Generoso usually refers just to a dry fortified wine, but in this case it refers to our Sherry lunch on Friday where we drank largely wines of a darker hue, Amontillado, through Palo Cortado and Oloroso, to PX. Of course, it also applies in equal measure to our generous host and hostess who laid on a sumptuous feast to go with those wines. After a couple of excellent Fish & Fino lunches at Masters near Waterloo, we felt it should be the turn of the darker wines. As our host quite rightly said, we (almost) never think that the place of these wines is at the table, but they really do go so well with food, as I think we proved. Even with the high levels of alcohol, the fact that you can happily sip them means you don’t need to come away rolling down the road. And a half bottle of any one wine goes easily around nine or ten people, so long as you have a plentiful supply.
We arrived to a pincho of anchovy and a glass of Equipo Navazos Florpower Bota 57 MXII. This is EN’s unfortified Palomino which has had (in this case) 30 months under flor. This is a delicious wine. Think of a cross between 1970s Don Cortez (bear with me here) and, as someone said, old Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. It’s not the wildest of the Florpower bottlings. It has some colour to it and is unmistakably from the chalky soils of the wider Jerez region. Winey citrus with a softer chalky texture, and above all, life. It really has vivacity, refreshing the palate without high acidity. At home we usually drink this with food, but here it proved itself as a perfect aperitif.
For our first course we were treated to crab meat, both brown and white, and we got underway with two super wines. Cuatro Palmas Amontillado, Gonzalez-Byass is at the pinnacle of this firm’s output. First released in 2011 (this was bottled in 2012), the Cuatro Palmas (it only goes up to four) is so fragrant, quite extraordinarily delicate, and even with a slight hint of fino in there. Such complexity so early in the meal showed the sort of lunch we were about to have. One of my wines of the day.
We paired it with Rey Fernando de Castilla Premium Amontillado. Altogether darker, with a very deep nose, almost coffee or chocolate in there. Perhaps the Cuatro Palmas was the better match for its greater delicacy, and of course it is a spectacularly fine wine in its own right, but neither wine was put to shame in its place on the table. A very strong opening pair. The photo below shows the contrast in the colour of these two wines.
The next flight contained two more Amontillados to go with a terrine of duck, made with a glug of Palo Cortado, and we were really getting to see just how much variety lies in this style. Amontillado is a Sherry style that I generally drink less of, especially as my palate has developed a love of the Palo Cortado in recent years.
Williams & Humbert “Jalifa” Amontillado is a 30 year + wine with nice balance, a citrus fresh style initially, despite its age, and with a little saltiness on the palate too. This famous old firm has had its ups and downs, especially at the time of the Rumasa breakup in the 1980s, but it is now back in majority private ownership. The firm is not generally known for its Amontillados, but Jalifa is of a quality commensurate with its VORS status/age.
Sandeman Dry Amontillado was a really fascinating bottle. Sandeman is still active, and of course they are still present in the Port industry, but their Sherry brands are owned, I think, by Sogrape. This bottle was purchased at auction and is thought to be, from its label, a 1980s bottling. Potentially this might have been one of the simpler wines of the lunch, yet venerable bottle age (or something) had given it Marmite, truffles and a kind of earthiness, with surprising depth.
The next course was a Cazuela de Chorizo, and I should say at this point that absolutely everything that could have been was made by our host, including not only the terrine of the last course, but amazingly, the chorizo in this one – totally home produced and cured. It was delicious, the salt leeching out into the broth, so as to give chorizo sausage which had a gentleness to which I am probably unaccustomed.
Next up was Equipo Navazos Bota de Amontillado Viejisimo 49, La Bota “A.R.”. I think most would agree it was the most intense wine of the day. It was my top wine and featured up there for some others as well, but not everyone went for such a dominant sip. The wine for this saca of 2014 came originally from Gaspar Florido, via a sojourn at Pedro Romero in Sanlúcar. The wine, as the “Viejisimo” label would suggest, is very old – 55 to 80 years. “AR” stands for Ànsar Real, the name of the solera from whence it came. Even the EN web site calls this the most savage of the wines from this solera, and even more intense than its sister, the Palo Cortado 47. It is also a single cask wine, not a blend. Personally, I’d say this is the finest Amontillado Sherry I’ve ever drunk. A half bottle is very expensive, but there are still some around, and I would argue this is of a quality comparable to any great fine wine from anywhere in the world.
The Equipo comes in at 22% alcohol, so a half bottle does go a long way. By this stage, there were many bottles circulating. I had to be unduly restrained in order to live up to my responsibilities for recording the feast, and I did manage to keep the wines in order. I think at this point we might have been drinking some wines with different courses. But by now we were moving on to our one Palo Cortado and four Olorosos.
Dos Cortados Palo Cortado, Williams & Humbert was the second wine of the day from this stable (and the only one I managed to take a completely blurred photo of). It’s a 20 year old wine, but despite the intensity of the “49” which preceded it, it was not put to shame. This is because, by way of contrast, it is quite opulent (but not flabby) for a Palo Cortado, dry and with an unusual hint of bonfire on the nose.
