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Bottle-aged Sherry?

Left the 2002 bottled wine, right the 2008 bottled.

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!

  • http://www.fernandodecastilla.com Jan Pettersen

    Hi Justin, Very interesting. I find that medium or sweet sherries tend to seem drier after a prolonged time in the bottle. I have always thought that this must be because the acidity increases over time, and this makes the wine seem drier. There is also a slow oxidation, so it is reasonable to expect that the wine changes, and if the wine is healthy it can improve over time, altough slowly.Best regards, Jan

  • http://www.delongwine.com Steve De Long

    Hi Justin,If you can tell the difference between a freshly bottled Fino or Manzanilla and one a few years old, then you really understand your Fino and Manzanilla! Speaking from experience, it's very difficult to get to this level in the US especially since you can't always tell how old they are. Most now have a bottling date in code on the back label but in different formats that need decoding. I agree that a 2 year old bottle is drinkable (perhaps not to someone in Jerez!) but beyond that it gets pretty dicey. I've bought a few obviously over the hill Finos in the US and can attest to the fact that they don't age gracefully into a Pasada Fino (slightly aged) or an Amontillado. They taste more like a rancid salami.

  • http://www.ourwinestory.com Dylan

    Justin, could you please describe Christmas pudding to me? I'm unfamiliar with the concept and have never had it myself in the states. Thanks!

  • Justin Roberts

    Hi Steve. I've only tried two so far, the oldest being the Bailaora described above. It was very yellow and had aromas and flavours of ripe pear and it was a bit nutty. Firm acidity and a bit of saltiness, especially on the finish. It was nothing like a Manzanilla Pasada or Fino-Amontillado, both of which I have had quite often. Maribel Estevez, who makes the stuff thinks we should not look at it as a Manz or even an Manz Pasada, but as a completely different wine. She said decanting should sort out bottles with reduction. I have not had the chance to put that to the test, but yesterday I might (nothing in Jerez is ever certain) have sourced 10 bottles of old (and some very old) stuff of various styles (including a Croft Pale Original which looks like it's from the 70s). Will keep you posted.

  • Justin Roberts

    Hi Dylan. Christmas pudding is quite a British thing. It's a bit like a fruit-cake/Panettone but MUCH heavier and darker – almost black. Depending on the recipe you will usually get flavours of plum, dried and candied fruit, raisin, orange-peel, burnt sugar,brown sugar, molasses, (and if the pudding has been “fed” with brandy over a few weeks before Christmas then woody, vanilla, brandy flavours too). I often pick up these sorts of flavours in PX sherries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_pudding

  • Justin Roberts

    Hi Steve. On the topic of the date “code” on the back. I wish they would they just put an unambiguous date-stamp on the bottles! It would make everyone's life a lot easier…

  • http://www.ourwinestory.com Dylan

    Thanks for the explanation!

  • Álvaro Girón Sierra

    I remember quite vividly one superb bottle of manzanilla “La Celada”. This was bottled at least 80 years ago. I also tasted -thanks to the amability of a very close friend- a series of bottles of finos and manzanillas bottled in the 70s and 80s. And the experience was quite revealing. In this respect, I do not abide to the otherwise well deserved authority of Mr. Jeffs

  • http://jerez-xerez-sherry.blogspot.com/ Justin Roberts

    Hola Álvaro. Thanks for the comment. BTW I'm a HUGE fan of the Navazos wines…

  • http://xtremax.com SEO

    Justin, i guess you have given enough detail about Bottle-aged Sherry and its very true that strange things can happen with good taste as well when you kept sherries for a long time..

  • Randy

    Thanks