Hello, Justin here.
Recently I took part in a sherry tasting where the subject of bottle-aged sherries came up. Now the dogma is Fino and Manzanilla do not age and should be drunk as soon after bottling as possible. At the tasting, one of the wines we tried was a Manzanilla, Bailaora, which had spent two years in bottle. It obviously wasn’t a “fresh” Manzanilla, but there was nothing bad about it. It was just different.
In his brilliant book “Sherry” Julian Jeffs is clearly of the opinion that Fino and Manzanilla styles deteriorate after bottling, perhaps we were just lucky at the tasting. However he also says:
“Strange things can happen when dry sherries are kept for a long time. In my own cellar I laid down some fine palo cortado rather more than thirty years ago. For the first three or four years it improved; then it went through a bad patch that lasted for six or seven years. After that it came out on the other side, showing great age and elegance that improved annually until the wine had about twenty-five years’ cellaring. Then it began to go off.”
Jeffs goes on to say that sweet sherries are more likely to improve with age, and that they tend to consume their sugar, eventually becoming completely dry. Even so, a hit or miss affair.
I got talking to Jan Pettersen, owner of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, about the bottle-aged Manzanilla I had tried and he quickly offered to let me compare his Amontillado bottled in 2002 with one bottled last week. What a great opportunity! As you can see from the photo the label has changed a lot since 2002. I think the current bottle looks much slicker and cleaner than the old one.
As for the wine: I opened the 2002 bottle first and it had a bit of a strange nose – a musty, marine aroma, almost fishy. Due to reduction I suppose. However after about 10 minutes the nose had opened up into something quite attractive: Aromas of dried dates with hints of mineral oil were wafting up from the glass and later even caramel and burnt woody aromas appeared. The younger wine had a less pronounced nose, with similar dried date and perhaps fig aromas, but with a clean citrus backdrop.
The young wine had a medium amber colour with a wide rim; the older wine a touch deeper in colour with a bit more brown.
In the mouth the young wine was quite smooth, light and it had a nutty flavour with a sweet quality to it. The 2002-bottled wine was very different. It was very smooth with more body and along with the nuttiness had more complex flavours. There was a hint of Christmas pudding and woody, burnt flavours, almost PX. Both wines had quite long finishes, especially the older wine. These were completely different wines, and it seems to me the 2002-bottled wine was all the better for it’s time in bottle. As Julian Jeffs says, strange things can happen with bottle-aged sherries, so fortunately this time it was something good!
Hasta la proxima!