Sherry Trip to Jerez

Yiannis Karakasis MW

Jerez. Not the easiest destination to reach from Athens but totally worthy of the trouble. The Sherry Master 2017 hosted by Institute Supporter Gonzalez Byass (GB) was an extraordinary combination of theory and taste, a fine exploration of the Jerez terroir. 4 Masters of Wine from 4 different countries together with around 10 more professionals from Spain, Germany and USA participated from Sep 12 to Sep 14 in this Sherry master course.

GB Vice President along with the company’s master blender the passionate Mr. Antonio Flores offered us a warm welcome to the world of Sherry. GB was established in 1846 and it is regarded as the major player in the Sherry market. The first day included visits to the vineyards and to the archives of the company dating back to 1835. The tremendous capability of a single variety – the Palomino grape - to produce such a diversity of wine styles was the focus of the day.

Currently, the Sherry vineyards cover approximately 7.000 hectares. This has come down from 20.000 ha over a century ago. Out of these GB owns one seventh and buys grapes from another 500 hectares. During the last couple of years the landscape has changed; new plantations have been trained higher to facilitate mechanical harvest (accounts for 65% for old vineyards) and pruning has changed as well. Instead of challenging and requiring skills traditional cane pruning, vara y pulgar, the double arm system and spur pruning have been adopted with no changes in yields which remain the same at 10.500 kilos per hectare.

In a very well structured tasting called V Shape, Antonio Flores discussed the five pillars of Sherry: Albariza soils, the varieties, biological aging under flor, oxidative ageing and the solera system. He went ahead to give us an insight on the styles of Sherry by explaining how wines start, progress and evolve.

For Fino Sherry everything begins with a must that expresses finesse which after fortification becomes a youthful Fino (Fino Sobretablas) and a regular Fino after 4 years of age under flor. Antonio Flores emphasized on the increase of acetaldehyde to 380 mg/lt increasing the perception of dryness and the decrease of glycerol from 6 g/lt to less than 1! Finally when flor dies naturally because of alcohol increase a Fino Amontillado is born demonstrated by GB Vina AB. Acetaldehyde rises higher to 500 mg/lt. GB also produces a VORS Amontillado with the solera starting with a Vina AB at least 30 years old. The latter has no presence of flor having aged only under oxidative conditions.

When it comes to Oloroso, GB looks for a must with density and complexity which is then fortified to 18%. Contrary to Amontillado, Oloroso sees glycerol increased from 6 g/lt to 10.

The mystery of Palo Cortado was then discussed by Antonio Flores and Ronan Sayburn MS during the next day’s Annadas tasting. Palo Cortado has no official winemaking protocol; the only prerequisite is to stylistically be between an Amontillado and an Oloroso having the aromatic refinement of the former and the structure and body of the latter. Compared to an Amontillado, it will often have spent less time under flor and its base must would have been really delicate. Another way of describing it would be as a kind of very delicate Oloroso.

The second day we were offered a tour in the cellar where the brand of Tio Pepe was born. There they demonstrated and explained to us how the flor is created and subsequently floats. The En Rams success story was explained which started 8 years ago in a trade tasting in the cellars of GB! The company now sells 16.000 bottles of En Rama that are sold out within 48 hours. This comes from a limited selection of 60 casks from an initial selection of just 100.

The tasting of the limited series of Palmas with the masterpiece of Cuatro Palmas, a 54 years old En Rama Amontillado produced in just 500 bottles was beyond any doubt the highest moment of the Sherry Master Course. And this wasn’t the end of our Sherry trip: a very rare tasting of Old Palo Cortados going back to 1963 was yet another exquisite moment. The vintages presented were 1993, 1987, 1982, 1978 and 1963.

On my way back to my homeland, I must admit a long-lasting Jerez aftertaste was full of strong aromas, wonderful memories engraved in my heart and of course my palate. “Saúde” to the Gonzaless Byass family for opening their home, sharing their knowledge and more importantly their passion for this amber coloured drink that elevates our souls!

 

Yiannis Karakasis MW
22 September 2017