Thursday, January 14, 2010

Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel #3 - Manzanilla Sherry

I've been drinking a lot of dry sherry lately, and I think I've really caught the bug. It's such a delicious style of wine, so tangy and fresh, so long and complex, so great with many different types of food. And dry sherry is so inexpensive. The most you can spend on a great bottle of Fino or Manzanilla is about $50, and that's really just the Equipo Navazos wines. Excellent bottles typically cost between $15 and $25. I've seen 375 ml bottles of good quality Manzanilla for $9. It's not only about good prices though - these are very fine wines, and their low prices simply sweeten the deal.

I'm just beginning to learn about sherry, and one thing that I find challenging is the oxidative character of the wines. I love the pungent aromas and flavors, but sometimes the oxidized character dominates my palate's memory more than the other aspects of the wine, and I still have a hard time differentiating one producer's wine from another's. I thought it would be interesting and fun to drink many sherries at once, to compare them in the hopes of better understanding what lies below the flor. So the Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel convened over a load of Manzanilla, the dry sherry made on the humid coast of the Atlantic at Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

BrooklynLady and I were joined for this tasting by Eric Asimov, wine critic at the New York Times, Peter Liem of, and Rafael Mateo, owner of Pata Negra, the East Village tapas bar. An illustrious panel, to say the least. And if you don't think this paragraph was fun to write, you're crazy.

We tasted two flights of four wines and selected our three favorites. A few general impressions before sharing individual notes: overall quality was very high. Everyone agreed that the wines showed tremendously well. I thought the wines changed a lot in the glass, and I can say from sampling the leftovers the next day that they continue to change and improve with air. It is commonly said (sometimes even on the back label of sherry bottles) that sherry is meant to be consumed immediately after opening. Seems to me that immediately upon opening is when the wines are at their most awkwardly pungent, their most volatile. I tend to prefer them with a few hours of air, sometimes even the next day, when they are more mellow and harmonious.

Some notes on the wines, in the approximate order that the panel preferred them:

Herederos de Argüeso Manzanilla San León Clásica, $12 (375 ml), a Jose Pastor Selection, Imported by Vinos & Gourmet Inc. Three people picked this as their overall favorite - BrooklynLady, Eric, and myself. BrooklynLady thought it was classic dry sherry. Eric liked its salty sea air, tangy quality. He felt that it would have been a perfect Manzanilla except that it wasn't precise, it was a bit unrefined. I didn't care for this wine at first, as I found something like chlorine on the nose, but I came back to it several times over the course of the flight and I was captivated by the combination of ripe appley fruit and brisk saline character. Peter liked it too but felt that the alcohol stuck out a bit.

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 16, $39 (750 ml), Eric Solomon Selections, Polaner Imports. This was Peter's favorite wine of the tasting, Eric and Mateo had it 2nd. Equipo Navazos chooses their favorite barrels from their favorite estates and then bottles them with only the lightest filtration, something that is very unusual in the world of sherry. Peter loved its amazing texture, its complexity, and its umami/meaty notes. He said that the wine made him hungry. Eric thought it was analogous to the San León Clásica, with a tangy petrol complexity. This wine really stuck out for me in the tasting, so much so that I had a hard time with it. It was much bigger and richer than the other wines. The nose was spicy and showed some caramel notes, something like rubber too. It was bold and savory, and I liked it, but I couldn't reconcile it with the other wines we tasted. The funny thing is that I drank this wine last summer at Keith Levenberg's BBQ and it seemed sheer and light next to the La Bota de Fino Nº 15. Peter suggested that it's richness and depth are due to the very old wines used in the blend (old wines can be labeled Manzanilla, but young wines cannot be labeled Manzanilla Pasada). I would like to taste this wine again, perhaps once it's been open for a day or two.

Pedro Romero Manzanilla Aurora, $12 (500 ml), Frontier Wine Imports. Peter had this wine 2nd, Eric and I listed it 3rd. Peter found the wine to be exotic, reminding him of soy and roast pork, like Chinese food. As with the La Bota wine, Peter noted and appreciated the character imparted by the old wines in this blend. Eric found this to be the most vinous of the sherries, and liked its nuanced and low key brininess. I sampled this wine the next day, by the way, and it was seamless and perfectly harmonious. At $12 for a 500 ml bottle, I would call this the best value of the tasting.

