Wine of the year (not what you think)

This column is published every Friday.

I’ve never understood why sherry is relegated to being a nana’s drink. Apart from the fact that one of my nanas didn’t drink, the other one was made of much sterner stuff than cream sherry.

She liked whisky. Neat. In a short glass. Otherwise, gin ‘n tonic took her fancy and she was also partial to  Pimm’s.

One of the most pleasant afternoons of my life was spent sipping Pimm’s with her and my boyfriend on the large lawn of the working class suburb were Nana lived. We had spent the day digging over the massive vegetable garden on her quarter acre section and Pimm’s was our reward. But that’s another story. As is cream sherry.

Last week was International Sherry Week. And nothing could be further from mind than cream sherry. The week was a chance to highlight what’s great about sherry – its incredible versatility and ability to match a wide range of food, from salty mouthwatering hard cheese and warm, salty almonds panfried in spicy paprika to fresh, light goat’s cheese and, at the other end of the spectrum, moist fresh gingerbread served with the rare PX sweet sherries.

This is the sixth year of International Sherry Week, which ran from 4 to 10 November and included 2,574 registered events world wide. The most popular events were food and wine pairings. If sherry strikes anyone as a strange drink, it only needs to be presented with food to match for a lightbulb moment.

The best sherry in the tasting that I presented during International Sherry Week was not the sweet PX with gingerbread (ironically made using my nana’s age-old recipe) but a palo cortado – the rarest and most debated style of dry, tangy sherry, which occurs when a fino loses its flor yeast and takes on a whole new personality. It’s similar to amontillado, only even better.

The only trouble is, it’s almost impossible to find palo cortado these days. The one that I tasted found me. I owe winemaker Marcel Giesen for opening my eyes (and those of customers at Regional Wines who I served it to) to a serious next level of dry sherry. He sent two bottles from his wine cellar – an unfiltered, deeply amber, incredibly complex palo cortado and an unfiltered, amber hued fino. Both were from Bodegas Catetano del Pino Y Cia. A winery that dates back to 1886 when it was founded by Don Cayetano del Pino Vazquez, who won gold medals in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Egypt and the Philippines.

International Sherry Week is now in its sixth year. It’s organised by the Consejo Regulador Jerez-Xerez-Sherry. New countries taking part this year included Dubai, Thailand, Malta and the Isle of Man.

Sherry is one of the great wines of the world. Viva la dry sherry.

Wines of the week (two sherries and a great white)

Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado $19 to $24

This wine has body to burn. It’s one of my favourite wine styles in the world, thanks to its incredibly fresh flavours that are harnessed to complex aged characters since the average age of Lustau’s Los Arcos Amontillado is 12 years, during which the wine has matured and developed in old oak butts; approximately 475 to 500 litres. It’s all about adding complexity rather than oaky flavour and this wine has it in spades; flavours of caramel, ripe orange zest and creamy buttery notes, great concentration and a long finish. Delicious.

Cayetano del Pino Y Cia Palo Cortado

This wine is not available in New Zealand.

This the best wine I’ve tasted all year. (Big call, I know, because I’ve been enjoying some outstanding New Zealand Pinot Noirs, not to mention – well, okay – some great Barbarescos, amongst others).

Palo Cortado is generally considered to be the rarest type of sherry and definitely the one that causes the most disagreement about what exactly it is. Some say it’s a hybrid style between amontillado and olosoro but in fact palo cortado originated as a wine that started life as a fino which deviated from style, due to unplanned yeast activity. Casks  affected this way were taken out of the fino sherry solera aging system and marked with a vertical line, known as a palo. The wine was then fortified and named palo cortado.

This wine has had a light filtration but no fining or cold stabilisation, so it’s hazy amber in colour and full bodied with notes of caramel, dried apricots, dried peach and sandlewood aromas. Dry as a bone, rich and lingering.

This palo cortado is unavailable in this country, but, luckily for sherry lovers, Lustau also has a palo cortado in its stable. And it’s available directly from the importer, EuroVintage.

2017 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon $29 to $33

The Donaldson family was inspired by the great whites of Bordeaux to make this full bodied, rich and dry blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Sauvignon was mostly fermented in stainless steel with a small portion in new French oak and all the Semillon was fermented in barrel for complexity. The wine was left on lees for 10 months to develop flavour, then aged in bottle for another year before release.

As always, the newest 2017 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon is an absolute winner. One of my favourite dry whites every year.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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