Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Dinner Featuring Previously Unavailable and Utterly Brilliant Sherry Wines

Not long ago Joe Salamone and Levi Dalton put together a Sherry dinner at the wonderful Prune on the lower east side, and I was lucky enough to attend. Peter Liem was there too, and he indirectly helped to make this happen, as last summer Peter pointed Joe in the right direction when Joe visited Jerez. Joe drank some wines that he loved, some of which were not available in New York. He decided to import them to NYC so the rest of us can buy them. On this night Joe wanted to share some of these finds with a few friends, lucky us. This was a merry situation, we were feeling the love. Good friends, good food, and absolutely world class wines, wines that until recently were unavailable here. Joe and Levi opened the brown wines at least a day in advance and they showed incredibly well, the wines were stunning as a group.

Sherry is far more versatile with food than is commonly thought. I think that we in this country are still familiarizing ourselves with dry Sherry, and we tend to think that Fino style wines are for garlicky shrimp and other tapas. Fino wines go well with all sorts of food, actually. And brown Sherries - Palo Cortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso - I don't think there is a stereotypical pairing idea here because these wines are still so new to most of us. The brown Sherries we drank on this night, these are Sherries that can complement even the richest of meat dishes, as we proved to ourselves at this dinner.

Here were some of the highlights for me:

We drank Valdespino Amontillado Tio Diego, a great wine that is quite unusual as an Amontillado in that it shows a very pronounced Flor character - buttery like a Fino. Tio Diego is what happens when Valdespino Fino Inocente becomes an Amontillado and then ages for a bit longer. This is a young and fresh Amontillado, it is refreshing and delicious, not expensive at all, and in Jerez it's everywhere - on grocery store shelves. Frustrating not to be able to buy it here. But now in NYC, finally, you might be able to buy this wine at Crush, as Joe is bringing it in.

We then drank the Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado. This is just a beautiful wine. Focus and intensity, grace, detailed aromas and flavors, and a satisfying and complex finish. Pure pleasure, and improves over several days open. This wine goes so well with basically anything on the table. At this dinner, I loved it with shrimp in anchovy butter, and also with thinly sliced roast pork and kale.

We drank Valdespino Palo Cortado VORS Cardenal, a fine old Sherry that represents the end of the line for Inocente - it contains wines that long ago were part of the Inocente solera before the cellar master selected them out to become Palo Cortado.

We also drank Valdespino Amontillado VORS Coliseo, an equally rare and fantastic old Sherry that begins its life as a Manzanilla, actually. Imagine going to a dinner where you drink DRC Richebourg and La Tâche. That's what we drank, but in Sherry they're called Cardenal and Coliseo. These are such grand old wines and trying to describe them by naming aromas or flavors is silly. For me, they are show-stoppers, wines that make the table go quiet for a while as people take in what it is that's in the glass. Wines that achieve the pinnacle of complexity and character and deliciousness, things that you should find a way to taste, the way you should read Shakespeare's sonnets at some point in your life.

They were brilliant with an amazing dish of braised short ribs and Yorkshire pudding, something that used to be on the menu at Prune a while back. Braised short ribs and Yorkshire pudding...that's a rich plate of food, and I found these two grand old Sherries complemented it perfectly. Honestly, even though these are expensive in an absolute sense, maybe $140 for a 375 ml bottle, Cardenal and Coliseo are worth every penny. They are wines that expand and improve for a week after opening and you only need a small bit at a time, so your pleasure is spread over many evenings.

We also drank a vintage Sherry. That's right, a vintage Sherry. The 1975 Bodegas Tradición Oloroso. Imagine that - the solera system is part of what makes these wines so great, and here is a Sherry wine that never sees a solera. It is vinified and put in barrels, and that's it, as a wine would be in most of the world. I had a few sips of this rare wine at the Bodega in October, but it was at here at this dinner with this food when I understood its charms. This wine had such impeccable balance and harmony, and such clarity and focus. And although its been aged in barrels and exposed to oxygen without Flor to protect it for almost 40 years, it had no rough edges, not at all. Pure class, all silk, just amazing.

Valdespino Moscatel Toneles is, with Cardenal and Coliseo, the third wonder of the Valdespino Bodegas. There is one barrel of this wine in the solera row, another in the first criadera, and so on. There is very little of the wine and it is very old. Many serious Sherry devotees can tell you about why it is so special, and although I enjoyed drinking it, I will admit that I do not yet understand the wine and cannot easily differentiate between the old black sweet Sherries. i know there is something to it, I just haven't figured it out yet...

Keep your eyes open for these wines as they should be available here and there, whereas previously you had to go abroad to buy them. This was a truly amazing dinner and reminded me again that at this point in my drinking experience, I think that great Sherry is as great as wine can be.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Amazing--this sounds like it would have been fascinating to attend. I have so many sherries to explore.