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana, $16 (500 ml), Classical Wines Imports. I liked this wine more than anyone else, placing it 2nd. Mateo and BrooklynLady both had it 3rd on their lists. I thought it was delicately floral and a bit musky, and I enjoyed the whiff of tangerine I was getting. Mateo found it to be juicy and salty, and thought of it as a sassy black sheep among the other wines. BrooklynLady thought the finish was delicate and delicious. Eric thought that the wine was too young, that it was not yet evolved. And it's true - it turns out that La Gitana is made of young wines.

Emilio Lustau Solera Reserva Manzanilla Papirusa, $15 (750 ml), Selected by Christopher Cannon, Michael Skurnik Imports. This was Mateo's favorite wine and Peter listed it 3rd. Mateo thought it was classy and sophisticated, "like a woman who wears pearls but doesn't feel old." Peter called it "super-classical," and liked its salty, tangy finesse. Eric liked it least of all the wines, finding it's Manzanilla elements to be buried underneath oak aromas and flavors.

Gaspar Florido Manzanilla Pleamar, $12 (375 ml), VOS Imports. This wine was quite rich without having the underlying character necessary to hold one's interest. Mateo called it "fool's gold." Eric found it to be sedate and not complex. I liked the way the rubbery notes played with the rich brown sugar notes on the nose, but the wine simply didn't follow through on the palate.

Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin La Guita Manzanilla, $9 (375 ml), Imported by Ibañez-Pleven Offerings. I found this wine to be too sweet, with a spicy caramel aspect that dominated the palate. It was Mateo's least favorite - he said it was going in too many directions. Eric liked the subtle spicy flavors, but thought the alcohol stuck out. Peter thought the wine was delicious, but said that he would not have guessed it to be Manzanilla - it was too round and rich, more like a Fino, he said. By the way, a few days before the tasting I drank this wine over two days and loved it. Context is everything, I guess. Or perhaps the other wines are even better than this.

Sadly, our bottle of La Cigarrera Manzanilla was flawed, $14 (375 ml), Imported by De Maison Selections, with a weirdly chemical nose and a cidery palate.

I really like these wines. Somehow I suspect that there will be more sherry in my future...


Citrus Quark said...

This is a great article. I love Sherry too.

Gabriella Opaz said...

Fantastic article!! Anyone who can seduce the public to drink more sherry in such an enticing manner gains major points in my book. Well done.

2GrandCru said...

It's been ages since I drank the stuff but I've found that the quality of Manzanilla and Fino greatly depends on the freshness of the specific bottle. The best Manzanilla I've ever drunk came directly from Lustau.

maya704 said...

Good stuff! I love Jerez and I think it's seriously underrated wine.

Guglielmo Rocchiccioli said...


Manzanilla fina criada bajo velo de flor, en nuestras Bodegas en la ciudad de Sanlúcar de Barrameda, por el peculiar métdo de clases. Seis generaciones de la familia BARBADILLO avalan la calidad de este producto.

EXAMEN VISUAL: un amarillo pajizo como el sol en el tardo otoño.

EXAMEN OLFATIVO: cáscara de naranja, nueces, avellanas, cereza seca, tostadura, ciruela amarilla deshidratada y plátano al ron.

EXAMEN GUSTATIVO: entra bien en el paladar pero después se crea un vacío degustativo para llegar al final con un alcohol que casi quema destacando su fortaleza cuando llega en zona esófabo y estómago; el nivel de acidez no es alto y el contenido de glicerina es bueno.

COMBINACIÓN COMIDA-VINO: bizcochos con chocolate blanco

OPINIÓN PERSONAL: un vino dulce a la nariz y seco en boca, con la nariz compleja y la entrada en la boca muy interesante.

El ritmo simple y relajado de este vino se basa sobre los sencillos principios de un procedimiento enológico bueno y honesto como es costumbre en esta zona de España.

Sandy said...

Thanks for this , this post is very useful to know about sherry wine. I love this Spanish wine.

kosher said...

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla is one of my fav of my dad. I wonder where I can order online for his 60th birthday.

Steve said...

It would have been interesting to know the ages of the respective bottles, since finos are often said to be best when freshly bottled.

Henry Jeffreys said...

Excellent sherry-based article. I hope you don't mind me mentioning my sherry-soaked blog -

Keep up the good work.

Sherry said...

Great post, informative and very thorough. Thanks...