It’s Always Very Merry Aboard the Sherry Ferry! 05/30/11
Lately I’ve witnessed a lot of debate through the online grapevine about rising alcohol levels in wines – a trend that actually seems to be global in scope. But if you’re anything like me (i.e. smart), you know that alcohol is but a piece of the puzzle – a single variable in the balance equation – and that the % ABV listed on a given bottle, be it high or low, should not by itself be taken as an indicator of the wine’s quality. Unless, of course, that percentage is zero.
But what happens when even the most potent of Californian Zinfandels or Australian Shirazes fail to propel you to that elusive boozy buzz you so desire? You could switch to liquor (rumor says it’s quicker), but why abandon the grape? She would never do that to you. And look! There’s a whole category of vinous victuals out there designed to give you exactly what you want: a wine that’s sturdy, powerful, and ready to take on all meals – even if you’re dining in hell. This…is fortified wine.
Fortified wine is sort of what it sounds like, except instead of being armored by the vintner, it’s spiked with brandy, making it rather more accessible to the everyday drinker. The two most famous iterations are Port and Sherry, the main difference being that Port is spiked during fermentation, while Sherry is spiked afterward. Both styles come in a variety of sub-styles, all of which can be traced back to their respective countries of origin (Portugal for Port, Spain for Sherry).
The wine I’m discussing today is the Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez, a Sherry-style wine from the Montilla-Moriles region of Spain made entirely from Pedro Ximenez grapes. While not technically a Sherry, for regional/legal regions, it still comes pretty close. Nevertheless I admit to buying this in part because of its age – in excess of 80 years old, this shatters my record for any wine I’ve tried – and indeed, any potable, period. The operative term here though is “Solera,” a system used for Sherry production whereby the wine from new vintages is blended in with the original batch year after year. So while this bottle did contain wine from 1927, it probably didn’t contain very much, having finally been released in 2006.
This wine should be available for around $25 (I paid $26 on Wine.com), but take heed: it comes in a 375ml bottle – half the standard size. Even so, there’s no denying its deliciousness, and the Sherry’s richness ensures that you’ll want to take your time to savor it anyway (or share it, if you’re the sort of person who does that).
In the glass, this poured a paradoxically brilliant brown, with an amber/orange hue around the rim. The nose gave off aromas of dates and amaretto, and before long, my palate was awash in a sweet, syrupy surge of raisins, dates and caramel. At 16% ABV, this was on the lower end for Sherry but still packed a whallop – and no, I didn’t taste any heat on the (impressively long) finish, confirming that wine can be alcoholic and balanced at the same time.
Now, however, comes the real challenge: rating this Sherry, the best (albeit only) one I’ve had in years. Even though I don’t generally like sweet wines, this was just a joy to drink. But without any basis for comparison, I feel it would be useless – and a bit pretentious – to assign a numerical score, so I’ll simply say that I loved it, that I doubt I’ll taste a comparable one anytime soon, and that my personal verdict is in: Sherry’s not just for Frasier anymore.