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SPANISH DESSERT WINES

Spain is the home to numerous dessert wines, its most famous being called "Sherry."

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.  Or pan-fried fish...or a bean stew with meat...

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 strength.

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!

wpe46.jpg (14150 bytes)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

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. 
MANZANILLA 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.
AMONTILLADO 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 just off-dry.
OLOROSO 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."
PALO CORTADO This is an under-appreciated type of Sherry which has elements common to Amontillado and Oloroso wines.  Palo Cortado is usually a rather dry Sherry.
PALE CREAM A lighter, sweet Sherry.  This is a relatively recent addition to the Sherry portfolio, pioneered by Croft's some 30 years ago.
CREAM Typically based on Oloroso with the addition of some Pedro Ximénez to sweeten it. 
PEDRO XIMÉNEZ 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. 
"EN RAMA" This is a bit of a rarity and it refers to a Sherry or Manzanilla that's bottled with a minimum of fining or filtering...these have only recently been showing up in our market...

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.

 


SHERRY IN THE GLASS:
1st Row, Left to Right:  FINO, AMONTILLADO & OLOROSO

2nd Row, Left to Right:  "MEDIUM" (Sweet), CREAM SHERRY & PEDRO XIMÉNEZ 

 
 
 

EL MAESTRO SIERRA

In the 1830s José Antonio Sierra was a "master cooper," building barrels for the González Byass winery amongst others.  In those days the wineries were owned by families of a certain nobility, so a peasant such as Señor Sierra was merely an employee and had little chance of owning a winemaking enterprise.

Yet he managed to launch a small business and began producing wine in addition to working his day job of barrel-making.  People in the region admired his skills with wood-working and he was called a maestro.  He was able to purchase a little place in the Plaza Silos and this is still where the wines are matured.
 

This old label depicts the nobles on a fox hunt.  
José Antonio Sierra fancied himself as the fox being hunted, which explains the art work on the old label.



The enterprise is still family-owned and run by Doña Pilar Plá Pechovierto and her husband was a descendant of the founder!  Vineyards had been sold in the years prior to World War II and today the company, we're told, owns no vines.   There's a prominent grower's co-operative cellar a few miles from El Maestro Sierra and it furnishes the winery with the base wines for aging and, eventually, bottling.

Doña Pilar's husband passed away in 1976 and in those days they sold nicely-aged Sherries to the likes of González Byass and Domecq.  Lustau sourced some Oloroso from this place, too.  The rules changed in the early 1990s and small, independent wineries were then allowed to bottle, label and market their own Sherries.  

These days Doña Pilar and her daughter Carmen Borrego run the place, still using cooperage constructed by the founder back in the 1830s and 1840s.


 It remains a low-tech winery, producing traditionally-styled Sherry.


We're big fans of a 15 year old Oloroso Sherry.

This is a gem of a Sherry and it's well-priced, too.
It's quite dry and reasonably full-bodied.
A few years ago we hosted a little holiday season wing-ding at a favorite San Francisco restaurant, Blue Plate.
In those days the place had a nice list of Sherry and half-bottles of this 15 year old Oloroso were available.
Eyebrows were raised when we ordered a bottle and some salty, savory nibbles to accompany the wine.
But once the wine was sniffed and sipped, the bottle was quickly emptied.
Back at the shop in the succeeding weeks, that wine was routinely recommended to customers and even today, several years later, El Maestro Sierra 15 year Oloroso is a favorite.
As mentioned, we enjoyed this with some salty starters, but the winery crew even suggests pairing this with "intense red meats."
 

Currently in stock:  EL MAESTRO SIERRA 15 Year OLOROSO SHERRY  $22.99 375ml


 

 

 

 


Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega

wpe4B.jpg (5428 bytes)Here's 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 floral and fruity notes of the Muscat, but there's a spicy note which some interpret at ginger or nutmeg.  

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:  2009 CASTA DIVA Moscatel  List $35  SALE $29.99


 


OLIVARES
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  (500ml bottle)







EMILIO LUSTAU

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.   They make a terrific range of Sherries (and now Vermut of seriously good quality!).  The wines are reliably good and we find them to be well-priced.

