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Fortifieds

We Need to Talk About Sherry

(I know, I know, I’ve been so delinquent. I’m still around, and still learning about and enjoying wine, and still planning to keep sharing those adventures here!)

 

Until recently, when I heard the word ‘sherry’ I thought of warm fires and Sunday night family dinners, complete with a little late-afternoon libation of cream sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Cream was my family’s brand of choice. I will forgive you if your mind calls up a similar image before dismissing the idea of sherry completely. Surely it wouldn’t be appropriate for the hot summer weather we’ve been having, right?

Well think again, my friend! This delicious fortified wine is so much more than that. Don’t believe me? Keep reading – you are about to get a crash course in the fascinating and delicious world of Sherry.

Sherry… I mean Jerez… I mean…

First, let’s talk about where sherry comes from. It’s not England, contrary to that country’s strong affinity for the stuff. Sherry actually comes from Spain. Yes, hot, southern, seaside Spain – Jerez, to be specific. Jerez sits in the southern part of Spain, just south of Seville and right by the port city Cadiz.

 

The way I learned about the origin of sherry is this:

Those smartypants Spaniards in Jerez have been making sherry for years. Like, years and years. Centuries, even. They have it down. Multiple types (we’ll get to that later), a great storage system that doubles as a quality control method (ditto); seriously, they know what they were doing. And then can you guess what happened? Colonialism happened, of course!

Those pushy Brits came to down, tried sherry (or jerez in Spanish… see what’s going on there?) and began taking over the sherry business. This is why many of the best and most well known sherry houses have British names even though sherry is a historically Spanish drink and has (and continues to be) made in Jerez, Spain. Yay imperialism?

 

Flor, Sherry’s BFF

The coolest thing about sherry is made is this glorious and adorable thing called FLOR, used in making Fino, Manzanilla and Amontillado sherries. Flor is the type of yeast used to make sherry and is pretty unique compared to other yeasts. First of all, it’s native to the same region of Spain known for making sherry – convenient, no? Second of all, flor is a unique strain of yeast because unlike other types it rises to the liquid’s top to form a layer on top instead of immediately dying off once its done its part in the fermentation process.

I know what you’re thinking, why does this woman care so much about yeast all of a sudden? Well, because this layer that flor forms on top of the fermenting sherry essentially seals things up, blocking oxygen from mingling with the sherry. This means that as long as the flor is alive and sitting there on top of everything the sherry’s aging process is put on hold, since it’s oxygen that causes a wine to age.

Basically, flor is some kind of crazy Borg-esque suspended animation thing, but also the most adorable loving yeast, tucking in its sherry and protecting it for as long as the producer wants. Flor is adorable. LONG LIVE FLOR!

 

By El Pantera - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5488280

By El Pantera – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5488280

 

I should note that flor can’t survive once the alcohol percentage gets higher than 15%. The poor little yeasties will die off once the sherry reaches that level, which is the case with Oloroso, the highest ABV sherry.

 

So many types!

That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the actual drink, right? Turns out there are a bunch of different kinds of sherry, each with their own distinctive flavour profile and way of being made.

Sherry is a fortified wine so it gets fermented and then fortified and is then often aged depending on the type of sherry we’re talking about. Also, it comes in both sweet and dry versions, just to further complicate things.

To avoid going down the sherry rabbit hole, I’m just going to talk about the four basic types of dry sherry. There are sweet sherries but to me the dry ones are more interesting. They are:

 

Fino

Most dry and most pale on the sherry scale. Often has a salty, saline-like flavour, which sounds completely gross but actually pairs deliciously with other salty foods like olives and nuts. Fino is all flor all the time, with no oxidative aging.

 

Manzanilla

Similar to fino in dryness, paleness, salinity and use of flor (and not oxygen), but comes specifically from the coastal port town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Drink this (again, with salty things) on a hot summer day and imagine you’re in coastal Spain. Thank me later.

 

Amontillado

Middle of the road on the sherry scale in terms of dryness and paleness – less than Fino and Manzanilla, more than Oloroso. It’s initially fermented with flor but then aged a little with oxygen, which gives it some nuttiness and depth in the flavour, but not so much that it feels heavy. A good entry point into the world of dry sherry.

 

Oloroso

Mmmmmmm Oloroso. The most oxidatively aged sherry and the one with the highest alcohol level. Oloroso has a lovely deep, rich, nutty flavour, mostly from being oxidized during its aging process.

 

Solera = Love

One more cool thing about sherry – its aging process. Like most releases of champagne and port, sherries aren’t released in using an annual vintage system. This means it is incredibly rare to see a year on a sherry bottle. I’m not going to say they never have years on them, mostly because I’m still learning and also because I wouldn’t be surprised if some makers put the year of bottling on the label as opposed to the year of harvest (like with most wines).

Why don’t they put the year of harvest, or vintage? Because of the way sherry producers age sherry, using the solera system.

 

By El Pantera - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5488301

By El Pantera – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5488301

 

The solera system is essentially a giant cascading system of aging sherry. The oldest barrels and sherries are on the bottom level, which is the level producers take from when bottling. It’s important to note that the bottom barrels are never completely emptied. As each year’s sherry is made the barrels are topped up, starting at the top and working down through the layers of barrels, which allows the younger and older sherries to comingle and get to know each other. This gives sherry producers the power to harmonize their sherry year over year, and is also the main reason why the idea of ‘vintage’ sherry just doesn’t exist. The whole aging process is built on ensuring a consistent product year after year. Pretty cool, right??

 

Sherry Picks

So, are you interested in sherry yet? Good! Here are some sherries in the LCBO I find particularly alluring.

 

Tio Pepe Extra Dry Fino Sherry

TioPepeFino

Note the descriptor ‘briny’ and pair with appropriately salty things.

