The best wines of the house….
What else could we offer him, but the best wines of the house?
This was how Antonio Flores introduced the final tasting of SherryMaster 2014 at Bodegas Tio Pepe. All our programme told us was that the final tasting was homage to Custodio López Zamarra, legendary sommelier recently retired from Madrid restaurant Zalacaín and guest of honour on the SherryMaster course. On the bus the day before, Antonio had mentioned to me that it might involve Palo Cortado, but didn’t let slip what the tasting had in store.
Bear in mind that, by this point on day 2, I was sweating sherry and not convinced I’d ever be completely sober again. Surely I’d tasted it all? How wrong I was, and aromas at the tasting table sure got my attention. The line up was all Palo Cortado, from Gonzalez Byass’s youngest option – Leonor – through to a 100+ year old Cuatro Cortados.
All sherry weariness (yes, I’m ashamed to confess I was on the brink) fell away as we got on with the tasting. First up was Leonor, 12 years average ageing and a classic if relatively simple Palo Cortado. Typical flavours of caramel, hazelnut skins and walnuts in a clean, bright yet rich package. This was the third SherryMaster tasting to include Leonor, and it had also been served at aperitif time the night before, so was beginning to feel like an old friend. Time to make some new friends…
My friend, the rock star
Next came a Palo Cortado that has recently become a sherry rock star – the Añada 1982 which Wine Advocate awarded 96 ‘Parker Points’ a few weeks ago. Añada sherries are different to the vast majority of sherries – they have a vintage date because they don’t go through the solera system. They stay in the same barrel until they are bottled. A number of bodegas make them, but they remain very rare and eye-wateringly expensive.
On the nose, the Añada 1982 has complex aromas of varnish, cedar candied orange peel and a little coffee. In the mouth it’s powerful, full bodied and engages the whole palate with flavours of toasted nuts, wood, varnish, tobacco, pepper, vanilla and cardamom. Oh yes, that will do nicely!
The rock star’s smarter, cooler big brother
So Wine Advocate may have rated the 1982 pretty highly, but next we came to what Antonio Flores reckons is his best Añada – the Añada 1978. “This is a wine for the spirit and the heart”, he told us. Like its younger brother, this still had varnish and resin aromas, but much more nuttiness: hazelnuts and walnuts you would expec,t but this had almonds too, along with wood shavings and vanilla. On the palate it was incredibly full bodied and glyceric, with tons of powerful complex flavours. All those aromas listed above translated into flavours, but the wine also had a little salt and pepper in the flavour mix. It also had a really interesting greenness to the nut flavours – like biting into a really fresh hazelnut. The finish was all salted caramel and hazelnuts and went on forever. Complex, fascinating, and really very cool – I liked the rock star a lot, but I LOVED his older brother!
Another Añada was next up – the last on the list, Añada 1975. Whilst it had similar aromas of wood, wood polish and caramel, this smelled much much sweeter than the others despite having only 7g/l of sugar, which is only 1g/l more than the 1978 and 2g/l more than the 1982. In the mouth it was very woody and smoky, with an implied sweetness. Unlike the big personalities of the rock star and his big brother, this oldest of the three was much more the strong, silent type: reserved and a slow burner – it didn’t give up its flavours as easily.
Taking it to the limit
No one had collapsed under the table in a haze of Palo-induced happiness yet, so Antonio had two more treasures to taste – if not for pleasure then to demonstrate the ultimate potential of the Palomino Fino grape. Tres Cortados and Cuatro Cortados are terms to describe a Palo Cortado which has had alcohol added multiple times (three or four times respectively in these cases) to adjust the development of the sherry, for instance if it wasn’t developing as desired by the winemaker. The Tres Cortados was an average of over 50 years old and the Cuatro Cortados was an average of over 100 years old. Tres Cortados was dark brown, like the darkest Oloroso. It was predominantly spicy on the nose – cumin, white pepper, cinnamon and licorice – with a hint of spray polish. A tiny sip was enough to blow my socks off: bitter, sour and fiery – like lemony tarmac. Cuatro Cortados was dark, dark brownish-black with a look of PX. On the nose it smelled like polished leather saddles, brandy and wood. In the mouth it was beyond powerful, with flavours of lemon juice, grapefruit, sawdust, candied orange peel and tobacco leaves. These are not wines you would want to drink for fun, but they were a fascinating insight into how wines that were originally biologically-aged can develop over long periods of time.
And so, with our taste buds utterly exhausted, it came to the end of the tasting and the end of SherryMaster.
As Custodio signed the obligatory sherry barrel (his second at the Gonzalez Byass bodegas – now who’s the rock star, eh?!), he reminded us why sherry has captured all our hearts:
For me, it’s mystical, magical, passionate. Sherry is incomparable in the world of wine – they are mythical wines.