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Getting flor’d at Sherryfest West 2014

June 28, 2014

sherry1Having arrived at my destination at SherryFest West 2014 in San Francisco, I was surprised that the organizers had spiced up the standard greeting for wine tasting events (registration table and glass) and was welcomed by a big screen tuned in to the Spain v. Chile World Cup match. Did I really think that I was going to have to trade up soccer for sherry in a room full of Spanish producers? Not a chance – the Spanish typically do not trade up one good thing for another if they can have both.

Unfortunately for the Spaniards in the room as well as myself (as reigning champs from the country I called home for three years, I was a strong supporter of the Spanish leading into this year’s competition), Spain met yet another grave defeat. Luckily, there were 19 tables lining the room equipped with outstanding sherries to ease everyone’s pain. Judging by the buzz that emanated from the room over the next four hours, the event achieved a much higher level of success than that of the Spanish national team.

The 5th edition of Sherryfest made its California debut last week at Buxholm Winery and though the venue was small, it was brimming with sherry lovers and members of the trade looking to spread the word about this long misunderstood and often under-appreciated wine. The grand tasting featured wines from over 20 producers from Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, showcasing the wide spectrum of flavors and styles these regions can offer – from bone dry finos and manzanillas to the sweet raisin notes of Pedro Xímenez. New York seems to be the hot spot for sherry nowadays, but it won’t be long until West Coast restaurants get on board with this outstanding food accompaniment. The winery and distributor representatives present at the event agreed that the task at hand is education, especially for on-trade establishments. Once sommeliers and restaurateurs understand how to serve and pair food with its diverse styles, sherry will be flying out of those soleras. Also, many producers do not have the money to market their products on a large scale, so it is in word of mouth that the demand for this exceptional drink will continue to grow in the US. The number of possibilities available in this category is unrivaled as there is something for every palate, making it the ultimate wine for the diverse US consumer base. As I experienced myself at Sherryfest, there is always something new to discover and appreciate in these wines.

The belle of the ball – Palo Cortadosherry2

My new love affair with this mysterious style began at the grand tasting where I was literally flor’d by the excellent examples featured including Fernando de Castilla, González Byass, and Williams & Humbert. Though I had tasted some of these before, never before did I grasp how unique and attractive this particular style of sherry can be. I noted the winemakers themselves divert from their well-rehearsed wine commentaries when it came time to pour their palo cortado, as though in awe of what they had created. I suppose that is the mystery of this particular style of sherry – it almost manifests on its own, leaving the winemakers to merely stand by and watch the miracle unfold.

My initial rapture with this particular style of sherry developed into something much more consequential the following day with Sherryfest’s seminar series. The Palo Cortado Masterclass was hosted by Paola Medina, winemaker for Williams & Humbert, and Beltrán Domecq, president of the Jerez Consejo Regulador. After an hour and a half, it was still not clear how to define a palo cortado, though Domecq did specify that it is characterized by “elegance, finesse, and a rounder finish than that of a fino” (due to the higher glycerin content). It is fairly insignificant in terms of volumes sold compared to other sherries and traditionally was the style most winemaking families in Jerez would keep for their own personal enjoyment instead of release on the market.

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L to R: Antonio Flores of Gonzáles Byass, Beltrán Domecq, Steve Cook of Barbadillo at Sherryfest seminars

Among those tasted, the Williams & Humbert Dos Cortados and the Osborne Capuchino VORS were highlights. We also tried two sherry6vintage (añada) palo cortados: the Gonzáles Byass 1982 Añada (bottled in 2001) and Williams & Humbert´s 1982 Vintage Oloroso (initially classified as a palo cortado by Julian Jeffs, but reclassified upon bottling just over a month ago due to the darker color and dried fruit aromas – not surprising after 32 years in barrel).

Medina admitted that the end product of this sherry style is a result of a series of occurrences in the cellar well beyond any winemaker’s control, but, as in daily life, it is the unexpected that can bring the most spectacular outcomes.

“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.”

– Paulo Coehlo

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