Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Filtering Sherry

I drank a fair amount of Sherry in the past few weeks, a lot of it with Peter. Our Sherry conversations veered in many directions, but one thing that kept coming up is the issue of filtration. Filtration is not complicated as an idea - you pass the wine through a filter that removes the particles that are larger than the filter's holes. Wine makers filter wines so that they do not throw off a sediment later on, so that have a more clear appearance, to stabilize them for overseas shipping, and for a variety of other reasons.

Filtering wine has an unfortunate side effect, however. Some of the particles that are removed are particles that would have imparted a great deal of flavor and aroma to the wine. We don't really know what we are missing when we drink filtered wines, as most of us never have the opportunity to drink that same wine out of barrel before it was filtered. We accept that wine as it is, never realizing that it might actually have been more aromatic or flavorful before the filtration. Many of us wine drinkers know about the problems of filtration, though, and we like to buy and drink unfiltered and unfined wines. This is made easier by the work of the many importers, whose portfolios include producers who do not filter their wines.

This is not so easy, however, if you are a Sherry drinker. The overwhelming majority of Sherry is heavily filtered, and it's not an importing or a shipping issue - the wines that people drink in Spain are heavily filtered too. This is not to say that filtered Sherries are not delicious, not at all. They most certainly can be, and because almost every Fino and Manzanilla has been filtered, usually quite heavily, that probably includes your or my favorite Fino.

"So, what's the big deal," you might be wondering. "I mean, if my favorite Fino Sherries are heavily filtered and they are still delicious, does this matter? " I cannot claim to be anything other than a raw novice in this area, but I can already tell you, unequivocally, yes, it does matter.

Peter said that Fino Sherry is golden in barrel, that the pale straw colored wine that we know as Fino Sherry is a recent thing, since the mid-'70s. We are all drinking Fino and Manzanilla Sherries that have had particles that impart aroma, flavor, color, part of their spirit filtered away. Unless you are drinking Equipo Navazos wines, that is.

One of the many things that makes Equipo Navazos Sherries so special is that they are barely filtered. The wine on the left in the above photograph is the essentially unfiltered Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 22, $43, Eric Solomon Selections/imported by European Cellars. On the right is Pedro Romero Manzanilla "Aurora," $12, Frontier Wine Imports. Okay, these are not the same wines so this is not a scientific comparison. And don't get me wrong - I really like Pedro Romero Aurora and have certainly drunk my fair share over the past year. But when you look at Aurora, smell it, and taste it next to an (almost) unfiltered Manzanilla of similar age, like La Bota Nº 22, the differences are stark. The unfiltered wine has a vivid and pungent character, a vibrancy, and alive-ness that the heavily filtered wine does not. And somehow La Bota Nº 22 still comes across as the more delicate wine, too, more quietly elegant and graceful. When we drank these wines together it reminded me of what can happen to a person on heavy doses of anti-depressants. It's as though all of the different expressions of Sherry are muted or removed by the filter, leaving the wine in a somewhat numbed central state.

Peter told me that the bottled version of Aurora, although very tasty, is qualitatively nowhere near Aurora when he tastes it out of barrel. So this isn't about comparing Pedro Romero to La Bota Nº 22, it's also about comparing Pedro Romero's Aurora with an unfiltered version of itself. How can we buy that wine, the unfiltered version of Aurora? We cannot, sadly. There are literally almost no unfiltered or barely filtered Fino and Manzanilla Sherries available. Perhaps the popularity of Equipo Navazos wines will help to change this, hopefully encouraging Sherry producers to bottle and sell unfiltered versions of their wines.

But for now, if you want to drink unfiltered Fino and Manzanilla Sherry, you can content yourself with the La Bota wines. I recently drank this fantastic bottle of Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada Nº 20 "Bota Punta" at Casa Mono at a great lunch with friends. The wine was richly golden. It took a while to open up, but when it did it was beautifully harmonious with a nose that was both pungent and understated, deeply complex but with very well articulated individual characteristics too. When we poured the final drops, we noticed the sediment on the side of the bottle.

4 comments:

Linds said...

Equipo Navazos also makes a beautiful wine from the Palamino Fino grape in Jerez. Aged for 10 mos. Sherry characteristics, but one heck of an interesting wine made by Quim Vila and Dirk Nieport.

Tista said...

And we have to point out the lovely unfiltered fino from Fernando Castilla...

Joe Manekin said...

Neil,

A few things: it's been my observation that fino is not golden out of barrel prior to filtration. It is light to medium straw (my visual observation skills, though, are admitedly a bit lacking...) Next, a question - do you recall if Valdespino inocente is filtered? You should compare this to the La Bota fino bottling. As I've mentioned previously online and to other folks, I prefer the Valdespino bottling. Finally, the color of a fino is not only attributed to filtering or lack thereof or bottling date, but also to the age of the solera (older solera, of course, equals more golden). Compare La Cigarrera (older solera) to La Gitana (younger).

You're overdue for a trip to Jerez. Next year is vinoble, you should go.

Henry Jeffreys said...

The Wine Society in the UK do a Fino Perdido which is a very pungent golden fino. It's supposed to be how finos used to be before decimalisation, women voting etc. It's delicious. And Gonzalex Byass now do an unfiltered Tio Pepe called Fino En Rama which I keep meaning to buy. The Fino Perdido is only 7.95 (pounds). I love the Navazos wines but they are a little dear.

Henry