Wine tasting the way it should be done

The great Sherry ‘ambassador’ was in town on Wednesday night. César Saldaña, one of the top experts on the increasingly fashionable Sherry, was at the very impressive Grain Store at Ballymaloe to preach his word to an eager Cork audience. We didn’t just get a tasting, we got a masterclass.

This was done how wine tastings should be done. They shouldn’t be used as opportunities to get liquored up before a night on the town (at least not solely, anyway). Learning about the tradition and history, the science behind the production and the subtle differences that each style has to offer is fascinating. Appreciation makes it so much more enjoyable.

César spent the first half an hour whetting our appetite before we could even get a sniff of Sherry. He gave an impressive insight into the origins and history, whilst discussing the production process in depth as we tasted our way through six different wines. I had a lot to learn, and still do. Sherry is not my forte, I must admit, but I went away with a real appreciation for it, and I think that is what these things should be about. This tasting certainly was.

So what did we taste?

We had one Fino, Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, one Manzanilla, Lustau Papirusa, one Amontillado, Valdespino Tio Diego, and three Oloroso, Lustau Gran Reserva Emparatriz, Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula and Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Dulce Viejo.

The Fino had a yeasty nose and was a real palate cleanser. The perfect thing to have between courses of tapas and, would you believe, sushi. The Manzanilla was slightly fuller and rounder. Both were clear, but the third in the line-up, the first Oloroso, was a light mahogany colour. It was more aromatic, with a varnished nose of leather and caramel. The palate was concentrated with a toffee-nutty finish.

The Amontillado is said to be something between a Fino and a full-blown Oloroso. The colour was Oloroso-like, but the nose was Fino-like. It had a filling mouthfeel with a dry, yeasty finish. The next Oloroso was in a dry style as well, but the last wine was a sweet Oloroso made from sun-dried Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes. It had a darker colour with aromas of raisins and a wonderfully balanced richness to the palate. I was amazed at the finish these wines had, the flavours long-lasting and constantly developing.

It was the perfect end to an eye-opening session, one of which might only come around once or twice in a lifetime.

Picture courtesy of Billy Lyons. Centre, César Saldaña, and far right, Curious Mike.

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