As a passionate drammer, sherry is certainly not unknown to me. Yet, I have to confess that most of my touchpoints with this beverage did not happen in pure form but via the “detour” of whisky. For whatever reason, I have rarely ever poured myself a sherry on its own so far. Instead I have mostly experienced it in drams that were either fully matured or finished in casks that previously held fortified white wine from the Southwest of Spain. While there is no denying that good sherry wood can have a downright magical effect on the distillate it embraces, we should not make the mistake of reducing this beautiful potation to its suitability for whisky maturation. As Gonzalez Byass’ Business Development Manager Isabel Kottman showed us in the course of her two-hour tasting at Christiansen’s bar in Hamburg, sherry is one helluva diverse and exciting drink that really deserves to get our full attention… at least every once in a while!
Before we attended to the different sherry types – no less than eight of which Isabel had selected for us – our host filled us in on the history of Gonzalez Byass and the art of sherry making. Among others, we learned that sherry can only be produced and ripened in the so-called “sherry triangle” between the Andalusian cities of Jerez, El Puerto and Sanlucar. If it is made elsewhere, you have to call it fortified wine rather than sherry. Also, it has to be made from one of three special sorts of grapes (all of which are white) and must be created using the traditional solera and criadera system. As liquids of different ages mingle throughout this complex process, you can never determine the exact age of a sherry. The closest you can come to is an average, which can only be stated on the bottle from 12 years upwards. Everything younger than that has to be sold without an age statement.
In case your previous knowledge of this topic is as meagre as mine was before I attended this highly informative tasting, you might have asked yourself how long you can leave a started bottle of sherry open before the content goes bad. Here, Isabel suggested to consider three factors, namely the ABV and the sugar content of the liquid plus the amount of oxygen that the sherry was previously exposed to. A Fino (which has a comparatively low ABV, does not contain any sugar and was shielded from oxygen by a thick layer of yeast during its entire time in the cask) should best be finished within three to four days. A Pedro Ximenez (which often has a rather high ABV, bursts with sugar and got a lot air in the cask) can be kept in the fridge for up to half a year.
The first drink that ended up in our hands was a Tio Pepe with tonic water, which we were given directly upon our arrival – I can imagine this cool, fresh and bitter cocktail to work particularly well in the sweltering summer heat. Afterwards, the Tio Pepe En Rama showed us that the sherry style of Fino does not only work well in a mixer but also if drunken neat. Isabel compared its appeal to that of a peated whisky. While it is not for everybody, those who appreciate the Fino’s dryness will get a lot of kicks from it. With the nutty Viña AB (Amontillado), the elegant Leonor (Palo Cortado) and the rich Alfonso (Oloroso) we went on to try a few more dry sherry expressions before the lovely Cristina (Medium) led us over to the sweet variations. Here, we enjoyed the mouthwatering Solera (Cream) and the almost syrupy Nectar (Pedro Ximenez). Going the full distance from a superdry Fino to an ultrasweet PX was quite an experience, showing how rich in variety the wonderful world of sherry is!
Before the evening ended with a tasty tapas buffet offering salami, cheese, olives and other snacks that paired very nicely with the last sips of sherry I had knowingly left in my glasses, we got to taste two more drinks that were not fortified wines themselves, but more or less closely related. The first was a dram of the raisin-sweet Nomad Outland Whisky, which is a cooperation between Gonzalez Byass and Whyte & Mackay, created by none other than master blender extraordinaire Richard “The Nose” Paterson. And the other was a glass of Vermouth La Copa, which is basically a Medium sherry enriched with botanicals. Served on ice and garnished with a piece of orange zest, this was an uncommon but highly enjoyable drink that apparently went out of fashion in the first half of the 20th century, but is currently experiencing some kind of a renaissance. Personally, I liked both the vermouth and the seven (!) sherries a lot and I am very eager to delve deeper into this subject in the future. On the one hand, it helps me to get a better understanding of the effect that different kinds of sherry casks have on the whiskies I hold so dear. On on the other hand, it presents me with another reason to pour myself some very savory sips!
Tio Pepe (Fino / Spain / ~4yo / 15% / ~9.00 Euro )
Tio Pepe En Rama (Fino / Spain/ ~4yo / 15% / ~9.00 Euro)
Viña AB (Amontillado / Spain / 12yo / 16.5 % / ~10.00 Euro)
Leonor (Palo Conrtado / Spain / 12yo / 20% / ~15.00 Euro)
Alfonso (Oloroso / Spain / ~8yo / 18% / ~12.00 Euro)
Cristina (Medium / Spain / ?yo / 17.5% / ~10.00 Euro)
Solera (Cream / Spain / ?yo / 18% / ~15.00 Euro)
Nectar (Pedro Ximenez / Spain / ?yo / 15% / ~15.00 Euro)
Vermouth La Copa (Vermouth / Spain / ?yo / 15.5% / ~15.00 Euro)
Nomad (Outland Whisky / Scotland and Spain / NAS / 41.3% / ~35.oo Euro)