SPANISH DESSERT WINES
Spain is the home to numerous dessert wines, its most famous being called
However, not all "Sherry" is intended for dessert service. Many are quite
dry and served before dinner with "tapas," a variety of appetizers such as
anchovy-stuffed olives, grilled prawns and thinly-sliced ham.
Sherry was widely popular in Great Britain and it was well-known in William Shakespeare's
time. The wine was called "Sack" and it came from a variety of places:
The Canary Islands, Málaga, Cyprus, Greece as well as the Andalusian town of Jerez
de la Frontera. "Jerez" was known as "sherries," though today
many pronounce it "hair-eth."
The production of Sherry is curious. The grapes used to make Sherry are, for the
most part, Palomino and the Pedro Ximénez, though Muscat is also cultivated.
Sherry is fermented and then "fortified" with an addition of alcohol, bringing
to a strength of 17-21% by volume. This is often done as a two stage process.
Following the wines' initial fermentation, it may be fortified to 14-15% alcohol.
Later in its aging process, it may be fortified again, bringing it to its final
The new wine is then transferred to some sort of oak cask, often called a butt.
This cooperage is of 132 gallon capacity. That's a big butt!
Sherry is typically a blend of wines from various years.
You'll see stacks of barrels which make up the criaderas y solera.
The wine in the barrels at the bottom of the stack (generally four to five barrels
high) is the "Solera." When wine is bottled from
the solera, a volume equal to what was bottled is then racked or transferred from the next
level to the one down below. The barrels are typically filled to something like
5/6ths capacity, allowing air to be present in each. This allows for the oxidative
process to occur, contributing a the somewhat nutty character
which typifies the wines of Jerez.
While many Americans consider Sherry a dessert wine, the average Spaniard views it as a
cocktail beverage. And, in fact, the Finos are quite dry
and consumed every evening with a variety of tapas.
TYPES OF SHERRY
The Spanish consider there to be 8 distinct types.
|Fino Sherry is aged in contact with a film of yeast atop the
wine. This is called the "Flor." This yeast is
said to protect the wines' pale color and intensify its aroma. Fino is usually quite
dry and lower in alcohol than other Sherry wines.
In the winery, the cellar master often rates or classifies each barrel with one, two or
three palmas to indicate the quality of the wine.
||This comes exclusively from Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the
cellars are somewhat exposed to the sea. It's said the salt air breezes contribute a
salty tang to the Manzanilla wines. These are about the same strength and style as a
Fino, but with that salty note.
||This is a wine in the style of those from a region nearby to
Jerez, Montilla. These are typically darker and nuttier than Manzanilla
or Fino bottlings. The alcohol is usually a shade higher, too. Most are dry or
||Barrels which don't develop the flor yeast on the surface of
the wine are destined to become Oloroso. These are usually dry, though you may find
a Sweet Oloroso. Oloroso is usually the base of Cream Sherry.
Pata de Galina is a special and rare designation for an Oloroso
of exceptional intensity and "texture."
||This is an under-appreciated type of Sherry which has elements
common to Amontillado and Oloroso wines. Palo Cortado is usually a rather dry
||A lighter, sweet Sherry. This is a relatively recent
addition to the Sherry portfolio, pioneered by Croft's some 30 years ago.
||Typically based on Oloroso with the addition of some Pedro
Ximénez to sweeten it.
||The Pedro Ximénez grapes are often dried in the sun to
intensify the sugar percentage. We have a cream sherry which claims to be 100% Pedro
Ximénez and it's amazingly rich and too intense for most palates.
Aside from Sherry, we shouldn't overlook the wines of Montilla-Moriles or Málaga.
Montilla makes Fino, Amontillado and Cream-styled wines. Málaga wines are made from
sun dried or boiled fruit (to concentrate the sugar content).
We have found other Spanish dessert wines to be of interest. Muscat and Malvasia are
marvelously aromatic varieties and thrive under the warm Spanish sun.
Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega
a winery from Spain's Alicante region. Felipe Gutiérrez
de la Vega has about ten or 12 hectares of vineyards, including Cabernet, Garnacha and
Monastrell, but it's his Muscat wine which is of tremendous interest.
Called "Cosecha Miel" or "honey harvest," this is made of Moscatel
Alejandria (also known as Moscatel Romano) which is picked at high levels of sugar.
