Andalucía’s liquid treasures have been her golden coloured wines for more than half a millennium. Located at the southern tip of Spain, almost kissing Africa, Andalucía’s semi-tropical climate and bleach-white chalk soil produces a most diverse range of fortified white wines.
The original reason for fortifying wine with an expensive brandy of colourless grape spirit was to help protect the wines from spoiling on long sea voyages. Fortification takes place after fermentation so most Sherries begin as a dry wine and may have sweetness added afterwards with grape juice or a sweet wine.
Sherry remains one of the most misunderstood and undervalued of fine quality wines; and represents one of the greatest bargains. Just because a little spirit has been added to the wine doesn’t mean it should be treated like a spirit. Once opened, if not enjoyed within a few weeks, the wine will slowly oxidise and eventually lose its aromas and flavours.
All Sherry is made from green grapes and mostly from the local Palomino Fino varietal. Palomino’s neutral character allows the methods of wine-making and aging to give the strongest voice to the wines’ character. The full spectrum of Sherry styles range from the driest Fino and Manzanilla around 15% ABV to the super luscious, treacle unctuous Pedro Ximenez, named after that grape. Here are two popular styles of Sherry that showcases that excellence.
Amontillado is an aged Fino when the wine develops deeper flavours to a rich hazelnut character and a darker colour. With alcohol around 18pc, the wines are mostly dry. Some may be “Medium” by blending with a little sweet wine made from the intensely honeyed, raisined Pedro Ximénez (PX) grapes grown in the neighbouring Montilla Moriles region. Excellent with hard cheeses and consommé.
Oloroso means “fragrant” and is a richer and fuller bodied style with a dark amber colour and complex savoury aromas. Flavours vary from walnuts and coffee to meaty richness enhanced by a date and fig fruit character. Highest in alcohol, around 20%, some are “Dulce” or “Cream” (sweetened with PX wine). Delicious with hard cheese.
Meanwhile, Spain’s neighbour on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has its own treasure trove of ruby coloured fortified wines. In Port winemaking, fortification takes place early in the fermentation process. The added spirit kills the yeast preventing it from converting the grape’s sugars into alcohol. All Ports are naturally sweet.
Port, the pride of Portugal, has a fiery heart of alcohol at 20% with its seduction sheathed in sweetness. Port’s vineyards teeter on the steep terraced slopes of the granitic mountainous and meandering Douro River Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. All Port is either vintage – from a single year, or blended from several vintages. Their differing styles depend on how many years the wines are aged in barrel before bottling and release from the winery/ Adega.
Port has long been an antidote to the Irish winter chill. Sometimes served with lemon studded with cloves and hot water and best suited to the simpler style of Ruby Port.
Most styles of Port (Ruby and Tawny) are a blend of several years’ harvests. However, in exceptional years, a single vintage wine is made solely from that year’s harvest. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports mature for four to six years evolving in wooden casks to produce rich and complex wines that are ready to drink when bottled. “Unfiltered” LBVs require a corkscrew to extract the cork and may contain a natural deposit. Opened bottles of LBVs will keep fresh for 2-4 weeks.
Tawny Port derives its name from the faded amber colour resulting from years maturing in cask. The purple colour and astringent tannins that came originally from the grapes’ black skins, reconnect over time and become solid matter, descending through the wine as a deposit of sediment. The barrel’s oak adds a spiciness to the sweet dried fruit character. Premium Tawnies have 10 or 20 “Years Aging” on the label, indicating the average number of years spent in cask. These beauties are spicier with an added nuttiness to the caramel sweetness and remain fresh within a month of opening. Serve chilled with blue cheese, fruit cake or nuts.
The following Sherries and Ports were blind tasted from 25 samples and the highest scoring are below and in no particular order.
Amontillado Del Duque Aged 30 Years, Gonzalez Byass, Jerez, Spain
Subtle aromas of salted caramel, cinnamon and hazelnuts. An explosion of flavour on the taste buds of salted hazelnuts and piquant alcohol with a lingering aftertaste of thioe delicious salted nuts.
Food friend: pair with mature cheddar and nuts.
€21.00 at www.WinesOfTheWorld.ie
Oloroso, El Maestro Sierra 15 years old, Jerez, Spain
Classic Oloroso with a benchmark meaty and savoury bouquet. Very intense palate entry with a dramatic flourish of savoury richness, walnuts and decadent plump dates.
Food friend: go gamey with smoked venison or roast goose.
€37 at Alex Findlater & Co. O’Connell Street, Limerick
Otima 10, Ten Year Old Tawny Port, Warre’s, Douro, Portugal (bottled in 2018)
Fragrant aromas are mirrored on the palate by an unctuous satiny texture. The rich nectar seeps through the woody spiciness keeping the alcohol in check and finishes with sultanas, spicy nutmeg and cloves.
Food friend: very versatile to pair throughout a meal from liver paté, smoked cured hams to crème brûlée.
50cl €27.99 at Supervalu and in Dublin at: The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; Drinkstore Stoneybatter; 64 Wine Glasthule; Kelly’s Clontarf; Martin’s Fairview, Jus De Vine, Portmarnock and Molloy’s citywide. World Wide Wines Waterford; Cosmo Tuam; Fine Wines Limerick and The Wine Centre, Kilkenny.
Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012, Duorum, Douro, Portugal (bottled in 2017)
Scented with violet cream dark chocolates. Delicious rich palate of cassis, mulberries, violets and peppery spice. Delivers interesting complexity and well-balanced tannins and alcohol.
Food friend: indulge with a gooey chocolate cake and raspberry sauce.
€25.95 at O’Briens nationwide.
Late Bottled Vintage Port 2007 Unfiltered, Warre’s, Douro, Portugal (bottled in 2011)
Very focused, complex and concentrated palate of wood infused with syrup and graphite minerality. Integrated peppery spice at the core of the black fruit heart. Mellow and with an impressive balance where the alcohol is submerged under deep layers of flavour.
Food friend: serve with a salty blue cheese mashed with walnuts and smeared on celery stalks.
€40 in Dublin at: The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; Kelly’s Clontarf; Martin’s Fairview and Molloy’s citywide. Bradley’s Cork; Malt House Trim; Wine Well Dunboyne; McEntee Kells; The Wine Centre Kilkenny; Kilcullen’s Kildare and O Sullivan’s Delicatessen Tralee.
Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003, Smith Woodhouse, Douro, Portugal (bottled in 2007)
Fragrant mulberry cordial bouquet. This teenager delivers deep layers of integrated peppery spice with strawberry compote and well tamed integrated alcohol. Velvet smooth finish.
Food friend: enjoy with a hazelnut and chocolate tart
€30.45 at O’Briens nationwide
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as a judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.