Article

Dark, Rich & Handsome

The public might struggle with it but, on this evidence, dark sherry is one of the stars of the wine world. Clinton Cawood and a team of sommeliers are knocked out by what they find.


It’s a wonder that the wines of Jerez live in such obscurity in the UK. They once enjoyed a golden age here, where one and all appreciated their distinctive styles, their food-matching potential, and long shelf life…

Sherry still has all this, but without any of the prestige or, crucially, the sales. The trade remembers, though. There’s no shortage of willingness in the ranks of UK sommeliers to return sherry to its former glory but, while there are signs of progress with fino and manzanilla, the darker styles have found it tougher. This tasting was the chance for the amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos of this world to make their case. An excitable sommelier panel descended on sherry specialist Bar Pepito in London to taste.

We couldn’t keep them away.


TASTING PANEL

Richard Bigg, Camino and Bar Pepito
Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
Mark Deamer, The Marylebone Hotel
Lionel Periner, La Trompette
Diana Rollan, Hakkasan
Agustin Trapero, Launceston Place


HOW IT WORKED

We asked UK agents to supply any dark sherry from their portfolios, excluding PX, and taking on-trade viability into account. All wines were tasted blind, flighted by style, with each marked out of 20. Scores were then collated to give each wine a score out of 100, with only those scoring over 60 included in the list here. All wines are available to the UK on-trade, and all prices are ex-VAT trade prices, unless otherwise specified.


RESULTS

AMONTILLADO
Average score: 78.25%
Average price: £12.83/75cl

87 Valdivia, Sacromonte Amontillado Seco 15yo
One of the more distinctive, characterful amontillados in the tasting, this was ‘not overly aggressive, but still refreshing, with a core of sour lemon and lime, supported by almonds and walnuts’, CC. ‘An impression of sweetness, yet still with a long, dry finish,’ concluded RB.
£13.13/50cl, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

86 Bodegas Hidalgo, Amontillado Napoleon
This amontillado combined various elements seamlessly, and was particularly refreshing – all for a decent price. ‘Caramel, toasty bread and dates on the nose, with a salty, citrus character on the palate,’ said DR. RB summed it up as ‘an elegant, easy style, yet still quite sophisticated’.
£6.12/50cl, Mentzendorff & Co, 020 7840 3600

84 Valdivia, ‘Dorius’ Amontillado Seco
This particular sherry was calling out for food, with a soft start building to an acidic kick. ‘Dried figs
and flowers on the nose, followed by a muscular palate,’ said AT. ‘Great texture, and a dry, refreshing
citrus character, with umami notes and seaweed notes,’ DR.
£12.53/75cl, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

83 Osborne, Amontillado 51-1a VORS 30yo
Charming panellists with an array of toffee, caramel and butterscotch aromas, the price tag on this raised some eyebrows. In its defence, LP described it as ‘elegant and well-balanced, with a rich palate and full-flavoured, long finish.’
£26.49/75cl, Emporia Brands, 01483 458700

81 Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia, Amontillado
From nutty flavours, to various fruit notes, via salt, coffee and seaweed, this was nothing if not complex. ‘Walnuts and linseed oil on the nose – rich and deep. Powerful and lingering on the palate, with walnuts on the finish,’ said RB.
£11.56/75cl, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

80 Lustau, Los Arcos Dry Amontillado
A bit lighter on its feet than some of the others in its category, this nevertheless exhibited ‘a good amontillado nose of nuts and bitter orange’, MD. AB picked out ‘salted almonds, toasted biscuits, hints of caramel and coffee’.
£9.70/75cl, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

79 Harveys Fine Old Amontillado 30yo
As AT put it, this was: ‘Opulent on the nose, with salted almonds, hazelnut, and coffee beans.’ DR found it both ‘robust and refreshing, with a nutty
and citrus character’.
RRP £20.98/50cl, Maxxium UK, 01786 430500

