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Sherry by Another Name: Exploring Sherry Styled Wines from California and Australia

Sherry, as most of you know, is made in Jerez, Spain, and is a style of wine that is singular in that it is crafted in a region where the local climate helps to cultivate a yeast called Flor. For those that do not know the story of Flor, please check out our Sherry 101 article before your read on.

When I first started to explore Sherry, I was lectured that Jerez was the only place in the world where Flor could thrive. Their logic made sense at the time since didn’t know anyone outside in Spain making Sherry style wines. However, many years later, I learned that flor can be cultivated quite happily outside the Sherry triangle, and consequently, “sherry-esque” wines can be crafted in several parts of the world, but this presents a problem.

Sherry is a protected name, like Champagne, Cava, Port, Roquefort and many others. Therefore, you can’t call something “Sherry” unless it comes from a specific location in the south of Spain. There is a good reason for this, as it helps to protect not only the culture that originally crafted the style, but also the brand itself. However, this was not always the case. While I was in college, I thought Burgundy meant, “A big bottle of cheap booze to woo women with”. Little did I realize that it meant something quite different. But thanks to the efforts of the Center for Wine Origins, it is slowing becoming illegal to adopt a historic name for your local wine. Therefore, in California, you are slowly finding wines that were previously named “Port” or “Burgundy” taking new names like: “Big jug of juice for your Friday pizza night wine”, which I think we would all agree makes more sense. You can make any style of wine you choose using any technique you want; and as a result, we now have “Sherry-esque” and “Port styled” wines with names as witty as Andrew Quady’s Starboard a “Port-styled” wine.

Today, I want to present a few wines that I tasted over the summer that fall into the sherry style that use the technique of fractional blending called, the Solera system, as well as flor in the aging process (for some of the wines).

Andrew Quady a wine maker in California who crafts, what I consider to be, one of the finest Vermouths in the world. He is also the creator of a wine called Palomino Fino, made from 100% Palomino fino grapes and aged in casks in California with an innoculated flor yeast called “Submerged Flor” from Red Star. When I asked about how it works, Andrew sent a short reply:

“We have had difficulty getting it to grow. We have used inoculated from dried commercial flor yeast and from a bottle brought over from Jerez. We haven’t tried natural flor yet. It doesn’t seem to get as thick here. “

So what does it taste like? It’s a strange “sherry style” that comes off as a blend of various styles. My note on Adegga follows from when we tried it this past summer:

Palomino Fino
Note: Very hazelnutty nose! Light honey and cream notes show an oxidative character. In the mouth this is an “unctuous fino” with a creamy palate and salty earth finish. The after taste is of baked citrus and leaves your palate cleanly. Really a complex and strange wine, that falls between so many worlds, fino, amontillado, and maybe a rancio from the Emporda. The nose opens to show more dusty bookshelf notes, honeyed hazelnut (kinda freaky how much it smells like hazelnuts!). Very interesting wine. Worth checking out if your in the mood for something way in the “geek realm”.

Personally, I really like the wine; and while it is not what you will find in Jerez, it is a wine that is very much worth checking out, and I would even argue a perfect wine for BBQ, as it has a rich texture that might help cut through heavier foods.

The other wine(s) I want to mention are on the opposite side of the globe, down in Aussie land, by the name of Seppeltsfield. We first met the owner Nathan Waks, and his contingent, at WineFuture last year where, after a long night of partying, he pulled out the 1909 Para Vintage Tawny. Poured in a thimble sized glass due to the richness of the wine, they said that the wine if poured into a standard glass would never reach the rim instead coating the entire glass, a shame really as the wine is one of the most vibrant and delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. If you want a great description check out the Wine Detective’s notes on it. Oh and drinking it from the thimble was the right call, down to the point where I asked my hosts if it was wrong to lick the glass, to which they replied “of course not”, thankfully too, as I still dream of this sweet nectar.

