I recently managed to get hold of a few bottles of really serious sherry. Not that most of the styles I’ve been consuming lately haven’t been flicking my switches in their own ways, but this aged stuff is big time, taste wise.
When the package arrived and I’d taken them out to survey my bounty – one amontillado, one oloroso and a PX – I decided the best thing to do would be to arrange a tasting, chez moi. Three styles to muse over, three different kinds of sherry to distract us with all those rounded nuances and nutty aromas.
I put in the call to the three friends I knew would appreciate it the most – Ruth, Giles and Gwen. They all accepted with relish – even Gwen’s boyfriend was keen what with having heard the tales of this most refined sherry – of solera systems whose origins can reach back as far as the 18th century, of endless tasting and analysis by Jerez’s Consejo Regulador, all so that us sherry lovers can know an authentic oenological treasure.
I set the table with wine glasses, pencils and paper and the tasting commenced. First off came Harvey’s Fine Old Amontillado – a V.O.S (Vinum Optimum Signatum, or Very Old Sherry if you’re British). This has been aged in the bodegas for a minimum of 20 years. Amontillado is my favourite of all the sherry styles so I was really excited to try it. It had a much rounder finish than a non-aged kind, sending out notes of cherry, citrus and buttery nuts.
Ruth decided that the tannins of the wine would go really well with calves liver; complementing the iron-rich meat perfectly. I agreed – especially given that this amontillado was a touch sweeter and would therefore lend the match a whole other delectable layer. Other aromas found were of cloves and pinecones.
We pressed on to the oloroso, a 15-year-old Dry Sack from Williams & Humbert. Not submitted to quite as intensive regulations as the V.O.S and V.O.R.S, this system is nevertheless submitted to an oxidative or physico-chemical aging process, which ensures the highest levels of quality. After a few sniggers about the name we buried our noses into our glasses and entered a world of sweetness and warmth – the perfect antidote to the horizontal rain attacking the kitchen window outside.
It smelt of treacle, prunes, and dates. Gwen thought it was like smelling the inside of a Crunchie bar – and with each sip it was like tasting the barrel itself. All 15 of those years seeping into the aged barrel and returning, carrying flavours from decades ago. I love this about wine; how you can almost taste time. Time and experience and the magic of tradition.
We glugged water hungrily, gearing up for the big hitter – the PX 1780 Garvey V.O.S. By this point Gwen’s boyfriend seemed truly enamored by the world of sherry and when he tasted the PX it was as though this was the final validation he’d been looking for. If the last sherry was like honeycomb treacle this was deep, dark, molasses, seeping out of the cane in syrupy rivulets. We wanted to have it with chocolate, ice cream, blue cheese! It was viscose, offering hints of soaked raisins, liquorice and marinated prunes. My whole kitchen was lousy with the aroma of aged sherry; a drifting caramel swirl that curled around us, bundling us together in a cosy, satisfying, sherry loving huddle.
It’s been a great year for sherry and me – and things are looking very interesting for 2009. Have a great Christmas (top tip for pre-lunch snacks: smoked mackerel pate and chilled dry oloroso)