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Wines for Winter: WBW #65 asks what to drink with a side of snow?

January 20, 2010

What would you drink with a side of snow? That was this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday prompt from Wine Girl who suggests that no matter where we live, we “imagine Snow. Snowmen, snow balls, igloos, snow trucks, snow … cold, cold snow. Then I want you to imagine what [wine] that makes you want to drink.” She continues, “With a valid story behind you, there’s no reason you can’t pop open a cognac, a brandy, or even bourbon.”

So as my hometown in southern California is getting battered by a week of wet and wild storms, with snow levels dropping fast and Interstate 5 closing periodically, and after a few days of filling some 30 sand bags and shoveling way too much mud during breaks in the weather, I am hiding out inside my house to face the monthly Wine Blogging Wednesday question: what to taste and what to drink? And this time complicated by the option of fortified wines and more!

Since I don’t want to leave the house to go find something for the occasion, my first thought was my go to evening wintry drink, port, maybe tasting one each from three continents–Portugal (naturally!), Australia (probably Jonesy), and a Kachina port that was in the gift bag at the Wine Bloggers Conference last summer (here’s a review of the Kachina port to indicate why I’m looking for a tasting occasion!)

But then I thought about the lovely madeira and the sherries I tasted with Esteban Calabezas in Portugal at the European Wine Bloggers Conference and realized I would have the perfect excuse to open the Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce I picked up from a tasting by the distributor, Henry Wine Group. I think I paid around $20 for it; online you can find it from $16-$30.

Then I was given a birthday present, a very special birthday present, and I knew that given a choice, this beverage would be NUMBER ONE on any snow day. I was ACHING to pour it over fresh powder!

A stone mason, Janine Hegy, is staying with us in order to attend the Stone Foundation Symposium going on in town. On the night of my birthday, she presented me with a small glass of a very dark liquid over ice. The delicate gold laced glass she served it in had been one of my grandmother’s and it’s twice as old as I am. The cold temperature made it difficult to get much in the nose, but once in my mouth, I almost swooned. Amazing–it had the exact essence of a perfectly ripe blackberry picked from deep in the cool shadows of the bush on a hot summer day. With just the right amount of sweetness but not cloying, I could taste the pollen from the flowers, the earth it grew in. Bliss in a glass.

Janine had picked the organic berries from her property where they grow beside her barn and she made the drink herself using a family recipe which she gave me to share here: In a one gallon jar place 5 quarts fresh, ripe, rinsed, clean blackberries with 4 cups sugar and one bottle Korbel Brandy. Janine insists that it MUST be Korbel and only Korbel for the magic to take place. Store for two months in a cool dark place, stirring occasionally. Strain with a fine wire mesh colander and bottle. Drink plain or over ice for a bit of heaven. A second batch can be made using the same fruit by adding more Korbel Brandy but it’ll be sludgy and won’t be clear.

She handed me a very small, very precious bottle holding maybe two jiggers. And I suppose I could taste it again and write about it for Wine Blogging Wednesday #65. But that’s not a fair choice for Wine Blogging Wednesday, eh? Something that rare, that special? Something that you can’t buy and that you couldn’t taste yourself for a year or more?

So I surveyed my options and went for the Sherry: Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce.

Now what I actually know about sherry would fit on the head of a cork (and yes this bottle is stoppered by a real cork). Esteban Cabeza gave me an abbreviated yet accelerated lesson in sherries, ports and madeiras at the European Wine Bloggers Conference which I was attending along with Jo Diaz thanks to our hosts Enoforum Wines.  I’d been in Portugal just over 24 hours and had had an amazing day and when I got my lesson,  it was getting late into the night. I’d lived a week in the previous 48 hours. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember as much as I wish about it all but I can tell you that it invigorated my curiousity about all things fortified! And as I learn, I will share it all here, of course!

Fortunately, the web has a wealth of information about just about everything, including, of course, sherries. According to Wikipedia, “Sherry is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from dry, light versions such as finos to darker and heavier versions known as olorosos, all made from the Palomino grape. Sweet dessert wines are also made, from Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes.” With Esteban, I’d had

  • Manzanilla s straw colored (yellow) variety of fino Sherry, auestere but with a finish that lasted for months I swear
  • Amontillado a little darker, sweeter, less sharp than Manzanilla, easier to savor at first; it is aged under flor then exposed to oxygen

First off, this is not the same kind of sherry that I had it Portugal–this one’s an Oloroso which means ‘scented’ in Spanish and it’s aged oxidatively for a longer time than a fino or amontillado, making it a darker and richer wine and with an alcohol levels between 18-20%, more alcoholic.[10] And it’s made with 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro X.

What to say about this sherry for Wine Blogging Wednesday? Well, to start with, it’s cherry cola colored in the glass–like flat cherry cola, brown and kind of blah looking. (Remember looks can fool and don’t judge a book by its cover and all that!) As I drink some down, it gets more tawny colored and pretty–orange pink sunset colors shifting as I swirl the glass and the dark amber liquid catches the light.  Legs line the glass. When I stick my nose down in it, the color reminds me of a golden tiger eye.

What I’m saying here is what started out as a bland looking beverage on closer inspection has all the variances and depth of a winter sunset.

Hmmn, if I’m not careful I’m going to be picked up by the wine blogging police led by Jeff over at Good Grape for being too over the top! So what does it smell and taste like? I’m wondering that myself. Unlike the other two sherries I tasted with Esteban, this one is clearly sweet. But it doesn’t coat the tongue, it’s not syrupy, there’s some acid that cuts through.

Obviously I am in over my head but I’ll keep flailing away. And pour myself some more.

Ahh, that’s part of it–this one is tooo easy to drink. The other shwrries I had in Portugal I just wanted to savor and marvel. This one, as far as sherries go in my very very limited experience, is somewhat simple. Sweet and simple. Here’s an analogy: if your basic sherry is like the  cheapest hollow  chocolate Easter bunny, maybe with some fake almond flavoring,  this would be like one of those Hershey kisses with an almond inside. No, actually more like a walnut.

Backing up now–what does it smell like? One website, The Wine Doctor,  describes it as having “axle grease” on the nose. Maybe I’m using the wrong glasses. What shape of glass am I supposed to be using to taste sherry, I wonder. I’m sure my new Reidel glases from Jo Diaz would do the trick–even if they are for syrah!

But there is something there I’m getting on the nose beyond the baked goods, carmelized sugar, raisins and nuts…Maybe if I had some axle grease handy to compare it with?

And finally, the finish. Sad to say, there isn’t much of one. What I’m longing for is the lingering finish of those sherries I tasted in Portugal. (Somewhere in the universe I swear I have notes on what those mythical sherries were!)

Is the  Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce sherry from Spain worth $20? Yes. I’m glad I bought it and I will enjoy drinking it. Is it what I’m hankering for? Not quite. But given the limited offerings in my home town, I’m grateful that I have this sherry around during this epic rainstorm here in southern California to keep me warm and cozy. And yes, and little baked too. I think I’ll have another splash of it before bedtime.

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