Sherry worth getting wet for
The first time I tasted Sanchez Romate sherry, it rained. So far, so unremarkable – after all, I do live in Scotland. But this was in Jerez. In early September. At an open air tasting masterclass.
Did people run for cover? Did anyone suggest postponing the tasting? No chance. One or two people conceded to use their umbrellas, but for the rest of us the top priority was finding napkins and papers to cover our glasses, lest the sherry be diluted!
So what is it about Sanchez Romate sherries that makes them worth sitting in the rain for? They’re not as readily available in the UK as in Spain, so they may have been flying under your radar. But look around your independent wine shops, and chances are that you’ll see some. Certainly their availability has increased in my local stockists in the last year or two. The Wine Society also stocks some lines (more on that later), so you’ve really no excuse.
Founded in 1781, Sanchez Romate is one of the oldest sherry producers in Jerez, and is still based in the same location on Calle Lealas in the heart of town. Better known these days for their wildly popular Cardenal Mendoza brandy, they’ve been quietly turning out some pretty exceptional sherries and living up to their company motto of ‘Non Plus Ultra’ – the very best, the ultimate.
The rainy tasting masterclass focused on the Reserva Especial range, which covers all the bases from Fino to PX. Whilst none of the range have official age classification (such as VOS or VORS), they are all on the old side with the Amontillado averaging about 15 years and the Oloroso about 18 years.
Fino Marismeño is around seven years old and very minimally filtered. Consequently it has both punch and complexity , with strong aromas and flavours of bread and almonds, and a lovely warm almondy finish.
The Amontillado in the range takes its name from the company motto and is named NPU (pronounced en-pay-oo). The woman behind the sherries – enologa Reyes Gómez Rubio – tells me this is her favourite in the range. It’s quite a lot darker in colour than many Amontillados, with strong aromas of toffee, hazelnuts, dried fruits and Christmas cake. In the mouth it’s explosive: very dry and citrussy with a hazelnut finish and hints of Christmas cake without the sweetness.
The Oloroso – Don José – was my star pick on the night. Its aromas of walnuts, dried fruits and caramel were nice enough, but in the mouth it was a superstar: quite savoury with roasted hazelnuts and walnuts, and lovely spices like cumin and cinnamon. Very rounded and persistent I could have drunk this all night. At the masterclass, it was paired with an earthy wild mushroom risotto and the combination was stupendous.
Next up was Cream Iberia, which is a blend of 70% Oloroso and 30% PX, with 130g of sugar per litre. On the nose this was all about the PX raisins, and I struggled to detect the Oloroso. In the mouth it has a surprisingly light texture and the sweetness is cut by touches of tobacco and licorice.
Finally, the dentists’ enemy – PX Duquesa. 450g of sugar per litre, the colour of black treacle and a thick, gooey consistency. Aromas of dates, figs and raisins were balanced by bitter coffee. In the mouth, it was sticky and but with a slightly bitter licorice finish.
Getting in amongst the barrels
Having enjoyed the tasting so much on our 2013 visit, we made a point of arranging to visit the bodega when we returned in 2014. It was touch and go whether we’d be able to, as it was midway through harvest and all hands on deck in the vineyards. Thankfully, things calmed down enough and Reyes could spend a bit of time in the bodega with us. Reyes is one of the new generation of enólogos and enólogas – at only 34 she’s been working in the bodega for about nine years having started out as a chemical engineer in the quality assurance department. Slowly but surely she was drawn into the production side and now she makes sherry for a living – what a great job!
We tasted all the Reservas Especiales again, this time including the Regente Palo Cortado from the range, which we hadn’t tasted at the masterclass. This is Sanchez Romate’s only Palo, and averages about 12 years old. It comes from a solera system of just 32 barrels – 16 in the solera and 16 in the single criadera.
Then we tasted Fino from Sanchez Romate’s other Fino solera – Fino Celestino, which is fed by the Marismeño solera. You won’t see Celestino on the market, but you may have tasted it without knowing. A few years ago, The Wine Society released its now famous Fino Perdido by Sanchez Romate; an old, lightly filtered, unclarified Fino which is around eight years old and headed towards Fino-Amontillado. Every year, 15 barrels from the 85-barrel Celestino solera are selected for Fino Perdido, with only one bottling per year. Alternatively, you might have been lucky enough to taste Alexander Jules’ Fino 22|85 – also taken from 22 barrels selected from the Celestino solera.
Before we left, we also tasted the Oloroso from Sanchez Romate’s VORS range ‘Old and Plus’ – averaging over 30 years and originally reserved for family consumption, this is markedly complex, rounded and velvety.
Having tasted our way around the bodega, it seems that Sanchez Romate just don’t make bad sherry. Even the recently launched Bella Luna range, which is younger, cheaper and less complex than the wines we tasted during our visit, offers interesting and elegant wines.
So is Sanchez Romate sherry worth getting wet for? You bet it is. But thankfully, we don’t have to. Drink it in the comfort of your own home and let yourself in on one of Jerez’s gems.