It seems to have a hint of wood, the wine being fermented and matured in French and
American oak. The perfume of this wine is incredible! You may detect
and fruity notes of the Muscat, but there's a spicy note which some interpret at ginger or
The wine is sweet but not syrupy. The finish is very honeyed and
exceptionally long. We feel this is the Château d'Yquem of Spain, as
it has an oily, unctuous quality. Pair this with fresh fruit desserts...pineapple, raspberries,
peaches, apricots, strawberries.....
- Currently in stock: 2006
CASTA DIVA Moscatel List $35
- Winemaker Paco
Selva produces dry red wine from his Jumilla vineyards in southern
Spain. But he leaves a few hectares of Mourvèdre vines, known as
Mataro or Monastrell for a late-harvest dessert wine.
The Jumilla region is, like other Spanish wine areas, awakening from a very
long slumber, so it's only recently we're seeing profound and compelling
wines from this area. And Jumilla has a few really positive
aspects...there are many remarkably old vineyards there (and planted on
their own roots as phylloxera has not plagued this sandy region). The
cool evenings allow the retention of good levels of acidity, while the hot
days allow the grapes to achieve substantial degrees of maturity.
Selva takes advantage of these attributes and produces a lovely dessert wine
from Monastrell. It seems he's been making this wine for some
years but never sold it commercially. That changed when a sommelier
from some fancy Spanish dining establishment tasted the wine, was knocked
out by it and insisted he have some for the restaurant. So, not too
many bottles make their way to California.
The wine is dark in color and has a blackberryish fruit quality on the nose
and palate. I'm sort of tempted to describe this as a Spanish version
of Banyuls, but not many Banyuls as as well-made as this. The fog,
further, encourages a bit of botrytis, so there's a hint of a honeyed
note. Remarkable wine.
- Currently in stock : 2008 OLIVARES Monastrell Dulce $29.99
- This is an old, yet dynamic Sherry producer. The original firm was
founded in 1896, taking its name from the son-in-law of the founder of the firm. The
Lustau name has been associated with Sherry since 1950. Today the firm is owned and
operated by Don Luis Caballero.
The founder of the firm was an "almacenista," someone
who bought and aged Sherry. The firm continues the tradition and offers an amazing
array of "Almacenista" Sherries.
We have a nice range of Lustau's Sherries and can special order their other products.
Especially noteworthy are the "Moscatel," a wine of about the same sweetness as
their Cream Sherry, but fabulously aromatic and rich.
"East India" is a wine made in the style of wines shipped abroad and bottled on
their return after a long sea voyage. Lustau's East India is based on a dry Oloroso,
sweetened to a level of sugar close to Cream Sherry. It is given extended aging, not
on a ship but in a special cellar with a humid environment.
The "Almacenista" wines are aged by independent cellars.
Lustau, originating as one of these, decided to offer a range of sherries
with the name of the Almacenista and the number of barrels of a particular
type on the label. So, for example, we have an Amontillado with the
designation "1/10" which means this bottling was of one of a set
of ten barrels. The idea here is to retain the highest quality sherry
and offer it apart from a "master blend" where the wine might be a
small part of the foundation.
interesting and of very fine quality.
A bottle of these is not a huge
investment and affords one the opportunity to savor something of exceptional
quality (and rarity) at a very modest price.
LA INA SHERRY
Lustau purchased the name La Ina from the Pedro Domecq
company along with something like 4000 "butts" of Sherry.
The La Ina solera dates back to 1919 and it is now being bottled by
We are delighted to have this iconic Fino Sherry back in the shop
after a long absence.
It is quite dry, mildly nutty and it has the classic, typical yeasty
Perfect served chilled and paired with salty nibbles as a cocktail
before a nice meal...
- Currently in stock: "Jarana" FINO Sherry $14.99
"Papirusa" MANZANILLA $15.99
"Los Arcos" DRY AMONTILLADO $15.99
"Don Nuño" DRY OLOROSO $21.99
"Rare" CREAM SHERRY $22.99
"Emilin" MOSCATEL $27.99
"Vendimia" CREAM SHERRY Sold Out-No longer Produced
EAST INDIA SHERRY $28.99
PEDRO XIMENIZ $26.99
UNIQUE & RARE:
TINTILLA DE ROTA $49.99
Back in stock -- 16 bottles remain
This is made of a red grape grown in the area of Rota, one
village in Andalusia
which is well-known for about a 15 mile radius for this deep, dense, sweet
The only other place it's known, it seems, is Burlingame, California.
