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Wine Selections


roybunyan1.jpg (6832 bytes)December 2003

Enjoy laterlife Wine Selections with Roy Bunyan

Roy has been interested in wine for over 30 years and has travelled the world in search of good wine. Roy firmly believes that a glass of wine everyday is good for health and well-being. He takes great pleasure in finding good wines at a reasonable price for laterlife visitors.

As well as this months feature take a look at the Introduction and Index to laterlife Wine Selections.

This month’s feature - Sherry

Sherry must be one of the best value wines one can buy.  Sherry only comes from Jerez de la Frontera in South West Spain's Andalucia region. Predominantly Palomino grapes are grown in chalky soil close to the sea under a blazing sun. Not ideal growing conditions and a miracle that such a fine and delicate wine is produced. 

The Solera

 When the grapes have been crushed and fermented a first assessment is made of the characteristic of the wine and it is then stored in a group of vats known as criaderas. The wine from each criadera is used to top up the barrels of the youngest wine barrels as wine from the oldest barrels is extracted for blending or bottling and so on down the chain. This is the Solera system and is the foundation for sherry production and it is this progressive topping up of older barrels from wines of an early vintage that maintains a sherry's characteristic and consistency.

The types of sherry

There are two main types of sherry. The dry, pale and elegant Fino and the dark, full bodied but also dry Oloroso. Finos are made from grapes grown on the chalky soils and older vines whereas Olorosos derive from grapes grown in soil with more clay content. All other sherries, with the exception of Palo Cortado are derivatives or blends of these two types. Dry Olorosos are blended with intensely sweet wine from the Pedro Ximenez grape to produce the sweetened  Cream sherries. Oloroso is fortified with grape spirit - Aguadeinte and these wines usually end up with around 18% alcohol by volume.  As the wine evaporates older Olorosos (Muy Viejos) may end up as high as 24%. 

Fino sherry is fermented under a natural yeast known as Flor. The Flor maintains a blanket over the top of the fermenting wine.  Flor is killed by alcohol levels above 16% and hence Fino is fortified to around 15%. A Fino that looses its layer of Flor is open to the air and becomes an Amontillado. Where Finos are pale, Amontillados become amber, though still dry. The British taste for wines determined that Amontillados should    be sweeter and many Amontillados for sale in the UK are blends of cheaper and sweetened wines. But dry Amontillados can be found and are normally higher quality.

Manzanilla is a Fino style sherry made in the town of Sanlucar. As with Fino it is a pale, dry  light wine. It is said that as Manzanilla is made so close to the coast you can taste the sea. I  agree with this. For me Manzanilla has a hint of salt in its fresh, tangy taste.  

Palo Cortado comes between Amontillado and Oloroso. As with Amontillado it is a sherry that has run out of Flor yeast but Palo Cortado is left to age. 

I think Fino a wonderful aperitif. A few olives, a slice of air dried ham, or a few cubes of cheese make a wonderful accompaniment at any time of year.  Or have some Fino or dry Amontillado with your soup course. 

Buying  Sherry

Sherry is great value. Fortunately a number of  retailers now stock real Amontillados and Dry Olorosos and even Palo Cortado can be found. Waitrose have led the way for the supermarkets and have a good range of  sherries.

In researching this article I visited a few High Street Off licenses and was disappointed by their range. They seemed to be stuck in the 1970s and many offered cheap, sweetened blends.

Some names to look for:

Gonzalez Byass probably one of the best known brands and their Tio Pepe is an excellent Fino as is the cheaper but still very good Elegante. (Oddbins 8.49 and 6.59- Waitrose 8.29 and 6.15) Waitrose have Tio Pepe in half bottles for 4.25. Garvey's San Patricio is another excellent Fino. Sainsbury's  have a Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo at 10.79 for a half bottle and Waitrose have a Williams and Humbert 15yo Oloroso for 9.99 for a half bottle. Wonderful with Dundee cake. Marks & Spencer have a good value Manzanilla at 4.99 and Waitrose stock the excellent Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla at 6.15. The Waitrose Solera range includes Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso (all dry as they should be) at 5.99.  


Please note prices are correct at the time of writing but will inevitably change over time.


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