78 Valdespino, Amontillado Contrabandista
The majority of tasters enjoyed this sherry’s big, voluptuous nature. AT encountered ‘candy, and dried fruit like figs, followed by white chocolate on the palate’. RB found it to be ‘mouthfilling, sweet and rounded, with no rough edges’.
£11.65/75cl, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522

77 Valdespino, Tio Diego Amontillado
This managed to be rich and opulent, while remaining quite soft and gentle. Caramel, brazil nuts and toffee on the nose worked alongside tobacco and coffee notes on the palate. ‘Very complex, with white chocolate and a good, long-lasting citrus aftertaste. Beautiful!’ was AT’s verdict.
£11.70/75cl, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522

74 Sandeman, Royal Esmeralda 20yo Fine Dry Amontillado
Distinctly oxidative, MD thought this was ‘quite old in style’, praising it, and commenting on its food-matching capabilities. AB liked its ‘weight and complexity – nice and elegant’.
£9.10/50cl, Stevens Garnier, 01865 263300

70 Fernando de Castilla Classic Old Medium Amontillado
An undoubtedly rich and indulgent sherry, with notes of chocolate, ground coffee and dates found the panel. ‘Palate crammed full of plum-pudding fruits, with bitter orange undertones. And great value,’ summarised MD.
£8.18/75cl, Boutinot, 0161 9081 314

60 González Byass, Viña AB Amontillado Seco
Praised as soft and delicate, there were some questions about the finish on this one. For AB, it was ‘nutty and yeasty, with a good salty, rancio palate’.
£6.79/75cl, González Byass, 01707 274790


PALO CORTADO
Average score: 82.13%
Average price: £18.45/75cl

92 Apostoles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo 30yo
Standing head and shoulders above any other wine in this tasting, this palo cortado was described by AB as having: ‘A delicate nose of brine, salted almonds, dried flowers, caramel and sultanas – a good mix of salt and sweet, with a great fresh bite at the end to balance – it has it all!’ MD added: ‘Raisins, dates, chocolate truffles, with a spicy cinnamon note. Near-perfect acidity, lifting satsuma fruit and juicy sultanas, again tinged with sweet spice.’
£9.58/37.5cl, González Byass, 01707 274790

89 Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado
Universally loved, this covered all the bases: nuttiness, as well as some savoury notes, lifted by good
acidity. ‘Full, deep, complex and earthy, with salted, roasted almonds and hazelnuts, and an almost endless finish,’ said RB. ‘Flavours of green olives, toasted sunflower seeds and hazelnut, with lively, refreshing acidity,’ added AT.
£18.88/50cl, Boutinot, 0161 9081 314

89 Lustau, Vides Almacenista Palo Cortado de Jerez
RB said it best when it came to this high-scoring palo cortado: ‘Fabulous, deep and intense on the nose, yet surprisingly refreshing. On the palate, it delivers all that was promised on the nose, and more. Rich, with huge depth and fresh acidity, which is surprising considering what must be an old wine.’
£14.25/50cl, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

79 Harveys Palo Cortado 30yo
Seemingly sweeter on the nose than on the palate, this was, tasters agreed, off-dry, with a lot going for it. ‘Sweet spices, toffee, orange peel and figs on the nose,’ said DR, while CC described the palate as ‘rich, full and nutty, with great acidity’.
RRP £20.98/50cl, Maxxium UK, 01786 430500

79 Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados 20yo
This drew endless warming, dark, comforting descriptions, with coffee beans, dark chocolate and toasty bread – all for a good price. DR described it as ‘intense and nutty on the nose, with richness, combined with some saltiness, on the palate’. ‘Poised, with nothing out of place, and with a good, long finish,’ said CC.
£8.75/37.5cl, Ehrmanns, 020 7449 9911

