Teeth hurting, nostrils smarting, tongue dry as you like. Welcome to the wonderful world of 30 year-old sherries.
Jamie Oliver would have done his nut. The eighth and final sherry in a Sherry Masterclass at Wines from Spain was a Pedro Ximénez (PX) with 460 grams of residual sugar. “Try getting 600 grams to dissolve in a litre of water, it’s impossible,” said Beltrán Domecq with thinly disguised glee.
The PX was so sweet and rich it hurt my teeth more than a Cadbury’s Crème Egg eaten after a lengthy Mosel tasting. Once Jamie has finished with the soft drinks industry then he can be my guest to start getting stuck into PX producers. I had to spend an hour on the bike just to feel my sugar levels returning to anything approaching normal. “It’s unlikely to be found on lunch menus at least!” said Sherry Wines UK. PS – do not serve this wine to a diabetic.
The Masterclass was to show off aged and rare sherries to assembled sommeliers and the like, and for a rare opportunity to taste 30 year old Amontillados alongside 30 year old Palo Cortados, 30 year old Olorosos and 30 year old Creams. Eight wines, 230 years of ageing – kid in a candy store! The smell on entering the room was insanely gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
Presiding over proceedings was sherry royalty Beltrán, President of the snappily-titled trade body the CRDO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda. One suspects he’s a favourite with freelance drinks journalists the world over, being paid by the word.
“Try not to ever use the word oxidation, such a dreadful word,” he enunciates in perfect Received Pronunciation.
You can tell Beltrán is sherry royalty because a/ he really knows his onions b/ he looks and sounds like Prince Michael of Kent and c/ he’s called Domecq. It’s not just that in 10 minutes he can give the uneducated a concise and comprehensible socio-economic, geo-political, historical and oenolgical rundown of all sherry types, but that he really makes you want to drink lots and lots of sherry – stock up on every conceivable type of sherry and serve it with every meal of the day – along with salted almonds, cured cheeses and so on. Just the way he says “cured cheeses” makes you salivate. I bet his shopping trolley is loaded when he goes to the supermarket.
You cannot imagine anyone better qualified to do a sherry Masterclass.
“This is simply delicious wine,” he purrs over a glass of VORS (30 yo) Rich Old Oloroso from Fundador, “It’s the perfect match with steak Rossini. Luckily my wife is a very good cook.”
Beltrán kicks off with the rarest sherries, two 30 year-old Amontillados, Amontillado Napoléon VORS, Hidalgo La Gitana (a fino) and Amontillado Tradición VORS, Bodegas Tradición, both are about £50 a pop and have strong aromas of hazelnuts, seasoned oak, caramel with hints of burnt orange peel and smoke (in the Tradición). Both wines are big, powerful, bitter, salty and dry, with the Tradición a darker amber and a much bigger nose. Perfect with: soups, tuna, white meat, spicy food
Next up Palo Cortado Dos Cortados, VOS, Williams & Humbert and Palo Cortado VORS, Barbadillo which both have a dark mahogany colour. These are more walnuts than hazelnuts and are dry but not as dry as the Amontillados, the glycerol having been consumed. There is just a hint of sweetness on the front palate but make no mistake these are big, complex, salty and bitter albeit retaining a good degree of balance. Perfect with: fish stew, lamb, bacon, cheeses
The two medium sherries that follow are my personal favourites, Oloroso Rich Old VORS, Fundador and Oloroso 1842 VOS Valdespino. In colour they are both dark mahogany, have aromas of walnuts, burnt sugar, butterscotch and explosive mouth-feel. The wines are smoother than the previous four with the Fundador more raisiny, the Valdespino much darker with a harmonised sweetness on account of 60 grams of sugar per litre. Perfect with: spicy meat stews, mushrooms, steak Rossini, cured cheeses
Wine number seven is Cream Matusalem VORS, González Byass which is a Palomino and PX blend that has a rich, sweet and evolved nose and a powerful taste of toasted, seasoned oak, caramel, hazelnut and raisins. There is great viscosity (120 grams of sugar per litre) but it is still balanced by acidity. Perfect with: fruit salad, sliced orange and caramel
And then circle the wagons, the beast is being unleashed! Perdro Ximénez VORS, Lustau is incredible. It is so dark and viscous it is to sherry what balsamic glaze is to vinegar. It is all molasses, dried figs and dates. Pure PX. Although this has 460 grams of residual sugar per litre there is an acidic, bitter saltiness that keeps it in check. But boy is it sweet! Perfect with: ice cream, dark chocolate, strong blue cheese
Things We Learned:
- VOS means 20 years-old VORS means 30 years-old.
- Sherry is best served below 18 degrees C – to make the alcohol less aggressive
- Palo Cortado has no biological ageing. Fino does.
- Lest we forget. 98% of all sherry comes from the Palomino grape