The drinks industry is such a beautiful place, there are no end of people willing to lend your their ear, show you round a bodega or pass on some helpful hints and tips to keen Diploma students bricking it about their upcoming exams.
Some time ago, the very lovely Jeremy Rockett, from Gonzalez Byass UK agreed to do a guest post on how to spot and correctly identify a Sherry during a blind fortified wine tasting. Here are his top tips:
Is it Sherry?
“Sherry, Port and Madeira can confuse. Port is (except white Port) made from red grapes and even the tawny styles have a pinky/red tinge, which Sherry and Madeira don’t have. On the nose Port is fruity, and always sweet on the palate. Sherry can obviously be dry, but the sweet ones will be brown from the PX and have a raisiny nose, again from the PX. Madeira can be dry to sweet, like sherry, but has a very distinctive nose (maderised) from being cooked, but also has lots and lots of acidity, something that Sherry never has, unless it’s extremely old and concentrated.”
What type of sherry is it?
“If you split Sherry into its two styles then the job becomes easier. Fino and fino-derived styles will always be dry, have to be because the flor ate any residual sugar and all the glycerol. Fino is easy (although telling it from Manzanilla takes some practice) and then young Amontillados are fairly simple, dry, some flor and going copper in colour and walnutty on the nose. Older Amontillados are tricky, they can be mistaken for old Olorosos, more about that in a minute.
“Oloroso will either be dry or sweetened with PX. Even dry Olorosos have a touch of sweetness, from the residual sugar and the glycerol content. They have a nose reminiscent of dried fruits and will be copper in colour, with perhaps some green flashes. As soon as an Oloroso is sweetened with PX, then the PX dominates the colour and the nose. Tell-tale signs are a brown colour and a raisiny nose. To get the nose, just try 100% PX and then you’ll spot it in a blend quite easily.”
“As Sherry ages in the butt it concentrates due to the evaporation of water through the skin of the barrel, everything therefore gets more concentrated, residual sugar, acetaldehyde, dry extract, acidity (low to start with) and alcohol.
“The only old Sherries are going to be Oloroso or Amontillado, so how to tell the difference. The Amontillado will still be bone dry and will have very high levels of acetaldehyde. In contrast, an old, dry Oloroso will have much more of a rounded mouth feel, any residual sugar and glycerol will be concentrated and it will taste much richer. If it’s sweet then it’s obviously an Oloroso.”
The Palo Cortado Mystery
“For Gonzalez Byass we would say that Palo Cortado is the lightest most elegant style of Oloroso, so its very refined and restrained compared to an Oloroso which is a little more rustic and perhaps a bit “rancio” in contrast. Everybody has a different definition though, so its hard to give a definitive answer to this on.”
Thanks Jeremy for sharing your pearls of wisdom, good luck all you Diploma students out there, hope this was helpful!