When I received my email invitation to the 2017 Wines of Spain, my first thought was: "I hope that Beltrán Domecq is going to be doing another Sherry masterclass" as his 2016 masterclass on Fine, Rare and Old Sherries was simply sublime (read my post on it last year here). I was delighted to find out that he was, with a tasting this year around "The Evolution of Sherry", so I took myself out of the main tasting hall with plenty of time and found myself at the front of the queue - I wanted to make sure I had a good spot, which I duly did!
As a it of background, Snr. Domecq is the President of the CRDO Jerez-Xérès-Sherryy Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda - essentially he is one of the most important men in the wonderful world of sherry; what he doesn't know about sherry is just not worth knowing...
As with last year, he started off by giving us a brief, but fascinating, history of the wines from the Jerez area on southern Spain. I won't re-count all of what he said, but some of the more interesting points that I took from his introduction were how the "Solera" system was used by Bodegas who make sherry to age and develop their sherries, but also to produce a consistent, house-style and avoid vintage variation (in completely the opposite way to the world of wine). We also touched on the extraordinary breadth and variety of sherries, from pale, bright Manzanillas and Finos, through nutty Amontillados and Olorosos, to sweet and luxurious Creams and Pedro Ximénezs.
Last year's tasting focussed on the exciting Very Old Sherries and Very Old and Rare Sherries (both official designations within the sherry system) which featured quite a few to the sweeter end of the spectrum; interestingly this year, Snr. Domecq decided to focus on the drier and lighter end of the spectrum, which was a very interesting idea. Essentially what he was trying to demonstrate was how one grape (Palomino) can be used to make such a variety of wines.
The first wine we tried actually wasn't a sherry at all, it was a Castillo de San Diego, Barbadillo, a table wine made from the Palomino grape - at 12% it was nice and light, somewhat clean and fresh on the nose and with a bright acidity to it. Given the extreme heat of the Andulusian south (it is one of the most southerly wine producing areas in the northern hemisphere), it was impressively crisp. This was also an interesting wine, if a little unremarkable.
Now, on to the sherries! We started with a Fino Inocente (Jerez) from Valdespino/Grupo Estèvez (£13.95/bottle available from Lea and Sandeman). This was instantly more recogniseable as a sherry with that familiar oxidated nose; it also had a touch of salinity and pungency to it. On the palate it was bone-dry, but with a little body and richness to it. Very pleasant.
Next up was a Fino Tradición (Jerez) from Bodegas Tradición (£32.93/bottle available from Amazon). This was a darker wine, more amber in the glass and was much more complex on the nose with the first hints at a more nutty aroma. I also thought that I detected a little waxy, brie-like aroma. On the palate it was still dry, but there was a little smattering of bacon-style smokiness. A more complex wine, also considerably-more expensive - worth it though...
The third sherry was a Amontillado Vina AB (Jerez) from González Byass (£13.75/bottle available from Oddbins). This was a golden, amber wine in the glass and had a more pronounced nuttiness to its bouquet, reminiscent of an aged, hard cheese. On the palate, this wine had more presence and structure to it - I described it as more formidable, however this wine lacked a little in terms of finesse and class compared to the last wine. It was also a couple of points higher in terms of alcohol content (16.5%).
Continuing the Amontillado selection, sampling next the Amontillado Collection 12 años from Williams and Humbert (£8.99 - no stockist information). This was a real step up in terms of alcohol content at 19%, but you wouldn't know it from the nose - all floral and honeyed notes. On tasting, it was more angular and sharper. I didn't enjoy this sherry as much as the previous few.
Now we moved on to the first of our VORSs, a Amontillado VORS 30yo Napoleon (Sanlucar) from Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana (£44 - available from Exel Wines). This was a tawny-brown in the glass and was the complete opposite to the previous wine - it was more rounded and balanced, full of class and elegance. It had a quiet refinement and presence to it, that made you take notice of it without feeling the need to shout in your face...!
Our penultimate sample was a Amontillado VORS 30yo Fino Imperial from Diez Mérito (no price details or stockist info). This wine was darker than all of the previous wines. On the nose it was considerably more powerful than the previous wine. On the mouth it was very salty and powerful, a very thought-provoking wine, but one that probably needed a little tapas to bring it to life.
Last up was our only trip to something that was relatively sweet, a Palo Cortado VORS 30yo from Harveys (£23.49/bottle - available from Waitrose). There was just a touch of PX added to this wine, which brings it into the "Medium" classification of sherries. On the nose, there was a touch of butterscotch to the wine, plus a sprinkling of sweet spices. On the mouth it was very welcoming and approachable, perhaps not the most elegant of wines, but it was certainly a pleasing experience in drinking it.
There you have it. Once more, a fascinating tour through the marvellous and ever-so-slightly mysterious world of sherries. I must thank Snr. Domecq again for being such an excellent guide through these wines - his passion and enthusiasm for sherry is really something to behold.
I am already looking forward (hopefully) to his 2018 masterclass...!