 
 


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.  
These are 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 Lustau.
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 note.
Perfect served chilled and paired with salty nibbles as a cocktail before a nice meal...
$21.99

 


Currently in stock: 
"Los Arcos" DRY AMONTILLADO $15.99
"Don Nuño" DRY OLOROSO $23.99
"Rare" CREAM SHERRY  $25.99
"Emilin" MOSCATEL $27.99
"Vendimia" CREAM SHERRY Sold Out-No longer Produced
EAST INDIA SHERRY $28.99
PEDRO XIMENIZ $26.99
2000 VINTAGE $47.99 (500ml bottle)

UNIQUE & RARE:
TINTILLA DE ROTA $49.99  Back in stock --  8 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 wine.
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.



ALMACENISTAS:
OLOROSO    $35.99
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.
 
 
 
Lustau recently launched their Vermouth production.
We have the red, rose and white.

The red has already proven to be extremely popular and it's a marvelous and intriguing sweet rendition.  It's a mix of Amontillado and PX wines with sage, gentian, coriander, wormwood and orange peel in the mix.  We detect a note reminiscent of rosemary, too.

The white is a blend of Fino Sherry and Moscatel with Chamomile, Gentian, Rosemary, Wormwood and Marjoram.
It's not a dry Vermouth, though.
 
LUSTAU VERMUT  (Red, White and Rosé) $22.99



BODEGAS TRADICION

Some people may wonder how a winery that was founded in 1998 manages to offer wines that are 30 to 50 years old.

The winery in its current incarnation was launched by Joaquin Rivero, a real estate guy and Sherry lover.  His ancestors had a winery in Jerez and made Sherry for many decades until about 1994.  Apparently Rivero had PX in his blood and bought a bodega and embarked on his own Jerez Adventure.

He has been able to buy modest quantities of old, well-aged Sherry from various Almacenistas (wineries which simply mature Sherry and sell in bulk, typically).  Thus we see many old bottlings from Bodegas Tradicion with wines much older than the company itself.

Rivero, who passed away in 2016 left the winery in the capable hands of his daughter Helena.

And he relied on the expertise of veteran Sherry people, having a fellow named Domecq (from the Pedro Domecq winery originally) to select exceptional butts (barrels) of old Sherry.  And he had a guy who worked in the Domecq cellars as his cellar crew chief.

When they've purchased aged Sherry, it seems that they do not buy anything younger than 15 years of age.  They have a couple of cellars for maturing the Sherry.

Everything they bottle is "en rama" (un-chilled filtered and not cold-stabilized and only whatever sulfites had been added ages ago as a preservative).


They also have quite a museum.

 


We have a few of their "Museum pieces" in the shop.

They have about 400 bottles of a 1970 vintage Oloroso, bottled in 2019.  Yes...nearly half a century of aging before bottling and this is quite remarkable.

We understand they've had several casks from the 1970 vintage and each is bottled "unblended."  This is from one of the final casks, vinified when Nixon was President and Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal teamed up with Bobby Bonds, Ken Henderson, Dick Dietz and Al Gallagher playing for the San Francisco Giants.  The Beatles were still together as were Simon & Garfunkel.  The Dow Jones stock market index dropped to 631 in 1970!    The Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight from the US to London.

Most Sherry, of course, is blended into a Solera, a series of barrels from which wine is withdrawn from the lowest tier in the stacks and replenished with wine from the barrels above.  They did not keep much single-vintage wine and so this is exceedingly rare.  

It's mahogany brown in color and hugely aromatic, with nutty notes from start to finish.  


A sample label of 1970 Oloroso.

Prior to the vinification of the Palomino grapes for this 1970, the San Francisco Giants had not won a World Series.  And the same can be said for several decades before this was finally bottled.  Amazingly, though, the Giants did win not just one World Series, but three!  Imagine how much wine had evaporated over the 48-49 years this 1970 was aging in some dark cellar!   

In any case, we were able to acquire a few bottles.

Currently in Stock:  1970 BODEGAS TRADICION OLOROSO AÑADA     $329.99

 



 
 
 



PEDRO DOMECQ   UPDATE
One of the most famous "Fino" Sherries in the world was Pedro Domecq's "La Ina."
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.


  


Currently in stock:  Lustau's LA INA "Fino" Sherry $15.99






 


OSBORNE

The 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 terrific brandies.

