Normally on Fridays, I publish tasting notes for samples that I have received over the previous several months, often randomly selected from the pile of bottles on my office floor. This week, however, I grouped together several fortified wines: wines to which a distilled spirit has been added, which immediately stops fermentation, and the resulting wine retains (often) fairly high levels of sugar.
The first four wines are all Sherry, which come from the Jerez region in Spain and are all made using the Solera system. Briefly, a solera system contains a stack of several barrels of aging wine. After the wine for the new bottling is pulled from the bottom barrel, it is replaced by the equivalent amount of wine from the barrel just above it. This process is repeated until the top barrel is topped off with wine from the current year. This results in a constant blending of wine across vintages and results in a consistent “house style” every year.
NV Gonzalez-Byass Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Alfonso, Oloroso Seco, Spain: Retail $28 (750ml). 100% Palomino Fino. From 375ml. I should have learned from my mistake last year–I once again tasted this after Harveys Bristol Cream and it once again took a while to adjust to the lack of sweetness, but once I did, I again found this delightful: amber color in the glass with notes of salted caramel, freshly ground coffee, and orange rind. The palate is dry, but rich, with a decided oxidative note and plenty of that coffee/orange combo. Comes off as a tad hot on the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.
NV Harveys Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Harveys Bristol Cream, Spain: Retail $20. Blend of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez I have a very limited experience with Sherry and even more 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.
NV Gonzalez-Byass Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Solera 1847 Cream, Spain: Retail $28 (750ml). From 375ml. 75% Palomino, 25% Pedro Ximenez (PX), both aged for about four years in their individual soleras, then blended before bottling. This is my first time with this Sherry, one of the many in the Gonzalez Byass lineup. Quite dark in the glass (no doubt due to the PX) with a rich raisinated nose along with brown sugar, mocha, and a hint of orange rind, very nice. The palate is sweet, but not overly so, with plenty of that mocha and orange rind that the nose foretold, but balanced by an intense acidity. Some heat, but only slight, on the lengthy finish. Very nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Gonzalez-Byass Pedro Ximénez Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Néctar, Spain: Retail $28 (750ml). 100% Pedro Ximenez. From 375ml. I tasted this last year and was enthralled with the wine (so much so that I gave it 95 points). Many of those same attributes are there with this bottle, but the enthusiasm is not quite as fervent. Quite dark and syrupy in the glass with intense raisin, mocha, and candied orange rind. The palate is rich and unctuous with plenty of weight and layers of flavor. Again, last year I was over the moon with this wine and while I still really like it, I have come back much closer to earth. Excellent. 92 Points.
These next two wines come from Spain’s immediate neighbor, Portugal, and while the process is quite similar, the results can be quite different. Port, perhaps the most famous and most often copied style of fortified wines, uses different grapes and has a history intertwined with Portugal’s seafaring past.
NV Graham Porto Six Grapes Reserve, Portugal: Retail $27. 33.3% Tinta Roriz, 33.3% Touriga Nacional, 33.3% Touriga Franca. This is Graham’s flagship reserve porto and while the “best” casks every year go into the vintage port, the second best barrels go into the Six Grapes. As far as I can recall, this is my first time around the block with this Ruby Port, which is not meant to be aged but rather consumed right away. A lovely reddish brown with a purple hue, the nose is characterized by ripe cherry, plum, and mocha. The palate is, surprisingly, rather light on its feet–not a heavy brooding port by any means. Plenty of fruit, sweet (but not cloying), a tad hot initially (but eventually mellows), this is quite a tasty port, particularly for the price. Excellent. 91 Points.
2016 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage, Portugal: Retail $26. Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz. Dark in the glass, but rather closed, at least initially, on the nose with only heat coming through at first sniff. Eventually, some dark fruit, black pepper, dark chocolate, and roasted walnut make their collective way over the rim. The palate is rich, sweet (but by no means cloying), and just a tad hot, this is more sophisticated than other LBV ports that I have had, and that is very much a good thing. Excellent. 92 Points.