78 Bodegas Hidalgo, Jerez Cortado Wellington VOS 20yo
AB said it best when he described this as ‘dry and nutty, with café con leche notes – complex and savoury’, with LP identifying ‘nuts and green apple flavours, and a well-balanced palate’.
£14.14/75cl, Mentzendorff & Co, 020 7840 3600

78 González Byass, Leonor Palo Cortado
A lighter example of this style, AB also complimented its ‘complexity and rich palate, with layers of dry nuts and cedarwood, and a smoky finish’. For LP, this was all about the balance on the palate, as well as ‘light, roasted nut flavours’.
£9.58/75cl, González Byass, 01707 274790

73 Valdespino, Calle Ponche Palo Cortado Viejo
This palo cortado is ‘full on the nose, with frangipane/toasted almond aromas’, according to LP. While AB described it as having ‘a feminine, very complex, nose – almost wine like. Very elegant on the palate’.
£19.35/75cl, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522


OLOROSSO
Average score: 77.22%
Average price: £15.33/75cl

86 Sacromonte Oloroso Seco 15yo
Crucially, this oloroso balanced various disparate elements, creating a harmonious whole. Aromas of ‘seaweed, saltiness and caramel’ according to DR, ‘coffee and chocolate’ for AT, and ‘persistence, with a long, decadent finish’, concluded RB.
£13.13/50cl, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

81 Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso
For MD, this was a wine that was simple, but well-executed, with ‘butterscotch, citrus, and a little bit of
sea breeze too’. ‘Dried fig aromas, as well as a creamy nuttiness,’ added LP.
£15.88/50cl, Boutinot, 0161 9081 314

80 Harveys Rich Old Oloroso 30yo
Darker than many of the olorosos here, this was described as masculine, with bitter chocolate and roasted notes on the palate that split the panel. AB was a proponent: ‘The palate is a revelation, with a nice, long, smoky finish. Excellent.’
RRP £20.98/50cl, Maxxium UK, 01786 430500

78 Bodegas Hidalgo, Oloroso Faraón
Every taster commented on the round and full mouthfeel on this oloroso – with one describing it as creamy. DR found ‘dried figs, raisins, toffee and coffee, as well as orange peel, and a salty note on the nose. The palate was full and balanced, between a citrus and caramel character’.
£5.95/50cl, Mentzendorff & Co, 020 7840 3600

77 Domecq, Very Rare Oloroso Sibarita VORS 30yo
Rich and viscous, as is to be expected from oloroso, with ‘dark and intense roasted cocoa beans and molasses, with wonderful complexity on the palate, and a smoky, chocolatey finish’, said AB. While all panel members liked the wine, some questioned how easy it would be to sell at this price.
£26.49/75cl, Emporia Brands, 01483 458700

75 Williams & Humbert Collection Oloroso 12yo
Unmistakably oloroso, this had a touch of balanced sweetness to it. ‘Dried flowers and espresso on the nose, with some candy on the palate,’ said AT. ‘Smoothes out on the palate, to become round and quite satisfying,’ said RB.
£3.90/37.5cl, Ehrmanns, 020 7449 9911

73 Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia, Oloroso, DO Jerez NV
More than one taster identified a tangy sourness to this, while most commented on its richness. ‘Christmas pudding, figs and raisins on the nose,’ said DR.
£11.56/75cl, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

73 Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Sweet Old Oloroso 15yo
Some tasters thought this would make a good introduction to the category. MD compared it to ‘liquid plum pudding’, while LP enjoyed ‘nuts, dried fruit and an elegant finish with a hint of toffee and coffee’.
£7.33/37.5cl, Ehrmanns, 020 7449 9911

72 Lustau, Don Nuño Dry Oloroso
LP liked the ‘refined, discreet nose, with a touch of dry fruit, and elegance on the palate’. AB identified ‘liquorice notes, roasted almonds, and olive water on the palate, followed by sweet caramel’.
£9.70/75cl, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360


MISCELLANEOUS

86 Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia, Cream, DO Jerez NV
‘Opulent’ was the right word for this, with sultanas, chocolate, stone fruit, plum and spice all identified.
MD described a ‘nose of molasses, chicory, and bitter orange – very attractive’.
£8.73/75cl, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

Also tasted
Sandeman Character Medium
Dry Amontillado

Many thanks to the team at Bar Pepito in London’s King’s Cross for all their help on the day, and for hosting the tasting at such an appropriate venue.