Bodega Cooperativa Católico Agrícola Oloroso comes from Chipiona, a small town on the coast about five miles southeast of Sanlúcar. Cooperative wines are not often seen marketed as such in the UK (though they support many an “own label” brand), and this one was imported by Warren Edwardes’ Hyde Park Wines, a source for several of the more unusual wines here. The nose is curious as there’s something sweet to it. Unfiltered, there’s a good texture on the dry palate, and spice, perhaps a bit of nutmeg and ginger.
Next, another wine Warren imports, and one also from another of the small Sherry towns, Lebrija. Lebrija is in the far north of the region, and about 20-25 miles inland, not far from the Rio Guadalquivir. It isn’t technically part of the Jerez DO, having been granted its own Lebrija DO, so that is what you’ll see on the label, not “Jerez”. There’s no doubting the quality of Gonzalez Palacios Lebrija Old Oloroso, but it isn’t made from a solera system like most Sherry, being bottled from individual butts as required. It’s a bronze coloured wine with a clean, high toned, nose and a little bit of a kick to it (though not quite the full mule). The palate gives hints of caramel and raisins without sweetness. It’s quite sedate. By now we were on to some serious lamb and roast potatoes, and none of these wines were showing any hint of jarring with the food.
Bodegas Tradición Oloroso came in the livery of the Fortnum & Mason bottling. Tradición, an exceptional Jerez-based bodega marketing only VOR and VORS wines, is not otherwise seen that often in the UK. Fortnum’s interesting own label range is the best place to find them and, although prices have risen indeed over the past couple of years, they are still exceptional value. Although technically a 30 year old, the truth is that you are drinking a wine with an average age of more like 45 years. It’s relatively full bodied, and quite intense again, perhaps not the savage intensity of the EN, but nevertheless on its own you’d be struck by that feature. And it contrasts to that Amontillado perhaps by being a man in late middle age sat back in a battered leather armchair with a glass to sniff. The EN is sitting upright with an espresso.
Our final dry wine was Valdespino Don Gonzalo Oloroso VOS. This is dry and mineral in texture but also with dried raisins and a richness coming through as the wine sits on the palate. It was a really good wine to end with. Not as fine perhaps as several of the wines we’d consumed, but a fascinating and complex bottle which can be had for around £30. It makes just as good a match as an old Rioja with a slice of pink lamb, or at least in the opinion of the nine Sherry lovers at this table. It also went equally well with the Spanish cheese selection. In the photo below, the hard cheese on the right is a Payoya goat, the small blue in the centre being also a goat cheese from the Jerez region. The two larger blues were “Picos” cow and goat blends from the Picos de Europa, part of the beautiful jagged Cantabrian mountain chain in Northern Spain.
Were we finished…not at all. We were almost ready for some sweet wines, after, of course, a small palate cleanser of the Navazos-Niepoort Blanco 2014. I took one of these to the last Fish & Fino lunch, which I think gave sales a mini-boost, hence the appearance of a bottle here. But then with a dessert of vanilla ice cream with delicate profiteroles, we were able to contrast a Pedro-Ximénez with a Moscatel.
PX Solera Fundación 1830, Bodegas Navarro is dark and treacle thick. Oranges, raisins and Earl Grey on the nose, pruney/figgy on the palate, from a solera begun in 1830, though containing wines with an average age of about 25 years. How can a wine with so much sugar, velvety rather than acidic, not be cloying? But it isn’t. I note that I last drank this back at one of our Spice Oddities lunches in June 2015. I think it was probably in its perfect place here with the ice cream, rather than with the kulfi sticks of that lunch, though I note that I had been too full to indulge in dessert back then. Despite a gargantuan feast, I wasn’t too full, nor had I drunk too much. I was pleased to be able to pour some of this full 75cl bottle over my ice cream as well as into my glass. This is a Montilla-Moriles, from the region southeast of Córdoba, famous for its sweet wines.
Gutiérrez Colosía Moscatel was a surprising contrast. Despite the intense sweetness of both wines, PX and Moscatel are clearly different grape varieties. We perhaps rarely drink these sweet styles today, even more rarely two together. Nice as they are, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. But once your palate becomes accustomed to the sweetness, trying another proves that even here, there is great variety to be had. Gutiérrez Colosía is based in El Puerto de Santa María, the Sherry region’s third town, so to speak, after Jerez and Sanlúcar. This is sweetly honeyed and soft, with the characteristic aromatics and concentration on the palate of sun-dried Muscat grapes. Another wine with a distinctive tea note lingering in there.
So, what did we learn that we didn’t know already? Well, the main point of this lunch was just for a bunch of us to have a nice time, let’s be honest. But we did learn that the generoso style is a surprisingly good match for a whole raft of Spanish inspired dishes. After a few fish & fino lunches it was only fair to give these boys and girls a chance.
We think of biologically aged Sherries with food all the time, but I wonder how many of us these days reach for an Amontillado, Palo Cortado or Oloroso for the table? We also learned that if you sip these over four hours you won’t notice the alcohol half as much as you might think. All the half bottles here evened out the alcohol intake, so that I actually felt better than after many a lunch where I’ve consumed a bottle-and-a-half of red after an aperitif. The lunch was an unqualified success, and I certainly would not turn down an invitation to repeat it one day.