They make a large quantity of basic, entry-level Sherry.  These are perfectly serviceable if a bit 'standard' in terms of quality.

But they do make some remarkably exceptional and exceedingly rare bottles of seriously-aged Sherry.  Every time we've tasted these, the wines linger for an amazingly long time.
 
Osborne has a few particular solera from which they bottle very rare, "VORS" Sherries.  These are at least 30 years of age and every time they bottle some wine, they are obliged to submit a sample for a tasting panel to approve.

The proprietary names of Sibarita and Venerable had been owned, years ago, by the Pedro Domecq winery.  Those have been sold off and presently are bottled by Osborne as the crown jewels of their Sherry production.

Sibarita is an Oloroso Sherry of exceptional pedigree.  They claim the Solera for this was started in the 1790s!  Hard to believe.  There are 106 barrels in the Solera and they typically bottle something akin to the equivalent of 1.5% of the wine in the Solera.  It needs to be 30+ years old for this VORS designation, but Osborne calculates the Sherry is likely at least 60 years.  The importer's website mentions this had a tiny addition, once upon a time, of some Pedro Ximenez sherry (sweet), but the wine is sufficiently tangy that if it has some sweetness, it's not noticeable.

This is medium-dark brown in color and the fragrances are exceptional, with hints of nuts, toffee, caramel and maybe a note of maple syrup.  On the palate the wine is fairly dry thanks to good acidity.  The flavors confirm those elements found on the nose and the finish is exceptionally long.  


Venerable is a decidedly sweet Sherry made entirely of the Pedro Ximenez grape.  The solera for this wine was established in the early 1900s and we understand they typically withdraw about 800 bottles annually.  It's said this wine is about 30 years of age.  Dark brown in color, the aromas are nutty and sweet.  It's insanely long on the palate and a couple of spoons-full atop rich vanilla or maple-nut ice cream will drive your guests totally bonkers.

We try to order some bottles of these rarities every year.  They are not inexpensive, but given how long these are kept in the cellar and how much evaporates, these are remarkable historic show-pieces.  
 

Currently in stock:  SIBARITA "Oloroso" Very Rare Old Sherry  Sale $124.99 500ml bottle
VENERABLE "Pedro Ximénez" Very Rare Old Sherry   Sale $124.99  500ml bottle


 

 

BARBADILLO

This company is a giant in the Sherry business, yet their wines are relatively unknown in the US market.

Barbadillo owns more than 500 hectares of vineyards and they have numerous cellars around the Sherry region and they're also the largest producer of Manzanilla!

They make a nice range of Sherry and the entry level wines are well-made and reasonably priced.

But it's at the higher end of the scale that offers wines seriously worthy of our attention.

Barbadillo produces some top drawer bottlings aged for 30 years.  These are on par with the expensive offerings of Gonzales Byass, Domecq and Lustau.  They call these "VORS"  (Very Old Rare Sherry) bottlings.  And the stocks of this are kept under lock and key, but it's not the winery that has the key!  It's the governing board of Sherry producers which sends a representative to the winery with the key to supervise the withdrawal of wine.

We have a magnificent 30 Year bottling of Amontillado.  It has a great perfume...very nutty and almost a salty/spicy tone to the wine.  It's quite dry and the finish goes on forever.  

There's also an Oloroso Secco in the shop...you'll find nutty, caramel-like features to this powerhouse-of-a-Sherry.  It's also quite dry and the flavors are deep and profound...

As mentioned earlier, Barbadillo is perhaps the biggest dawg on the Manzanilla block and they offer a really nice "En Rama" bottling of their Solear label.

"En Rama" is a bottling which typically has less stabilization to it, so they usually don't fine the wine and the filtration, if any, is lighter.  The notion is this allows the wine to show itself more closely to its condition in wood in the cellar.

We  recently bought a little bottle of this Manzanilla to try at a little Spanish-fest one night with friends.  

I should have brought two bottles!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



The wine was magnificent!   Lots of nutty, salty notes and the wine was dynamite with an assortment of olives and Marcona Almonds.  But it was even better with Kareasa's homemade Cod Fritters (though the Cava was also showing well in that company!).

