Sherryfest – Fino and Manzanilla Sherries

If you didn’t make last week’s Sherryfest  in San Francisco, you will most likely have to go somewhere else for the next event.  Sherryfest is the brainchild of Peter Liem, author of ‘Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla’, and Rosemary Gray, director of RS Productions NYC.  NYC held the first and largest Sherryfest in October 2012.  The San Francisco event is their fifth event after Portland and Toronto.  Sherryfest is said to be the largest sherry event outside of Spain.  Their fundamental goal is to help us learn about Sherry and appreciate its finer points and how nicely it pairs with all kinds of food.  If you’re new to Sherry or would like to know more, please first start with my overview of Sherry here.  

So, on to my wonderful Sherryfest seminar on Fino & Manzanilla.  I don’t know how Rosemary and Peter do it, but they manage to get the top producers AND the best sherries for this wonderful Sherryfest event.  

Beltran Domeq, the Consejo Regulador of the sherry region, talked to us about the process of making sherry, a combination of nature, tradition and technology.  As you recall, there are five steps in the process of sherry creation – harvest, fermentation, fortification, aging, blending, and bottling.  The legal limit of sherry production is 70 liters per 100 kilos of grapes.  Temperatures in the Jerez region remain a steady 22-26 degrees centigrade.   The longer a sherry ages, the darker its color.

BarbadilloSteve Cook, the International Director of Bodega Barbadillo then took the stage to talk about his bodega’s sherries specific to this class.  Founded in 1831, Barbadillo is one of the largest sherry producers in Spain.  Gonzalez Byass, creator of Tio Pepe, is larger.  Barbadillo has 30,000 casks/botas, and they are the number one producer of Manzanilla.  Barbadillo also makes a Palomino white wine, a new thing for this sherry grape, and it is now the best selling wine in Spain, selling an amazing 6 million bottles a year.

The size of Barbadillo’s production allows them to be selective.  (Interesting because it does the opposite at Starbuck’s where selectivity means they can’t offer the best coffees because there aren’t enough of that coffee to go into a gazillion stores.)  

Sr. (Señor) Cook told us that sherry is the most versatile wine in the world for food pairings, and I agree.  When an audience member who happens to be a wine instructor commented that sherry HAS to use a descriptor of ‘fruit’ in its analysis, Sr. Cook commented that sherry might need a new vocabulary in terms of evaluation.  

I’m taking these out of order, but let’s next discuss the Barbadillo tastings.  Then, we will move on to Gonzalez Byass.

Barbadillo Manzanilla SolearBarbadillo Manzanilla Solear was served first.  (I will once again remind you that Sherryfest doesn’t mess around with anything less than top quality wines!!!)  Combining the old and new, this is a premium brand.  12,500 casks are reserved for this sherry that takes 6-7 years of aging prior to bottling.  It’s fresh, yeasty, toasty, with a hint of citrus.  A great palate cleanser, it becomes more and more complex with a long finish.

Barbadillo’s Manzanilla en Rama Solear was next.  En Rama means unfiltered.  This is the 15 year anniversary of this sherry.  1000 1/2 bottles are produced every season, so it is quite a boutique wine.  The sherry is moved to a second solera and aged two years more than the Manzanilla above.  There’s more color, and it’s more intense with salty ocean notes and a nice herbaceousness.  It’s more round and creamy with a fuller and longer taste.  (Manzanilla is Spanish for chamomile.)

After a few of the competitor’s tastings, Sr. Cook moved on to Barbadillo Amontillado Principe.  This sherry is unfiltered in its own 500-cask Amontillado system and aged for 15 years  Aromas are of almonds and caramel with an amber color from its last 7 years of oxidation.  It’s toasty and complex with hints of hazelnuts.  At 19% alcohol, it’s precise, not rounded.  There’s a feeling of youth with a little tingle on the tongue.

Barbadillo Amontillado VORS is aged 30 years in only 40 casks which equals only 300 bottles produced each year.  (This is the sherry served at the Trou Normand dinner, so Sherryfest was able to get a significant share of this year’s production.)  It’s 22% alcohol and is deep in its color and complexity.

Sr. Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass spoke about his company through Christopher Anale, the US manager for Gonzalez Byass.  Gonzalez Byass is five generations in the same family since 1835 and has five unique properties throughout Spain.  Tio Pepe is the world’s best selling Fino.

Sr. Flores was quite a delightful speaker and calls sherry ‘life in a glass’.  There is less than 1 gram/liter of sugar, so to many novice sherry tasters, there is a very unique taste to sherry.  The Las Palmas varieties that we tasted are chosen each year by an independent sherry expert.

Tio Pepe en RamaTio Pepe Fino en Rama was first up.  Unfiltered, this is the best fino that Gonzalez Byass makes.  Only 60 barrels are chosen among 20,000, and 18,000 bottles are products.  There are scents and tastes of nuts, chamomile, citrus and saline.

Dos Palmas came next.  Only two barrels of 600 are selected.  This sherry is flavorful and refreshing.  It’s a beautiful gold in color with superior tonality

Tres Palmas comes from only one barrel and is 10 years old.  Caramel in scent, the flor has consumed all of the nutrients, making a 16% wine that Sr. Flores calls a wine between life and death, meaning it takes special attention to take this sherry to its last legs to be bottled at its perfect and last opportunity.  There’s a concentrated bitterness to this amber sherry with hints of vanilla.  

Tio Pepe Las PalmasCuatro Palmas is a cult wine, taken from the Tres Palmas production and aged 48, FORTY-EIGHT, years!!! One barrel creates only 250 liters that are bottled.  It’s a noble wine from noble woods, and it smells like you’ve just opened the door to an antique shop.  It’s like drinking history.  

Can you believe that we students were so fortunate to taste such rare and amazing sherries.  Sherryfest is amazing, and wherever they are next, I am, too.  Please go out and buy a bottle or two of sherry.  You won’t believe your nose and tastebuds.  Thank you, Sherryfest!!

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