Thursday, November 03, 2011

Fino Sherry is not an Oxidized Wine

When I started drinking Sherry I thought that Fino wines were oxidized. Whereas oxidized is a bad thing for most wines, such as white Burgundy, I figured that oxidized was just part of Sherry, one of the things that defined the wine, and that appreciating Sherry meant getting past this oxidization. This is entirely untrue - Fino is not oxidized at all, quite the opposite actually. Fino wines are oxidative - they are aged in very old barrels for at least 3 years and often longer, and old barrels breathe. Oxidative is different from oxidized. Amontillado and Oloroso - these wines are allowed to age in full contact with oxygen, and they are oxidized, to an extent. This is not a flaw, it is simply a part of their character.

Fino wines age in barrels under a layer of flor. The flor protects the surface of the wine from oxygen - it prevents oxygen from touching the wine. And because flor is delicate, alive, a thin veil that is highly susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, wine makers tend not to disturb it. They certainly do not stir the wine in barrel, that would break apart the flor. Stirring the lees is one of the ways that wine makers can introduce oxygen into wines in barrel, and it's not part of Sherry wine making. So no contact with oxygen, no stirring, only the breathing of the barrels. Fino wines are, and get ready for this...reductive! That's right, Fino wines in barrel are reductive, and require aeration when removed from the barrel for tasting.

Cellar masters in Jerez and Sanlucar have a special technique for drawing wine from barrels, and in my understanding, it is primarily about aerating the wine. They use a tool called a Venencia (pronounced BenENthia), a thin rod perhaps three feet long with a small cylinder at one end. The cylinder is gently but authoritatively poked through the layer of flor and then removed containing wine, bits of flor, and who knows what else. The wine is then poured from an ascending height in a narrow stream into the tasting glass, allowing for lots of contact with oxygen. Watch below for a demonstration - it is a video I took of Eduardo Ojeda, Cellar Master at Valdespino and La Guita, and elder statesman of Sherry:

And here is Antonio Flores of González Byass:

The point here in the end is that although the taste of Fino Sherry can seem oxidized, it is not actually an oxidized wine. It is a wine made in an oxidative style, whose flor-influenced aroma and flavor profile are so unusual to the uninitiated that we might experience it as oxidized. If you drink enough Sherry, you will begin to see Fino differently, to experience and enjoy the flor character, the buttery and lactic, sometimes lemony, slightly almondine tones that it imparts to wine.


TWG said...

Waht temperature do you drink your sherries at?

Brooklynguy said...

I like to drink Fino wines at cellar temperature, and brown Sherries at slightly warmer. I don't enjoy them as much at room temperature, as many producers suggest serving them. Play around and see what you like - a bottle will last several days and you can try it different ways.