In Defense of Sherry

Founded in 1896, Bodegas Lustau of Jerez de la Frontera Spain is on a mission. That mission is to bring a knowledge and love of Sherry to the world. Part of their mission implementation is a traveling Sherry certification program. From the outset the message was clear; Sherry comes in many styles and is meant to be enjoyed with many types of food.

Sherry can be made from three types of grapes, Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez. But 95% of sherry is made from Palomino grapes. All sherry must be produced in the Andalusian region of Spain, specifically in the sherry triangle where it is fractionally blended in a solera system. Because of this, a vintage sherry is very rare. Most sherries are blends of many vintages.

It is really the aging process that gives sherry its character. A sherry wine can be aged biologically or oxidatively. The biologically aged sherries, Fino and Manzanilla, are aged without oxygen under a blanket of a native yeast called flor. The flor yeast consumes oxygen, alcohol, sugar, acid, and glycerin. It eats everything! This is what makes the Fino and Manzanilla sherries so very dry and acidic. And it is the very crisp acidity that makes these wines so food friendly. Fino and Manzanilla will be aged for an average of five years often near the sea, so they will take on salty aromas. That along with the almond flavor that comes from the acetaldehydes that are produced during biological aging give these wines a very distinctive flavor that pairs really well with seafood and cold soups.

Oloroso is aged oxidatively, that is without the flor yeast and with oxygen. These wines will be aged an average of 12 years, long enough to develop rich, nutty flavors that pair well with roasted meats and rich soups.

There are hybrid Sherries, that is Sherries that begin with biological aging and then undergo oxidative aging. They are aged an average of 8 years. These wines, Amontillado and Palo Cortado, are both acidic and rich. They pair well with Asian foods, grilled meats and risottos.

Then there are the sweet Sherries; pale, medium, cream and Pedro Ximenez. Pedro or PX is made from dried grapes, that gives it an extra rich intensity. All these Sherries are blended with sweet wine and are great with desserts, figs, walnuts, ice-cream and chocolate.

It really is quite a range from the very driest to the very sweetest wine; from very acidic to very rich. None of these wines are light. They are all fortified, that is, grape-based spirits are added to the wine. The alcohol by volume level of Sherry ranges from 15% to 22% . Because of fortification, most Sherries will keep in the bottle after it is open. For Oloroso it will last for three months after opening. For Pedro Ximenez, it will still be great one year after opening. Fino and Manzanilla are more delicate and should be consumed within a few days of opening the bottle.

Sherry is not just one wine. It is many wines and many different styles. It is meant to be enjoyed with many different foods and can pair with each course of the meal.

Force Majeure Wines

img_3573Force Majeure, a Washington winery owned by Paul and Susan McBride has 23 planted vineyards in the Red Mountain district. Those vineyards represent nine different soil types, from chalky to sandy to limestone to clay. Many of the vineyards are on steep, south-facing slopes. It is the McBrides’ goal to produce wines that have ‘a personality, a soul and a story to tell.’ To meet that goal they have turned to Todd Alexander, a  winemaker who has worked with Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family and Cade.

Here in the Red Mountain district of Washington, the grapes of the Northern Rhone thrive, especially Syrah and Viognier.

While white wines are not what one traditionally associates with Washington state, Red Mountain has a way with whites. The Force Majeure Viognier is 100% Viognier and has undergone no malolactic fermentation. It has stunning fruit and floral aromas with a shy acidity that makes this wine bright, lively and delightful.

The 2016 Force Majeure Parvata is 69% Mouvedre, 21% Syrah and 10% Greache. With 30% new French oak, this wine has a velvety smoothness swirling with juicy black cherries, black pepper and a hint of orange.

Syrah, according to winemaker Todd Alexander is the most ‘terroir-driven red grape.’

The 2016 Estate Syrah from Force Majeur, has had 18 months of extended aging in 30% new French oak. The beautiful Red Mountain fruit is powerful, and lively with dark plum and pepper aromas. As a point of comparison, the Delmas 2016 SJR Vineyard Syrah from the Rocks District is also powerful but with a distinct kalamata olive and smoke aroma. The Red Mountain fruit is concentrated. The Rocks fruit is juicy. Both wines are well-structured and balanced. They both taste like a Syrah should taste.  But their terroirs give them very different personalities.