But before I get too off base I need to mention their “sherry-esque” wines:

Clara blanca Palomino Aged Dry – Amontillado DP116
Note: Honeyed toffee nose with freshly stained wood and an amazing roundness. Wow, hard to pull the glass away from the nose! In the mouth this is a full wine with some light residual sweetness that is haunting as it seems to fade away on the finish to a dry breath of Madeira laced air. Wow, this is something. Unctuous and a refreshing with a headiness of flavors that might take days to grasp. Caramel-ly with a woodiness and lovely baked sugar, and a salty taffy quality that is seriously making my mind bend. This is a wine that is fun to drink, and sip, and drink…and linger over…all night long.

Vera Viola Rare Rich – Oloroso DP38
Note: Very interesting nose on this wine, while the name says “viola” and I feel that it might be influencing my perception I distinctly detect a fresh, delicate violet note somewhere in there. Definitely wood varnish and carmel-ly dark flavors mingling in the background, conspiring to flavor. In the mouth WOW, not what I expected with berry notes that seem framed by dark wood and maple touches. The berries dance in and out of a lush acidity that is at one point slightly sweet and the next bone dry. Nutty richness sits on the palate at the finish where I debate how quickly politeness is thrown to the wayside as I quickly take another sip. Do you like Port? Do you like Sherry? Do you like Madeira? Who cares, really, this is just darn yummy.

Vera Viola Rare Rich – Oloroso DP38
Note: Very interesting nose on this wine, while the name says “viola” and I feel that it might be influencing my perception I distinctly detect a fresh, delicate violet note somewhere in there. Definitely wood varnish and carmel-ly dark flavors mingling in the background, conspiring to flavor. In the mouth WOW, not what I expected with berry notes that seem framed by dark wood and maple touches. The berries dance in and out of a lush acidity that is at one point slightly sweet and the next bone dry. Nutty richness sits on the palate at the finish where I debate how quickly politeness is thrown to the wayside as I quickly take another sip. Do you like Port? Do you like Sherry? Do you like Madeira? Who cares, really, this is just darn yummy.

These wines are truly wonderful and in no way to be mistaken with the sherry we love here in Spain other than sharing a wine making process! But what do you call these great wines? They deserve their own name, and while I’m not aware of these wines being made by others, they are far and away amazing treats that deserve their own status, if not category. Yet, we don’t have a word for these wines like we do for say Champagne or Cava like wines,  where the word “sparkling” can easily sum up their style. These wines are fortified, but when lumped in with other fortified wines, they do not fully explain the unique characteristics that fractional blending, and at times, Flor can have on the wines.

The Seppeltsfield wines are not available in either Europe, or the USA (from what I can tell), though someone please prove me wrong. These bottles were sent by Nathan for us to taste, and I’m glad he did! They alone merit a trip down under to experience them again. And while I do not support the act of adopting historic names for new drinks, I do heartily encourage the efforts to adopt the wine making and applying it to your local terroir and grape varieties.

Please let us know if you’ve had any fun wines in the sherry style from other parts of the world!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • J Roberts

    Wines aged under flor have been made in the Jura and on Sardinia for at least as long as they have made in Jerez…

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

    That’s why I like having you around…

  • http://twitter.com/jose_bravo JL Bravo

    The climate of Jerez/ Sherry is more warm than others country even into Spain. In fact, the terroir is different, it´s known as Albariza. I think, this is the only wine which it´s very dificult to make in others Country.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

    turns out that it’s not that hard to make elsewhere, but it does have some unique reasons that the wines there are so special. Albariza is the name of the white soil that retains humidity in the hot climate of Andalusia. As for the terroir, the soil, proximity to the sea, and the extreme temperatures are all factors.

    thanks for the comment!

  • http://twitter.com/jose_bravo JL Bravo

    You´re right, Albariza is soil. It´s a soil very special because only we can find it in this zone. There is a mistake in my post about the terroir.

  • J Roberts

    Whatever the soils or terroir, “flor” is not unique to Jerez…

  • http://twitter.com/jose_bravo JL Bravo

    And Montilla Moriles in Spain, in fact Montilla has got a great finos, amontillado and olorosos wines. I love this kind of wine. I don´t know that Wines under flor have been made in the Jura and on Sardinia.

    Congratulations, have a great blog.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

    Yeah that was a silly oversight, we love Montilla! Great wines, and usually great prices!