more often used to add sweetness to drier wines.

You will find several types of Sherry on the shelf including Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream and PX. After basic fermentation of the grapes, the wine is fortified with pure grape spirit and then added to oak barrels for aging. Space is left at the top of the barrel for air and a film of natural yeast called “flor” grows and protects the aging wine from oxidation. This style is known as Fino and is always bone-dry with a salty, yeasty flavor. Manzanilla is similar and has a coastal influence and pairs well with seafood and olives.

After several years, the flor dies and oxidation begins to affect the wine, creating Amontillado. This type can be sweet or dry and is usually the most balanced style of Sherry with flavors of caramel and nuts, perfect for pairing with Spanish hams and hard cheeses. Moving onto Oloroso, extra grape spirit is added which doesn’t allow the flor layer to develop. Without the protection of the yeast covering the wine, Oloroso becomes dark brown from heavy oxidation and rich flavors of prunes, toffee and walnuts form. Oloroso can be dry or sweet, but PX Sherry is often added which creates the Sherry known as “Cream”.

To make PX Sherry, Pedro Ximenez grapes are dried in the sun until they are raisin-like and then the wine is made into an oxidized, lusciously sweet, dark brown Sherry with flavors of dates, figs, toffee, raisins and caramel. As it is intensely sweet, this Sherry is best when shared with friends or family in small amounts.

Another ingenious use of PX Sherry is the aging of whisky in the leftover PX casks. This can be tasted in many special edition whiskies of the world like Redbreast PX, Bowmore 18 years and Peat’s Beast. Peated whiskies seem to work exceptionally well due to the interplay between smokey, malty and sweet flavors. There is something cathartic about the flavors of dessert mingling with leather, peat smoke and flavorful memories of campfire smoke. The feeling of nostalgia comes back with every sip. Here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!        

Gonzalez Byass NOE 30 Years V.O.R.S. PX Sherry: (Jerez, Spain). Very sweet, fortified wine with an oily, dark brown color. The nose is resplendent with a reductive quality of balsamic raisin/soya sauce, dried fruits (raisins, prunes, sultanas), brown sugar, caramel sauce, toffee and fresh leather. To the taste, this Sherry brings an extremely concentrated and high intensity rush of flavors from the first sip with a sharp zip of reduction followed by heavily oxidized flavors. Once the tastebuds adjust, the full-bodied fruits are on display throughout the long mid-palate (raisin puree, prunes). There are plenty of dessert-like flavors to explore here with creamy caramel sauce, sticky toffee pudding and dark treacle. This is like drinking liquid butter tarts with a thick, luscious mouthfeel and a bit of balance brought by medium-plus acidity. The finish is long with rich, fruity dates, raisins, prunes and crème brulee. The wine is somewhat out of balance due to the high sugar content and slightly reductive style, but overall, this Sherry is an indulgent treat meant to be shared with friends and family. For a fantastic experience, pair this V.O.R.S wine with all kinds of soft and hard cheeses, olives, dried meats/salamis, salted/roasted nuts or pour it over creamy vanilla ice cream. Very good! $70, 15.5% ABV

Peat’s Beast Batch Strength PX Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky: (Scotland). Peated single malt whisky with a finish of PX Sherry. Mahogany/caramel color with long, thick legs in the glass. The first flavors to jump out from this Scotch are prickly spices such as cinnamon candy, Cinnabon rolls, pepper, vanilla and then sweet scents of raisins, dates and campfire smoke. Additional aromas of sweet and smoky peat mingle with seaweed and maple bacon. On the palate, the whisky has a medium-plus body with a slightly oily texture and hot flavors at first (due to the higher alcohol content). Once your tastes adjust to the intensity, a blast of spices greets the tongue with cinnamon sticks, cloves, cracked black pepper and vanilla. Things are quickly smoothed over with the luscious presence of PX cask flavors like figs, dates and sweet raisins. The sweetness drops off after the mid-palate and the finish is long and smoky with a savory edge of peppered beef jerky, smoky earth and crispy bacon. Traces of dried fruit and smoldering cook-smoke embers leave us on a flavorful high. Further sips reveal a hint of malt character mingling with raisins and dates. Smoky and sweet, this Scotch excels with cigar pairings like the Kentucky Fire-Cured cigar from Drew Estate, the Swamp Thang Candela cigar (a green, fire-cured cigar from Drew Estate) or the Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill (a sweet and spicy, long, box-pressed cigar). Very good! $125, 54.1% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!