Conclusions

As expected, overall reports were glowing, with an average overall score of 79%, which must be
some kind of Imbibe record.

The palo cortados fared better here, but this came at a significantly higher cost than the other two categories. A few tasters specifically complimented the amontillado flight.

Food pairing was a hot topic here, with most commenting on the potential of these darker styles with cuisines other than Spanish, and more than one suggesting sherry’s inclusion in tasting menus.

Price-wise, there was quite a range on offer here. Bodegas Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon was an easy choice for best value, going for the equivalent of £9.18/75cl (with an excellent score of 86%), all the way up to Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado – £18.88/50cl – an equivalent of £28.32/75cl.

Most agreed on the overall good value offered by the category, but there were queries about the higher-priced offerings, and how viable they would be in the UK on-trade.


Panel Comments:

Richard Bigg, Camino and Bar Pepito
‘I more than love sherry – I’m addicted to it. With its myriad styles and flavours, there’s something for
everyone, and the food-matching potential is second to none. I think the value for money was definitely there today. That’s one of the best things about sherry.’

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants
‘In England, I think we see sherry too much as an aperitif, when it should be served more often with food. After this tasting, I want to challenge my guests and put one on a tasting menu. Overall, I loved the tasting. Every minute.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘No prizes for guessing that the sentiment at this tasting was on the positive side. At their best, the wines were versatile, fresh and food-friendly. It was good to hear so many ideas for introducing sherry to consumers – and there’s clearly no shortage of good-value wines to do this with.’

Mark Deamer, The Marylebone Hotel
‘The amontillados were the absolute star wines here today. In terms of overall price, though, it’s a bit like New Zealand: £8-£15 is quite consistent, but the most exceptional are £10-£20. If you got people talking about sherry like they do Burgundy, that wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t.’

Lionel Periner, La Trompette
‘When it comes to this region, you really have the full range of styles and flavours, and can have both complexity and freshness. I was definitely seeing that balance here today. At La Trompette we sell sherries easily, because we match them to various dishes.’

Diana Rollan, Hakkasan
‘I was particularly happy with the palo cortados here today while, at Hakkasan, amontillado is the perfect style for our Chinese food. Overall, I could definitely see good value. I think sherry by the glass is a great opportunity for customers to enter the category.’

Agustin Trapero, Launceston Place
‘I really enjoyed the amontillados – they had complexity, dry nuts, baked fruit, waxy aromas, tobacco… all with acidity. The best way to introduce this category is to go to the chef and say, “let’s make a dish to complement sherry”, and then put that on a tasting menu. Because it’s quite tough to sell it by the glass.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November/December 2011

1 comment

Clint 15-11-2011

Anthony Verdin of Cherwell Boathouse in Oxford submitted the following comment:

Dear Editor,


It was very pleasing to see that ‘dark’ sherry did so well in your tasting. I noted that several >of your distinguished tasters considered matching these sherries with food throughout a >meal. Some three years ago we did just that at Cherwell Boathouse with a successful dinner >matching sherry with food right through the five course meal. The wines were selected and >introduced by our good friend Javier Hidalgo, from his own range. The idea derived from an >earlier visit to Jerez with a group of Lustau fans, where our first hotel dinner was similar, and >an inspired start to a very educational visit.


I remain a personal fan – also of Manzanilla as an aperitif and an accompaniment to shellfish >– memories of some delicious small local clams by the river in Sanlucar, strike me as I write, >and I shall sip a glass of Palo Cortado before supper.

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