Try some of this with a rich vanilla ice cream! It's also dynamite
with chocolate desserts.
AMONTILLADO del Puerto "Jose Luis Gonzalez Obregon" 1/10 $35.99
PALO CORTADO "Vides*" 1/50 $35.99
PEDRO XIMENIZ "Murillo" $54.99
MOSCATEL "Las Cruces" $46.99
- *Vides is a firm owned by a relative of the Domecq firm, though this
enterprise is in no way related. Lustau says most of the soleras of
this outfit are 15-20 years old and they're especially highly respected for
their Palo Cortado and Oloroso wines.
- PEDRO DOMECQ
of the most famous "Fino" Sherries in the world was Pedro Domecq's
La Ina comes from an African word and I don't quite understand the
significance of it (my Spanish is good enough to decipher only a small bit
of the story).
In any event, La Ina is, along with "Tio Pepe," the most famous
Fino Sherry made.
Consider chilling a bottle of this to go with an assortment of salty
almonds, anchovy-stuffed olives, mushrooms sautéed in olive oil with a
bunch of garlic and, perhaps some grilled prawns.
Domecq sold the La Ina brand to Lustau...and so we finally have, back in
stock, LA INA SHERRY. Fino. In all its glory. And it's
quite dry and very good...but it's no longer coming from the house of
Domecq makes some fabulous, well-aged Sherry. We have one called
Venerable which is made from dried Pedro Ximeniz grapes. I think they
fortify what little juice they get from these grapes (or raisins) and the
nectar is placed into the solera, which was started in 1902. I've read
the claim the wine bottled each year is something like 60 years old.
Only about 700 cases' worth of wine is bottled, making for a rare and deluxe
treat. Sweet, dark, dark in color and thick as molasses (the sugar
content is very high, about 45%!) and showing toffee, spice and a hint of
maple, you can pair this with a Crème Brûlée or Flan.
Currently in stock: Lustau's LA INA "Fino" Sherry $15.99
DOMECQ "VENERABLE" (List $90) SALE $79.99 (back in
DOMECQ "SIBARITA" (list $90) SALE $79.99
Osborne firm is huge and you'll see their "bull" logo all over
Spain as you drive around the country.
They own a number of wineries on the Iberian Peninsula and producer all
sorts of wines: Sherry, Port and table wines, along with producing some
One of our favorites is their Solera "India" Sherry, a wonderfully
complex wine that is sweet in terms of its aromatics, but dry and rich on
the palate. The color is a dark brown and the nose is very intense,
showing woodsy notes, nuts and more nuts. It's one of those wines that
has an unusually long finish which you will feel for many
minutes. Too bad it's sold out...we've been asking the importer for
more of this...so stay tuned.
Also quite good are the Fino Sherries of Osborne. We have two
different bottlings...the basic is a good value at $11.99 and it's mildly
yeasty. The one called "Coquinero" is an aged version of
Fino Sherry, having a more intense nutty character to go with its yeasty
- Currently in stock: OSBORNE FINO SHERRY $11.99
OSBORNE FINO "Coquinero" SHERRY $15.99
city of Málaga lends its name to a wine that's rather famous
and yet hard to find.
Located in southern Spain at the Mediterranean Sea, the city is said to have
been founded by the Phoenicians about 3,000 years ago. Apparently they
called the place "Malaca" after the word "malac," a term
for salt. It seems the town's proximity to the water gave rise to a
large fishing and fish preserving industry at one time.
Around the early 1800s Malaga's wines were more famed than the
Sherries of Jerez.
- We have a sweet Málaga which is made of the Pedro Ximeniz grape.
You'll find it to have an aroma somewhat reminiscent of molasses and nuts.
It's pretty intense, so it's almost dessert by itself.
Currently in stock: HIJOS DE JOSE SUAREZ VILLALBA Quitapeñas "MÁLAGA" ORO VIEJO
The importer no longer has this--we sent a
note to the winery and they do not respond. Too bad.
Hidalgo winery is viewed by many as the reference point for the famous
Manzanilla wine of Spain.
This is a very light and very dry, delicate Sherry coming
exclusively from the region of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, right on the Gulf
of Cádiz. It's said the breezes from the sea contribute the
typical salty "tang" to the wines.
