Monday, April 23, 2012

Sherry Dinner at Fu Leen with The Palmas of González Byass

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of eating dinner at Fu Leen, the seafood restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown. Peter Liem organized a group of people to drink several special Sherries and to eat things like lightly steamed fresh shrimp, fried dungeness crab, steamed whole fish, and fried rice with salted fish.

The wine main course, if you will, was the Palmas of González Byass - all four of them. Peter graced this blog with a guest post discussing these wines a few months back - a beautiful piece of wine writing and you should take a look if you haven't already. The Palmas represent an exploration of Fino Sherry as it ages. They are selected by Antonio Flores, the González Byass cellar master, as barrels of special quality and bottled at different points in their evolution toward Amontillado. Una Palma is an average of 6 years old, Dos Palmas 8 years old, Tres Palmas 10 years old when the flor is patchy and the wine begins to have some contact with oxygen. Cuatro Palmas is much older - an average of 45 years I believe. Honestly - read Peter's post on these wines, as he explains exactly what it is they are about in crystal clear terms.

The idea behind wines like the Palmas is not new. It is common for the cellar master to select what he (and it is almost always a he) feels are his finest barrels, and to allow them live outside of their commercial bottlings. It is a newer thing for these special wines to be bottled and sold. That wines like this are now available, even if they are rare, is part of what makes this such an exciting time to be a Sherry lover.

We drank several appetizers before our Palmas main course, and each of the wines related in some way to this theme of special wines, things that are new and interesting in the world of Sherry. The first was a sparkling wine, a collaboration between Sergi Colet in Penedés and the Equipo Navazos team. The 2006 Colet-Navazos Reserva Extra Brut is a sparkling Chardonnay and at disgorgement the wine is topped up with Manzanilla - specifically La Bota Nº 22, if I am not mistaken. This wine is mellow with a few years in bottle, bone dry and very mineral, and the Manzanilla is an unmistakable presence. You can sense it the way Vader sensed Obi Wan was sneaking around somewhere on the Death Star.

Most of the Sherry that we can buy here in the States has been heavily filtered, and although some of these wines are delicious, they are very different from what they were before the filtration, stripped of important aroma and flavor components. As more and more wine lovers become interested in Sherry, some Bodegas are offering unfiltered versions of their wines. Bodegas Hidalgo recently bottled an unfiltered version of La Gitana, called La Gitana en Rama, or from the barrel.

We drank both versions of La Gitana and there is no mistaking the difference in quality. The en Rama wine showed a deeper and more complex set of aromas and flavors, and also much more finesse. You can see the difference in the photo above, the wine on the left is La Gitana en Rama. Honestly, I found it harder to enjoy La Gitana after drinking the unfiltered version. Maybe on a hot day at the beach with a plate of fish...

We drank La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 32, a continuation of the Nº 4, 8, 16, and 22 bottlings from the Sánchez Ayala solera. I love all of these wines (never had Nº 4), but Nº 32 seems very special to me, a particularly great selection from this solera. I loved it from the moment it was opened and it got better and better in the glass. And with fried dungeness crab in this dried shrimpy, scalliony paste...oh my stars.

Then came the Palmas. This is an experience that will be essentially impossible to replicate, as these wines were bottled in small quantities - only 150 bottles of the Cuatro Palmas for example. They were sold only in Spain and in the UK, and Peter had to agree to tattoo onto his back the name of the merchant who held the bottles for him.

Drinking them one after the other was, as advertised, a great lesson in the progression of biologically aged Fino Sherry. Una Palma was bold and powerful (and we were struck by this demonstration of the vast gulf in character between delicate Manzanilla and bold Fino). Drinking this wine and then also drinking Dos and Tres Palmas, I felt the flor tones change from fresh and buttery to dark and savory, the aromas take on a nuttier note. These wines emphasize for me that the movement of Fino (and Manzanilla) toward Amontillado is not marked with a particular boundary, that there is no clear moment at which Fino becomes Amontillado. Peter has described it as a continuum, and drinking these four Palmas together underlines this notion. These three are essentially the same wine, but at different points along the continuum, captured as the layer of flor becomes thinner and then patchy. Each of the three is compelling and delicious, but if I had to take one and only one with me while waiting on line for 6 hours at the DMV, it would be Tres Palmas.

 Cuatro Palmas is an Amontillado that comes from one barrel selected from the tiny 6-barrel Solera called Museo. The idea was to show a point much further along the continuum, and this particular barrel was selected for its great finesse. The wine is glorious - deeply complex, with an incredible fineness of texture, and with a never-ending finish whose echo includes trace reminders of the fresh buttery flor character of 40 years ago.


Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

You honestly fit a Star Wars reference into this post. Nice job. Important selection of moments to use as illustration too. Had you picked the wrong movie your audience would have turned against you, just when your post was getting interesting.

My own experience with Sherry is minimal so I've enjoyed hearing and reading about your interest in it and appreciate your accounting here of this tasting.

You make me regret my shrimp allergy though.

Jack said...

"We Drank Several Appetizers" I love it. I like the sound of the Cuatro Palmas. You have got some dream job buddy.

Great article I will certainly "like" on facebook today.

Unknown said...

Recently found several bottles of Equipo Navazos Bota de Fino 15, bottled June 2008, at Marty's, in Newton, MA. Coming from Canada, where there aren't a lot of sherry options, this has been my first experience with great sherry. Cloudy green-amber, really complex. I have appreciated the recent post about bottle-aged sherry -- now I'd just like to get my hands on a more recent release, for comparison.