Thursday, January 12, 2012

Brown Sherries Improve After Opening !

On new year's eve a good friend took pity on me, alone in the house with my very young and very wonderful daughters, and he decided to come over to hang out and have dinner. We of course opened some special wines on that night, one of which was a bottle I brought back from Jerez in October, Emilio Hidalgo Especial Amontillado Viejo El Tresillo 1874. I was very excited to drink and share this wine. The solera began in 1874 when the Hidalgo family purchased the bodega and the wines in the bottle are an average of about 50 years old. This is special wine - very little is bottled every year and it is not imported to the US. When I visited the bodega in October they were generous enough to open a bottle for us to try, and the wine was amazing. I bought one to carry home in my suitcase.

So, on new year's eve at some point, I went to the back room where my wine fridge sits and retrieved this bottle and proudly strutted into the kitchen where my friend stood and showed it to him. "We're going to drink this now," I said. And I told him about the wine and how good it would be and he was impressed, or at least acted like he was impressed.

It is clear from the photo that the wine is in a vise-like grip, and would be mute for days.

The problem is, the wine was absolutely and completely mute. It smelled and tasted like almost nothing. Nothing.

Sure, it didn't matter because we had a great time together and it was new year's and it's just a bottle of wine, and so on. But of course it matters. It matters to me. I drank this wine and I know how good it is. Why not on this night? It wasn't flawed in any way, just very, very quiet. We both drank a glass, I re-corked it, stuck it back in the wine fridge, and we moved on to other things.

Peter Liem has told me on many occasions that brown Sherries - Amontillados, Palo Cortados, and Olorosos, when well made, tend to show better at least a day or so after being opened. Why, it's hard to say. It's not like a young red wine, where exposure to oxygen approximates the aging process and the wine shows a more complete version of itself. The wines in this Amontillado are already quite old. Perhaps we can think of it the way we think of other very old wines - they sometimes do better when we open them hours in advance of drinking and let them air out a bit. Whatever the reason, well made old brown Sherries do not degenerate over several days after opening, quite the opposite - they improve.

Remembering this, I decided to experiment with this bottle of El Tresillo, to drink one glass every day until the wine is finished, to measure it's development. It was quite interesting, I must say, and the wine did indeed improve tremendously over a few days. It was best on days 4 and 5, but my last glass on day 6 was not quite as good as the ones on days 4 and 5. I will share some notes with you, starting with day 2:

Clearly the wine is improving here, but as evidenced by the photo, it is still constricted.

Day 2 - Now there is flor character on the nose - caramel and butter. The aromas are brighter and the flavors more vibrant in the mouth, but the wine is still not terribly compelling right now, somewhat uni-dimensional and not showing much complexity, or much of anything.

Day 3 - Did not taste. Whaddaya want from me? I had other things going on.

One can see here, by day 4, how the wine has reached its apex of aroma and flavor.

Day 4 - Whoa, what a difference. The nose is walnut skins - yes, the skins - there is that level of detail all of the sudden. There is still a creamy flor-influenced base note. The nose is still a bit constricted maybe, but the palate has expanded and improved dramatically. There are bright and vibrant flavors of lemon peel, caramel, and hazelnut, very complex , and the wine changes through the midpalate and is very energetic, the finish is orange and coffee and goes on and on. This is the great wine that I remember.

Day 5 - The best of the lot. The nose is regal in its complexity and subtlety, with coffee grounds and nuts, definite flor character, and it is moving in its penetrating focus and its elegance and finesse. The palate achieves complete harmony of flavor, striking complexity, and a mouth watering and long finish whose perfume I could access two hours later as I was getting ready for bed. Truly a beautiful wine.

Day 6 - The nose is still lovely, but there are some oxidative notes that appear too, and here and there I am aware of the alcohol. The palate is just as great as it was in the past two days, even longer maybe, but again with the slightly oxidative note of dried prune. If I had tasted this win only on this day I would think it great, but the memory of days 4 and 5 are even better.

So what does this prove? Absolutely nothing. But it's interesting I think, and probably representative of what you will get when you open a bottle of very fine brown Sherry. it might be worth opening it and pouring a small glass, and then leaving it for a few days until you are ready to share it with friends. The wine will improve. Even if it starts out well, it will get better.


Dan said...

These are beautiful photographs. I felt like was drinking the wine myself.

leviopenswine said...

I think that is an interesting choice of glass. Did you use that glass on each day? Do you think another type of glass might have given a bit different results?

Just curious.

Brooklynguy said...

thanks dan. Didn't you find the flavors a bit constricted in the first two photos?

hey Levi - except on day 1, i did use that (riedel sommelier series sherry glass, for those who don't recognize it) every day. i always thought that glass was better for Fino style wines, and a wider bowl, like a white wine glass at least for brown sherries. That's the way I used the glasses and everything was fine. I now do exactly the opposite (brown sherries in the glass you see in the photo) and Finos in a white wine glass. I personally enjoy both better that way - browns are more focused and intense in the smaller glass. And I will admit that this was not my idea. The Peter told me to try it this way, and it stuck. said...

At the risk of sounding like a complete geek, according to my stocking stuffer book, "When Wine Tastes Best" a biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were bad days for wine. I am in the trial phase with this little book but it's a thought. Now I am going to burn some incense and chant.

Anonymous said...

did you use a vacu-vin?

Brooklynguy said...

George - This is not the first time in the past week or so that the biodynamic calendar has bee raised as an issue on this blog's comments. I think there is something to it, personally, but I will also admit that after spending some time thinking about biodynamics and trying to follow the calendar (2 years ago or so), I stopped. I have a friend who is a serious wine professional who says " I will not open a truly special bottle of wine without looking at the calendar first."

Anon - I did not. Just re-corked it and back in the wine fridge.

TWG said...

On BioD calendars, there is an iphone app for When Wine Tastes Best, but it only covers the current day (in UK time?). The blog Heliotrope Wines has a sometimes calendar and email for the coming week.
I've tried to give up on the BioD calendar but still refer to it sometimes.