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The Slow and Painful Death of a Wine Romantic: Pedro Ximenez (aka Raisin Juice)

I have issues with Pedro Ximenez. Since my first taste of the raisin-smelling, thick, brown, sugary slop, I struggle with the stuff. The only truly stand-out PX I had last year was the Hidalgo Napoleon Old PX (which is a bit like saying my favourite whisky last year was Lagavulin 16 year-old – yes, it’s good, but like decent brands it’s good every year…). I even quite enjoyed Gonzalez Byass’ Noe. But it took me a year to drink it.

The problem is that, no matter how hard I try, I struggle to shake off my first impression of PX: several years ago someone handed me a glass with an impressive nod and all I could smell was raisins. This might well have been in my early days of wine but I knew enough to try to search for other aromas and flavours. But all I got was more raisins. It was like someone had taken the small box of sultanas I used to get in my packed lunch as a child and put the contents in a blender. Sweet, syrupy, sickly, sloppy, sepia-tinted, raisins. I don’t wish to sound reductive in my approach to PX (I do enjoy the stuff) but I still can’t throw off the ‘raisin juice’ impressions of an amateur taster.

And yet I also feel a creeping sense of annoyance everytime I talk about PX and people gush about how great it is with raisins over ice cream. I know very accomplished wine tasters who frequently indulge in this dish (soak raisins in PX in the fridge overnight, serve dribbled over vanilla ice cream the next evening) and I suppose it keeps PX sales going. I admit I like this way of ‘drinking’ PX very much – it tastes great – but there’s a romantic part of me that dies whenever I hear ‘PX’ and ‘ice cream’ in the same sentence.

Thus you have my issues with PX: I dislike its reduction to a bottled dessert sauce and yet I struggle to find an appropriate time to drink it and thus an appropriate context in which to judge it other than as raisin juice.

It was therefore relatively pleasing to find that a punt I took on a half bottle of Malaga dulce (Pajarete 1908 from Casa de Guardia) when I was in Grenada turned out to be a very attractive and very drinkable Pedro Ximenez (or Pedro Ximen – as it is called on the bottle and as they presumably call it in Malaga). The wonderful thing about it was that the wine did not seem overly sweet – unlike a lot of Jerez PX – and maintained a kind of citrusy freshness (I thought it had an orange peel aspect to the finish but that might just be auto-suggestion, given my mental association with Malaga’s location in the orange groves of southern Spain – much like people saying the salty, iodine character in Bowmore whisky is due to the distillery’s proximity to the sea). It was actually a great post-dinner drink (I tucked away half the bottle in my stomach over an entertaining game of Alhambra).

Pajarete 1908 Pedro Ximen; Dulce Casa de Guardia

As far as I can tell 1908 has nothing to do with the wine – I can’t even tell if it’s a 1908 solera – the wording is very coy. Nonetheless, a very nice nose – but yes, still quite raisiny, although quite a floral, blossomy, nose. A lovely palate of caramel, raisins, and oranges. The finish is that of cooking oranges (anyone who makes marmalade will understand) and brown sugar. Dense but light-footed. A real after dinner pleasure. I’m sure there are better Malaga PXs out there but for a price/enjoyment ratio, it did very well indeed. Sorry, Jerez.

Cheers,

Oliver Styles

  • http://www.pauljkiernan.wordpress.com Paul

    “… thick, brown, sugary slop …” #realtastingnotes

  • http://wineconversation.com thirstforwine

    As you know, I love sherry. I’m afraid I’m pretty much with you on everything you say. There are a few occasions for PX, but I’m sure I’d find better alternatives even then, … and any “wine” that has to be sold to be consumed some way other than straight is simply not a wine for me (and I include the promoters of Pink Port in there too)

  • Justin Roberts

    You should try the PX by Turkey Flat, nothing diesel about it at all…
    http://www.turkeyflat.com.au/wines/?item=PrdctsNVPedro&template=wine_details

  • Oliver Styles

    Robert, I think that should be a motto: “all ‘wine’ must be consumed unadulterated”. Although I’m sure I’m missing something…!

    • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

      Hey now, I consider Vermouth a wine, though I guess I like it straight, when made right, but it’s indispensable in a fine manhattan. It is as Robert says “sold to be consumed some other way than straight”

      I’m sure there are others. I do think Pink Port can be enjoyed straight, but it’s great for mixing.

      Not sure I would agree that a wine that needs to have something done to it to enjoy it is any less of a wine. Just maybe not a “table wine”. hmmm, now you have me thinking.

  • http://twitter.com/ElRatonColorao Daniel Fischer

    Try having PX with a Cuban Cigar – heavenly…

    • Oliver Styles

      Surely that’s a candidate for mouth cancer? ;-)

  • Michael

    I love to have the PX Reserva, which is aged for two years, over vanilla ice cream. A perfect match. There is plenty of good raison juice out there.

  • http://enofylz.wordpress.com Martin Redmond

    I enjoyed your post. I have a bottle of 2004 Pedro Alvear PX, I took a flyer on, solely on the strength of an RP rating of 96pts (I’d just gotten into wine, and RP was the holy grail at that point – I know now better) As I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to find out it’s widely perceived as you describe – an ice cream topping (though I hadn’t heard about soaking raisins in it overnight). I’ve been hesitant to open, so I had glass as a dessert wine at a Mediterranean about a month ago. While I enjoyed, I understand the perception. I going to hedge my bets and open this summer….

    • http://enofylz.wordpress.com Martin Redmond

      Oops! make that Alvear PX…