Wine column for week of February 25

Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake, the great English seafarer, introduced sherry to England in the late sixteenth century when he transported 3,200 cases of the wine from Spain.
To the English Drake is a hero, the man who captured Spanish ships to provide revenues for the Crown. The story goes that he also captured the heart of Queen Elizabeth I by placing his cape over a puddle so she would not get her shoes wet, though that is also attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh.
To the Spanish Drake was a pirate who pillaged their ships.
Regardless of whose interpretation one takes, we must respect Drake’s introduction of sherry to the English and later the rest of the world. It is a magnificent wine with many variations of flavour and aroma, though sadly not appreciated enough in the Asian region.
The Lustau company, based in Jerez in Spain, organised a matching of sherry with Cantonese food at the Langham hotel in Hong Kong. The Anglicization of the Spanish word “jerez” gives us the word sherry.
Lustau was founded in 1896 and has large resources of the “solera” system of wines from which sherry is made.
Solera is a blending system involving casks with wines of different ages. The oldest casks produce the sherries bottled in a given year. The next casks are arranged in such a way that the youngest sherries are blended into a series of casks holding progressively older wines.
This blending of younger and older sherries results in consistent and high-quality wines.
The two main types of sherry are fino, which is very dry with a light body, and oloroso. The latter is also dry but much richer in flavour, and sometimes darker.
Most sherries are made from the palomino grape, though for dessert wines palomino is blended with pedro ximinez (abbreviated as PX). Very rich and dark sherries are also made solely from PX grapes and these are extra rich and sweet.
While the wines are in cask they are permitted contact with air in the top part of the cask, and different amounts of alcohol are added. A layer of yeast known as “flor” forms a coating on the surface, stopping the wine from over oxidising.
These wines become finos because their lower level of alcohol allows the yeast to grow. Olorosos do not permit the growth of flor because of their higher alcohol content. Olorosos are allowed to oxidise, producing a darker and richer wine.
The Lustau fino reserva has zesty acid, and tastes of almonds and bacon. It was served with fried scallop and fish cakes, and the wine cut through the oil superbly.
The Lustau olorosso reserva is dark gold in colour, and tastes like the warm pudding served with Christmas dinner. It had aromas of nougat and cashews, and tasted of hints of orange peel and the bitter forms of dark chocolate.
It was served with a pork dish with salted fish. It is difficult to offer any wine with food with salty fish aromas, but this olorosso survived well.
Highlights of the evening for me were Lustau’s East India solera sherry, a blend of 85 per cent palomino and 15 per cent PX, and a 100 per cent PX called the Lustau VORS which is at least 30 years of age.
The former is coffee coloured with a lovely balance of acid and complex flavours of raisins, nuts and candied fruit. It would be superb to serve with creamy style desserts like Portuguese egg tarts.
The PX was almost black, and had a lovely thickness of texture combined with well balanced acids at the back of the palate. It tasted and smelled of toffee and liquorice and a hint of smoked tea. It does not need food but is an intense dessert by itself. The flavours lingered in my mouth for minutes afterwards. Both dessert wines were joys to encounter.
Without knowing about these delights, my daughter visiting from London presented me with a superb bottle of PX. My mouth waters at the thought of opening it. These are remarkable wines that need to be better known in the Asian region.
* Published 26 February 2013. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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