Here's a brief re-introduction to Sherry -
Sherry is made in the Xérès / Jerez area of Andalucía in southern Spain where it's very hot and very dry and there a few fascists left over sadly, so an all-round pretty prickly place (incidentally, why always the South of places?).
Unlike fascism, Sherry is a drink that shouldn't be dismissed as an anachronism. It is a deftly refined aperitif that can reach ecstatic levels of glory. The greatest examples are rare and not inexpensive. It's a fortified wine, meaning grape spirit is added. The spirit is Spanish state-issued and a pleasantly rustic or 'dirty' one. The spirit is added to increase the alcohol content to a degree where either fermentation is arrested roughly half way through (killing all yeast) to make the sweeter styles, or the spirit can be added to a finished fermentation for dryer styles (originally a means of microbial stabilisation to prevent fouling). The wine is then stored in pyramidal stacks of barrels called a Solera where each year mature wine drawn from the oldest barrels at the bottom for bottling is partially topped up with younger wine from the barrels above it. This makes it a non-vintage blend. The wine in the Solera is ullaged (not quite full barrels) and thus undergoes a long slow oxidation process, producing increasing amounts of aldehydes and an enhanced 'rancio' flavour (ie "ranchee-oh" meaning rancidity). Sounds gross, but it's the Iberico jamon of wine. The base wine before maturation is pretty uninteresting so all the character is built into the wine with time.
In the very pale younger versions like Manzanilla ("manthaneeya") and Fino styles the ullaged barrels grow what's known as a flor, which is a film of many varieties of yeast which at once protect and biologically oxidise the wine and impart the hallmark savoury almost hammy dimensions.
Sherry is stylistically ranked dry to sweet. Driest are the flor sherries like the pale, almost colourless Fino and Manzanilla (the latter literally tastes of sea-air) and have less aging. Then there are the older very dry and strongly rancio'd bronze coloured blends still with some complex flor influence called Amontillado ("amonteeyado" - our subject wine today). Next is the non-flor sweet yet briskly dry-finished Oloroso. Then there are the fruitier Cream sherries (with the floral Muscat aromatic influence), and finally the sump-oil-like ultra-sweet Pedro Ximenez which is essentially aged and fortified grape juice that tastes like raisins and strangely, fish oil.
Amontillado sherry at its best is packed with the nutty rancio flavour and so mouth whettingly dry yet somehow exquisitely saturated it feels as though you can not only taste but even experience the sea and desert interface at Jerez. It is sinewy, like Goya's subjects, at death's door yet still desperately alert with life force. Equipo Navasos selects a range of Uber Sherries worth trying. They're quite literally a team (equipo) who hunt down rare and forgotten casks or 'bota' in the cellars throughout Sanlucàr, Montilla, El Puerto, and Jerez and take withdrawals or 'saca' each of which is numbered on the bottle. I think this Amontillado is at the apex of the style. You open the bottle and its aromatic volatility can be experienced in the next room. It smells powerfully of roasted nuts, vanilla, dried citrus peels, muscovado, cognac, and something a bit sour or furry animal-like. It's liquid panforte without the sweetness. It's acidity is a bit like that of capers and the nutty aldehyde and fusel alcohol cuts and drys the palate such severity you feel like Clint Eastwood's mouth in that long walk scene in the desert in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" which incidentally was filmed in Andalucía.
This is a very serious wine, profoundly complex, powerful, layered, penetrating and yet sadly forgotten in the contemporary drinking lexicon. It needs salty and oily food. My hot tip is to get some fancy anchovies in the little flat tins, put one on a pan grilled slice of good bread, dust with a little smoky paprika or mild dry chili flakes and dash of lemon juice. Have a sip of Amontillado to cleanse and trust me there will be no anchovy left standing.
- Tom Riley