 

Currently in stock: SOLEAR MANZANILLA "EN RAMA" $24.99 (375ml)
BARBADILLO VORS AMONTILLADO  $69.99 (375ml)
BARBADILLO VORS OLOROSO SECCO $69.99  (375ml) 

 




HIDALGO

The 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 olives.  

Even better is their "En Rama" bottling of Manzanilla....



The "En Rama" bottling is a small production offering which goes into bottle with a minimum of "stabilization."  We understand there is no fining of the wine and what they call "minimal filtration."  This Manzanilla is bottled according to the condition of the barrels...they wait until the 'flor' yeast on the surface of the wine is at its thickest and then the wine is readied for bottling.

It's interesting that those wineries producing "en rama" bottlings of Manzanilla and Sherry put out suggestions that these wine should be consumed immediately, but we see the wines change a bit over the course of time, but they don't deteriorate.  This leads us to suspect the "drink it soon" suggestion is to assure the sale of the next round of "en rama" bottlings.

The La Gitana "En Rama" Manzanilla is exceptional.  It hits many of the same notes as the regular bottling, except it hits them louder.  Serve this on a warm day, right out of the 'fridge with some salty Marcona almonds and pair it with some Gambas a la Plancha and/or some sweet/salty Iberico ham.  

They also make a stellar single-vineyard Manzanilla called "Pastrana."  This comes from the Pastrana vineyard in the Miraflores district, a highly-regarded site for the Palomino grape.  Very chalky soils...

The juice is fermented in stainless steel with a measure of temperature control.  It's lightly fortified to a modest 15% alcohol, or so.  Pastrana then goes into a solera of American oak and it takes about ten to 12 years for the wine to emerge from the stack of barrels, so it's older than your run-of-the-mill Manzanilla.


Currently in stock:  HIDALGO "LA GITANA" MANZANILLA $13.99 (500ml)
HIDALGO "PASTRANA" MANZANILLA  Sold Out
HIDALGO "LA GITANA" EN RAMA $29.99 (750ml)
 
 


EQUIPO NAVAZOS

This is a relatively new enterprise with respect to the world of Sherry, but  the "equipo" or team of backers are all wine enthusiasts, be they wine industry folks (winemakers, importers, distributors, wine merchants) or wine writers and wine 'geeks'.
The ensemble hails from Spain, Germany, Great Britain and the US.

The first bottlings were made in 2005, or so...they had found some small lots of Amontillado at a winery which were quite old, but too small for that producer to market.  Selling the wine in bulk made sense and so the various "team" members ponied up the cash and bought some barrels of good Sherry.

One thing led to another and now it's a small, but apparently viable business.  They've bottled more than 40 lots of Sherry, each one ranging from a mere 600 bottles to perhaps a few thousand.  

We have a couple of bottlings in stock.


The various barrels of Manzanilla incorporated in the #37 "Amontillado" bottlings average about 18 years of age.  It's quite dry and intense, showing caramel and nutty tones.  This is not your Granddad's bottle of "cocktail sherry"!  It's a big, profound wine which should be served fairly cool in a large wine glass...not a little "copita".
And consider pairing it with intensely flavored foods...maybe a first course of pan-fried seafood...or pair it with an array of cheeses.



The Manzanilla comes from the cellars which provided the very first bottling of Equipo Navazos and it went into bottle in February of 2013.  They selected 19 casks to produce this bottling and it's a textbook example of salty Manzanilla.
Seafood is an ideal accompaniment to this beauty....

 

Currently in stock:  #42 MANZANILLA   Sale $49.99 (750ml)
#37 AMONTILLADO  Sale $79.99



 
 
SANDEMAN
The 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 "up" directions.

Their famous "logo" of the "Don" (see the poster above) 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 once been part of Seagram's empire.  The brand was sold to SOGRAPE by Diageo and there's a Sandeman descendant on their board of directors.  The quality of what we've tasted has been good and it looks like they are improving.
 


 
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 bottle.  

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 interesting wine!  

 
Currently in stock:  SANDEMAN FINO SHERRY  $17.99 (500ml)
 


An old postcard promoting the Sherry wines of Sandeman.

 


 




BODEGAS TORO ALBALA
toro-albala.GIF (25986 bytes)Here's 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 Ximenez grape variety) of exceptional quality.

