Jan 31 2010
Its probably not the boldest move to start with, but I must confess. I never really liked sherry, none of them, low acidity, most of them bone dry, high alcohol, some had a weird salt drive to them others nutty, pine raisin and alike notes, you name it. Yes, nothing too good to start with, but it all changed. Now I drink fino when ever I can, I love manzanilla could drink it all day long, crazy about the amontillado and oloroso types and in the middle and between palo cortado. Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned the good old PX. But it wasn’t until I actually left Jerez that I realized how great sherry actually is, the visit to Romate helped a lot to understand and I call my self ambassador of sherry, I love it…
One of the very few big sherry bodegas in Jerez which is still family owned and controlled. The history goes all the way back to the 18. century when Juan Sanchez de la Torre established the company in the town of Jerez, Sánchez Romate Hermanos.
Time is changing a lot, but with sherry it seems to be slower as with perhaps other wines in the world. But this is good, you need certain stability and where traditions count as a value. It is the unique combination of the chalky albariza soil (have to mention barros and arenas too), grape varieties of Palomino, Pedro Ximenez (and Airén for the brandy only) and the wine making techniques. You could call this terroir, but sure there is a Spanish word for this too (tierra perhaps). Wine making is quite an interesting one, and then to make such a great liquid out of the rather boring Palomino is quite an effort.
I used to buy through a merchant and sell Romate sherry back in London at the Winery, during a lunch just opposite of my hotel I saw the unmistakable bottles of Romate it must have been a sign from above I have to visit them despite not making any prior arrangements.
In 2007 they were just starting to build a visitor centre, now I´m almost sure they´re open for everyone (please check with them). However, when I was there this wasn´t necessarily the case, “trade only”, but you sort of live for the moments when you can flash your wine trade card and they let you in because you somehow know them, as you’re selling, talking or write about them.
Cesar Gutierrez in charge with the export market agreed to see me the next day and show me around. He spent quite a bit of time in London (spoke excellent English) and compared the main road of Jerez Calle Larga with the Oxford street, I never enjoyed walking on the Oxford Street as much as I did on Larga. Fewer people you can tell, Cesar said if you stand long enough on one sport at Larga you see all the people of the town passing by.
The multimedia room is a quite interesting one at Romate. As I was a real amateur on Sherry before I arrived to Jerez, I could literally not tell you the difference between Fino and Oloroso style. Yes, I had something in mind, one is lighter, paler other one darker, stronger, but I could not stand up confidently and tell the difference. However, this visit made sure that if you wake me up in the middle of night and ask me to explain the differences, etc. I would easily do it.
Okay, here is how I got it and I´ll bring you the multimedia room to your screen. (First the brief explanation then the picture)
The two main categories un-oxidized and oxidized. Under the not oxidized category you have. Manzanilla and Finos while on the other side Oloroso and PX. Now there are 1-1 arrows coming out of both main categories and point towards Amontillado. Basically Amontillado starts of as a Fino but when the flor/yeast (flower) dies off which protects the Fino (and Manzanilla) from heavy oxidation, usually higher fortification commences, yeast gets killed no layer of protection (flor) is given and oxidation starts slowly the colour changes from pale into brownish.
The drawing on the barrel explains is quite well actually. Now the next one, the styles from left driest to the sweetest onto the right. Manzanilla – Fino – Amontillado – Palo Cortado – Oloroso – Cream – Moscatel – PX. Also the colour from lighter to the heavier one. Now said that of course there can be sweet Oloroso as well. Palo Cortado is quite an interesting thing and Romate does very well on it too, the sign for it its cross stick, what the heck is it, its not quite an Amontillado (heavier, richer) but not as full as an Oloroso (more fragrant, delicate), something in the middle, basically.
The next picture shows you the DO of Jerez -Xeres-Sherry, the triangle of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda towns. Later has its own DO, for the Manzanilla. This means that the Sherrys which are made in the coastal town of Sanlúcar are called Manzanilla, mainly as the flor is thicker, the fino style wines have an added richness to them because of the different (due to the closer sea climate conditions) sherry flor.
While I mentioned that Palomino is perhaps not the most exciting grape variety on its own (I don’t think I ever tasted bottled still Palomino wine) but excellent to turn it into sherry.
Palomino is used for almost all the Sherry styles. Manzanilla, Fino fortified to usually 15%ABV, Amontillado and Oloroso higher (mainly because the flor yeast dies off with higher alcohol %), and then there is Pedro Ximenez aka. PX and the good old Moscatel later two responsible for the sweet wine production. As said in the beginning Airén which is the most planted grape variety in the world comes mainly around Madrid, La Mancha for the brandy production, only.
Well, I guess that’s it, crash course in Sherry, the basics at least. I done my WSET fortified part with huge confidence (got the best result from all the units), thanks to the visit of all the Sherry bodegas, especially Romate and the assistance of Cesar. I must also confess he explained countless times the production of the Cardenal Mendoza Reserve Brandy, but due to no multimedia room I somehow forgot it. Solera system is involved (obvious of course if you look at the name), cooper still distillation, long maturation process. As all the bodegas also Romate uses American oak, I had a chance to see the cooper in action as he was repairing some of the barrels. Fire is essential to bend the wood which he dismantles and puts back again. If you have solera 3-5 lines (criaderas) the weight of them can damage the lower ones.
Cesar asked me what was my favourite sherry, initially response was the PX, because its very well made and complex, definitely a top PX maybe even the best ever I tasted. Said that, I realized only after I left Andalusia how much appreciation I have for Sherry. You know the sort of feeling when you have something you don’t miss it, but once it’s gone you start missing it. Now, lucky enough there is still plenty of Sherry left to try, but it was probably more the spirit of the place of which I’m talking about after I left, the people, the culture, the food, the wine and so much more…the place where I understood Sherry, and learned to appreciate it and the place where I shall return soon. Oh yes, and there is a cask waiting for me, my very own Sherry cask.
Calle Lealas 26-30
Tasted 07/03/2007 (wines tasted out of barrel, un- finished, un bottled/none listed in tasting note section)
Fino from the barrel
The yeast is swimming in the glass, doesn’t get fresher then this. Lots of wild flowers, fresh sea salt, crisp with a touch of mint. Superbly fresh.
Amontillado NPU (non plus ultra-nothing beyond)
Light brown colour, bold nutty, cashew nut, big structure, fine almond notes, lovely finish with good balance.
30 years old, deep colour, wild flowers on the nose, long lingering nutty, almond, dry style. Delicious indeed.
Darker colour then the previous, fresh on the nose despite the age, nutty, almond, ripe fig. Dry, high alcohol, pungent dried fruit, very powerful, good density and long finish.
Dark colour, very thick on the glass right from the beginning. Full of black fruit, dried fruit, fig, prune, raisin. Rich-rich-rich, full sweetness and very concentrated long finish.
Cardenal Mendoza Brandy
The grapes come from La Mancha yet the brandy itself is made in the bodega of Jerez. Cedar, smoke rich on the nose touch of orange peel and some of the PXs fig, prune combo.
Cardenal Mendoza Solera Grand Reserva
Brownish colour, with a sweet/ripe nose, fine grapy fruit, fine proportion of the PX, rich on the nose and on the palate, powerful yet elegant. Fantastic finish, complex.
(I re-tasted lucky enough the top Cardenal Mendoza from Romate a few times and without hesitation I shall say its my all time favourite brandy!)