Production of Manzanilla wines is not nearly as large as the
quantity of mainstream Sherry. The Hidalgo firm, though they make
a full range of Sherry wines, is best known for its Manzanilla, called
"La Gitana" (the gypsy). It is delicious when served
thoroughly chilled with salty grilled prawns and tangy
Currently in stock: HIDALGO "LA GITANA" MANZANILLA $15.99
House of Sandeman was founded by a Scotsman more than 200 years ago and
evolved into a name strongly associated with Port and Sherry wines.
The firm has had its ups and downs, hopefully now in one of those
Their famous "logo" of the "Don" (see the poster on the
left) was created back in the 1920s. The firm, at that time, was big
on commissioning its own art work and an artist named George Massiot-Brown
came up with the "Don." This mysterious figure is wearing a
hat one might see in Spain, while dressed in a cape more commonly worn in
Portugal or by super-heroes. It's become a major advertising icon all
around the Iberian Peninsula and throughout Europe.
- The firm's ownership is not clear to me, having been part of Seagram's
empire. They're still distributed by that firm, though Sandeman is now
housed under the SOGRAPE umbrella (Sogrape being a large wine firm in
Portugal, producing, amongst other wines, Mateus Rosé). But the good
news, we think, is that a Sandeman is once again at the helm of the
- We recently had a sensational Fino Sherry from this firm. I had read
a good review in a Spanish wine guide of this wine, so I bought a
That's Chef Claudia Temby with a bottle of Sandeman Fino Sherry along with
her absolutely outstanding little assortment of tapas.
Who knew Claudia could actually handle the cooking chores?
Anyway, the Fino Sherry of Sandeman is currently exceptional. The wine
is, of course, lower in alcohol than most Sherry and just a couple of
percent higher than many California Chardonnays. Served chilled, the
wine displays the classic yeasty aromas of the "flor" yeast.
After a night of tasting Puligny-Montrachet wines, this was really an
Their current bottling of Oloroso Sherry is also very good. It's
dubbed "Royal Corregidor," a blend of old Sherry to be sure.
The youngest wine in the bottle is said to be 20 years of age! It's
toasty and smoky on the nose with caramelized notes and a very long
- Currently in stock: SANDEMAN FINO SHERRY $13.99 (750ml)
SANDEMAN CORREGIDOR (Oloroso) $25.99 (500ml)
BODEGAS TORO ALBALA
an amazing winery in the Montilla-Moriles region of Spain...think Cordoba
and its hot, hot sun.
We have some "PX" (wine made from the Pedro Ximnez grape
variety) of exceptional quality.
The "regular" bottling is quite sweet, while the 1975 vintage is
thick and reminiscent of molasses.
The PX grapes are picked at their peak, but then set in the sun to dry a
bit, further concentrating the character and intensifying the sugar
The grapes are quite shriveled and sweet, so pressing any kind of liquid
out of them takes a great deal of pressure.
They also offer minuscule quantities of old vintages of PX wines...if
you're interested in those, please let me know.
We also have a "solera" bottling of PX called "Viejisimo."
This is actually a dry wine, bottled from a solera (stack of barrels)
started in the 1920s. We're told the wine is vinified to about 16%
alcohol, but as it ages in barrel, with the evaporation of water, it
clocks in at 21% alcohol! In any case, it's a remarkable wine.
Currently in stock: 2002 DON PX $28.99 (750ml)
1979 DON PX $28.99 (375ml) in good supply presently...
1979 DON PX $41.99 (750ml)
VIEJISIMO $38.99 (750ml)
firm celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago and though they've
been around for more than a century, they're virtually unknown to most
Part of the issue is they're not in Jerez, but in nearby Montilla-Morilles,
well east and north of Jerez (the Sherry producing region). Wines from
this area were typically sold in bulk to Sherry houses who incorporated the
wine into their own and labeled it as Sherry.
- With a slow-down in Sherry sales, the producers in Montilla-Morilles are
on their own, now having to compete with the more well-established brands
Perez Barquero is a firm with some spectacular quality wines, so competing
qualitatively is not a problem. Their "problem" is simply
that virtually nobody knows who they are and what they offer.
I tasted through their range of wines...all good, frankly.
We selected their Gran Barquero Amontillado, a wine made entirely of the
Pedro Ximeniz grape. As I understand it, this wine was matured for
about a decade in wood before being transferred to a stack of barrels to
spend, essentially, another dozen years aging in a solera. The wine is
rather dry and deeply "nutty" and showing an intensely oxidized
character. It's exceptional.
also have a PX sweet wine that's incredible.