The "regular" bottling is quite sweet, while the 1988 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 level. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Grapes drying under the sun.




  After 10-15 days: 

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 Sold Out
1988 DON PX $37.99 (375ml) in good supply presently...
1988  DON PX $69.99 (750ml)
VIEJISIMO $38.99 (750ml)




 

PEREZ BARQUERO
This 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 Sherry fanciers.

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 from Jerez.  

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.


Currently in stock:  GRAN BARQUERO Amontillado $24.99 (375ml)

 

 



GONZALEZ BYASS
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.

It was founded in the 1830s by Manuel Maria González and now the fifth and sixth generations are running the place.  They own wineries all over the map, including Austria, Mexico, Chile and New Zealand.  And, por supuesto, they have a number of vineyards in Spain.  

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.

Tio Pepe was named after someone's uncle (tio) Jose Angel.
It's a solid example of good Fino Sherry and they claim it's matured for about 4 years under the "flor" (the veil of yeast sitting atop the wine during its aging).
It's a good cocktail white and pairs beautifully with salty nibbles to start a meal...almonds, olives, etc.

The wine is quite dry, by the way and it's around 15%-16% alcohol.  Best to serve it chilled in a smallish stem, but not so small that you can't stick your beak into it.

 

 
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 know.


"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 sweetness.

"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 this.  


 


Currently in stock:  TIO PEPE "Fino" SHERRY $17.99 (750ml)
"DEL DUQUE" Amontillado  $59.99 (375ml)
"MATUSALEM" Oloroso Dulce $52.99 (375ml)
"APOSTOLES" Palo Cortado $59.99 (375ml)

 




JORGE ORDONEZ  (MALAGA)
We've 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."  
It's "Es-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 Ordoñez" 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 well-priced.

Kracher's son is now assisting Ordoñez and company in this sweetly delicious project.
 
Currently in stock:  JORGE ORDOÑEZ MALAGA No. 1  $21.99 (375ml)



 




VALDESPINO - ARGUESO (Cream of Cream Sherry)
For 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 lovely wine.  

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 wines are sold on price...they're "okay" for twelve-buck bottles of Sherry, but they're not on par with wines costing $20 to $40, for example.

But the Valdespino winery is still in operation.
 


 
 


Today the wine is called El Candado, translating to "the padlock."
And you can see, there is a little lock on the bottle.

Ages ago, maybe in the 1970s, the importer told us how the owner of the company had liked the wines from the old Argueso cellars and his associate said the ought to lock up the importation rights.  Well, the wine they came with a little tiny lock and a couple of keys on each bottle!

The Argueso cellars were purchased in 1972 by the Valdespino winery and today the wine is made under expert and demanding standards.   That's due to Valdespino having been acquired by Grupo Estevez in 1999.   They hired a new director who was tasked with restoring the place and elevating the quality to a new standard of excellence.  He, Eduardo Ojeda inherited a dilapidated cellar with 25,000 barrels.
They immediately constructed a new winery facility and it took a team of coopers, ten of them, three years to restore each and every barrel.


And they now have an importer which specializes in deluxe wines from France, Spain and Italy.



The El Candado "PX" is a magnificently raisiny, sweet Sherry.  It is said to be bottled with an average age of eight or nine years.

A few spoons-full atop some maple-walnut ice cream or even plain vanilla makes for a memorable dessert!


Currently in stock:  VALDESPINO'S  "El Candado" PEDRO XIMENEZ  $29.99 



GRAN VINO SANSON

The Barcelo family owns a handful of wineries in various locales around Spain and they make this in one of their many facilities.

I'm certain that, years ago, this came from the southern part of Spain and that it was a Malaga wine.

These days, it's made in one of their northern establishments and, instead of being made of Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez, it's made of Airén, Macabeo and Albillo.  The wine is fairly neutral to start and then they have a 'recipe' which includes infusing various aromatic plants and spices to the wine.

The resulting product has notes of caramel, but there's a tea-like quality and a note of anise in the back...

It's apparently quite popular served on the rocks, but I found a few cocktail recipes which are based on Sanson, as well as some meat marinades!  

Currently in stock:  GRAN VINO SANSON  $9.99 (750ml)

 


 

 

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