It is time for another edition of “Random Samples”–I occasionally get samples from marketing agencies and/or producers, and these can often be grouped together into some sort of over-arching theme: Sauvignon Two Ways, Chardonnay Any Day, If It Doesn’t Sparkle, It Doesn’t Matter.
Today, I delve a bit into the fortified wines from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). I am not frequent drinker of these wines, but maybe I should be. Both regions have a long history and produce wines that have been consumed around the world for centuries.
What is a fortified wine? Simply put, brandy is added to the wine to both halt the fermentation process and preserve much of the sweetness of the grapes. When these wines were first made, centuries ago, the fortification process also helped to preserve the wines as they were shipped in casks from Spain and Northern Portugal to customers abroad (including, notably, Great Britain and its colonies, including what would become the United States).
These first three come from the Xérès region of Spain, which has been producing Sherry (an Anglicization of Xérès) for centuries.
NV Gonzalez-Byass Pedro Ximénez Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Néctar, Spain: Retail $28 (750ml). 100% Pedro Ximenez. Dark in the glass, nutty, rich, and syrupy in the glass–Yowza. The nose is really off the charts here with candied walnut, graphite, maple syrup, just loads of inputs on the nose. Whoa. The palate is rich, unctuous (understatement), incredibly sweet, but also balanced by a bracing acidity and a verve that I see as requisite for this type of wine. Whoa. Again. This is not my wheelhouse, but this is fantastic. Outstanding. 95 Points.
NV Gonzalez-Byass Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Alfonso, Oloroso Seco, Spain: Retail $28. 100% Palomino Fino. I can count on one hand, perhaps, the number of Dry Sherries I have tried (OK, maybe two hands). I tasted this following the Harvey’s Bristol Cream (below), and thus this came off as a bit austere. Sure, I was also watching John Oliver, so that affected my mood. Amber color in the glass with loads of nutty (walnut) aromas, oxidized raisins, and a decided smoky element. The palate is rather austere, and delicious. Nutty, fruity, oaky, almost completely dry. What should I do with this Sherry? Charcuterie, cheeses, grilled meats. Oh yeah. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Harveys Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Harveys Bristol Cream, Spain: Retail $20. 80% Palamino Fino, 20% Pedro Ximenez I have a very limited experience with Sherry and even less when it comes to Harveys Bristol Cream. To me, it harkens back to a time when I eavesdropped on my aunts and uncles as they hunkered down around the euchre table, discussing what to drink next. Harveys was perhaps only third to Kahlua and cream, and, well, beer (and not good beer at all–“Bud” was considered “fancy”). Fairly dark in the glass, with sweet and nutty (walnut), with raisinated fruit. Sweet, with good fruit, nice roasted nut and fruit flavors. Again, I do not have a ton of experience here, but I was pleasantly surprised, almost as if I were dealt both bowers and a queen. Not a lay down hand, but solid. Very Good. 88 Points.
The other three bottles come from the Porto region of northern Portugal, which has an equally compelling history and long rich history of producing fortified wines. Tawny ports are blends of a number of different wines and the number (e.g. “Ten Year” or “20 Year”) indicates the average age of the wines in the blend.
NV Dow’s Porto 10 Year Old Tawny, Portugal: Retail $40. Traditional blend of Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca. An inviting golden, amber, brown color with all kinds of aromas on the nose: candied almonds, honeyed prunes, Christmas spice, citrus notes, and just oodles upon oodles of vanilla. Mocha, vanilla, some cinnamon, that citrus and wave after wave of verve. I do not drink a ton of Port, and while I know that a 10-year tawny is a bit of an entry level effort, this is particularly compelling. Knowing that this will last for week? Well worth the tariff. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Graham Porto 10 Year Old Tawny, Portugal: Retail$ 35. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz. I tasted this alongside the Dow’s 10 year and while both were excellent, this Graham’s was lovely (despite its somewhat ridiculously shaped bottle). Fairly light in the glass for a Tawny Port, with honeyed orange rind, Christmas spice, and an intense roasted hazelnut. The palate is rich, unctuous, and yes, sweet, with layers of flavor, great acidity, and a lengthy finish. Very nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Dow’s Porto 20 Year Old Tawny, Portugal: Retail $60. Traditional blend of Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca. While I do not sample a ton of Port, I do cycle through a number of ten and twenty year old Tawnies (or is it “Tawnys”?). An amber mahogany in the glass with an aroma that could take several paragraphs to describe: honeyed hazelnut, dried fig, Christmas fruitcake (the good stuff), toasted raisin bread, caramel, dried apricot, roasted walnut. Yeah, a lot going on here. The palate is equally complex and quite sweet, although it stops short of cloying. Rich, unctuous, balanced with more than ample acidity, this is fantastic (and a good example as to why to spend the extra few bucks over a 10YO). Outstanding. 93 Points.