It's called La Canada and they estimate it takes about 25 years to produce
this wine. It's got a nutty and toffee-like character and it's one of
those dessert wines which has an after taste which lingers for a long time.
It comes in a frosted black bottle with the label affixed on a
This is not inexpensive ($74.99 for a 750ml), but given its quality and all,
we think it's worth the price of admission.
- Currently in stock: GRAN BARQUERO Amontillado $24.99 (375ml)
LA CANADA PX $74.99 (750ml)
- This large
firm is noted for its range of products, from table wines to olive oils,
vinegars, sparkling wine and, most of all, its Sherry.
Though they make some exceptional and well-aged Sherry wines, the flagship
is their excellent Fino-styled Sherry called Tio Pepe.
Tio Pepe is found virtually all over Spain and most of Europe. You can
find some bottles in our shop, too, though this is not as widely available a
product as one might expect.
- GB also makes some fantabulous, top o'the line Sherries. These come
in 375 ml bottles. They are said to be approximately 30 years and I
can tell you, they are more mature than most of the 30 year old people I
"Matusalem" is an Oloroso Dulce "Muy Viejo"...a
sweet, nutty Sherry with some raisiny and nutty notes that linger for quite
a while. It's best lightly chilled to take some of the edge off the
"Apostoles" is from a solera initiated in the 1860s in
honor of visiting Spanish royalty. This is a blend of Palomino and
Pedro Ximenez and it is a "Palo Cortado" Sherry. We fancy
this served at cool cellar temperature and it can be served before a meal
with "nibbles" such as jamon, nuts, olives, goat cheese or
a nice pate. You'll find it to have a bit of sweetness, but it's far
short of being as sweet as a Cream Sherry, for example.
"Del Duque" is a Dry Amontillado Sherry...the importer
claims this can be paired with roast beef! I'm not sure I'd appreciate
it in that setting, but some mature cheeses will partner well with
Currently in stock: TIO PEPE "Fino" SHERRY $14.99 (750ml)
"DEL DUQUE" Amontillado $39.99 (375ml)
"MATUSALEM" Oloroso Dulce $39.99 (375ml)
"APOSTOLES" Palo Cortado $42.99 (375ml)
- JORGE ORDONEZ (MALAGA)
known Jorge since the mid-1990s when he was just starting a little business
of importing wines from Es-Spain. Speak with an Spanish person and you
will discover they cannot say "Spain."
Anyway, Jorge's business was (and it still is) successful and he's a
big-time "player" in the Es-Spanish wine scene. Along the
way, he met Austria's famous Alois Kracher (who passed away a few years ago)
and the two embarked on a project to make sweet wines in Malaga.
Kracher (who always surprised me by knowing who I am and that I was a
customer for his delightful products) made some stellar sweet wines.
Together with Jorge, they launched a "Jorge Ordonez" brand of
wines and these are quite good.
Kracher had the idea of numbering his wines and this fetish has been
embraced by Jorge. We carry their "Number One" bottling of
Malaga, a wine that's a late harvest Moscatel. We have access to their
other wines, but we find this to be unusual, interesting, delicious and
Kracher's son is now assisting Ordonez and company in this sweetly delicious
- Currently in stock: JORGE ORDONEZ MALAGA No. 1 $21.99
VALDESPINO - ARGUESO (Cream of Cream Sherry)
more than 25 years we had carried the Valdespino family's "Cream of
Cream" Sherry bearing the "Argueso" name.
A few years ago, the U.S. importer of this product stopped bringing in this
They have always focused their efforts on a line of inexpensive Sherry
called "Hartley & Gibson." These are perfectly sound,
decent bottles of Sherry.
Today the Hartley & Gibson label is sourced elsewhere and the
"Pedro Ximeniz" wine which was so outstanding is somewhat less
stellar. It's a bit less costly, too, which may have been an
influencing factor in their decision to not buy wine from Valdespino.
We have the simple Hartley & Gibson Sherry wines in the
- If you want a wine along the lines of the old Argueso, Cream of Cream,
please have a look at either the Lustau PX Sherry or the "Don PX"
of the Toro Albala brand. These are both dark brown in color, nutty,
sweet and show fragrances reminiscent of toffee and molasses.
Currently in stock: Argueso Cream Sherry Sold
The importer is no longer stocking this wine. Having been fans,
all we can suggest is that you try a bottle of Lustau's "PX" or
the Toro Albala "Don PX" wines.
HARTLEY & GIBSON Sherries are currently sale-priced at $8.99 per