 

Orleans Borbon Manzanilla Fina

OrleansManzanilla

Again, ‘iodine’ and ‘sea breeze’ are clues to temper the salinity with some salty chasers. Manzanilla is a tough sherry to get into but the payoff is huge.

 

El Maestro Sierra Amontillado

ElMaestroAmontillado

The happy medium. If you can’t decide which one to try, I recommend this one to get the full effect of sherry but not be too off-put by the salty sea-ness.

 

Lustau Dry Oloroso Don Nuovo

LustauOloroso

Lustau is one of the heavy-hitter sherry houses, and is a dependable brand. This would be a great after dinner drink, especially as these summer evenings start getting a little chilly.

 

Now that I’ve got you all excited about this wonderful drink maybe you want to make your way to Toronto for an awesome sherry event? Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Fortifieds, Red Wine

Cold Weather, Warm Wines

path-grass-lawn-meadow

 

The seasons are changing and so are my wine tastes. I know some people who are perfectly happy drinking the same sorts of wines all year round, but my tastes are more cyclical than that.

I love to take advantage of what’s happening outside to switch up what’s in my glass. Here are some wines (and wine drinks) I’m looking forward to now that the days are getting colder.

 

Return of the Mac Reds

Summer to me means whites and rosés, which means fall and winter are all about reds. As soon as I can’t feel the sun on my skin anymore I begin to swing away from the Gamays and Beaujolais, the Sauvignon Blancs and even some of the Pinot Noirs in favour of Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs, Syrahs and Carménères. There’s just something about cool air that makes me want a big, flavourful red. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

 

Mulled Everything

Have you ever had mulled wine? If you haven’t, you are missing out big time. Do yourself a favour – buy a bottle of red you know you like, read this recipe, and make mulled wine. It will take you all of twenty minutes, after which time you will sip that delicious liquid and wonder how you just managed to distill autumn into such an enjoyable beverage.

You’re welcome.

 

Fortifieds

Let me talk about my love for fortifieds. With fortifieds we’re talking wines like port, sherry and marsala – these have all had a spirit (usually something distilled from grapes) added to them before, during or after fermentation. These wines have a higher alcohol content than regular wine (hence the term ‘fortified’) which I know can be a turn-off for some people, but the flavour and warmth of these drinks can’t be beat. If you’re interested in them but still worried about the booziness, try cooking with them. A little marsala or sherry is a great addition to soups and stews or any dish where you need to deglaze (which might explain why deglazing is one of my favourite cooking activities…).

 

Bonus – Whiskies

I know, I know – we’ve taken a bit of a left turn here, but we’re still in the family of big warm flavours we’ve been talking about so far. There’s nothing better than curling up with a wee dram on a cold night, letting it warm you from the inside out. While I love Scotches like Benromach, Bowmore and Aberfeldy (and Lagavulin and Laphroaig and Balvenie… the list goes on!), I also love Irish whiskies like Jamesons, Bushmills and, the peaty to end all peaties, Connemara. You don’t even have to shell out for good whisky – a quick search on the LCBO website will show you that Canada makes a bunch of great, affordable stuff.

Well, there you have it – my cold-weather drinks wish list. If you need, I’ll be fixing myself a drink.

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Fortifieds

Taylor Fladgate: The Unboxening

Last Christmas my parents gave me a great gift – a gift set of a bottle of Taylor Fladgate Late Vintage Bottled port complete with two lovely little glasses.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I was tidying up the bar area in my apartment and was faced with the same gift box, sad and a little dusty, patiently waiting for me to give it my attention.

Confession time. I am a hoarder of things I love. The more I like or appreciate something, especially gifts, the more I put off enjoying it. I am a nut for anticipation apparently! Friends make fun of me for being able to resist the sweets in my cupboard for months and months, sometimes to the point that they go bad and have to be let go. And the ultimate case in point is this lovely gift that I’ve ignored for months. Sorry, Mom!

But no more. I finally opened the box up and enjoyed its contents, a bottle of Taylor Fladgate 2009 Late Bottled Vintage port.

Taylor Fladgate port gift set

Simple and classy.

Taylor Fladgate gift set opened

Oh, hello!

What Port is All About

Port is a fortified wine made in Portugal, mostly the Douro region. It comes in both red and white varieties and, like a lot of European countries, is often a blend of a bunch of different grapes. Port is higher in alcohol content so the serving size is 3 ounces instead of the standard 5 ounces usually poured for wine. Port is often aged for a period of time in barrels before being bottled and sold. Personally, I find that port often has a richer flavour and body compared to regular wines, which is a big reason why I love it. Heads up though, it can be sweeter than regular wines, so keep that in mind when trying out this delicious nectar.

Late Bottled Vintage port has its beginning as port that was barrelled with the intention of being bottled as vintage port but because of a lack of demand it was left in barrels even longer. Poor sad port, all alone in its little barrel! I’ll save you! Come hang out with me and we’ll be friends! Delicious, delicious friends.

Taylor Fladgate 2009 port

One step closer…

Taylor Fladgate port glasses

These are typical port glasses. Except these are TF branded, because they’re AWESOME.

But enough about history and pictures of unopened bottles. What does this stuff taste like? Well, let me tell you, it’s GOOD. It took a couple of minutes to get anything off the nose because I’d just opened it up, but after that it started giving up some lovely mellow, sweet, warm notes. It’s easy to tell the sweetness in port because the inside of the glass had so many legs it looked like a film coated the whole thing. The flavour was just wonderful. Smooth and fruity with great sweetness and spiciness all mingling on my tongue. If you like mulled wine, pumpkin pie or mincemeat tarts you will love this port.

Taylor Fladgate nose

Getting a good smell in!

Ready to get to know port yet?