My all-Spanish wine list now has 325 wines. 75 of them are sherry and manzanilla.
Sherry is either utter miracle or pure science, depending on your faith. I've been to Jerez 6 times in the past 4 years, and I'm more enchanted then ever - and more convinced Sherry is both. Old, wizened Jerezanos explain the yeasty process to me, and I believe in miracles. Then the young blood of the zone, dynamic and bi-lingual all of them, explain the details to me, and I fully grasp the science. And when they plunge their venencias into a barrel, breaking the layer of flor with a pleasant little pop, and deftly pour me a glass of young fino or venerable palo cortado, I'm just a plain believer in all things wondrous.
Back in Brookline, I love turning inquisitive customers into believers. Sherry is artisanal, delicious, unique, and soul-satisfying. Let me choose one for you, maybe a fresh manzanilla from Javier Hidalgo called La Gitana (named after a gypsy barkeep who favored this particular manzanilla above all others, and who's portrait hangs in timeless beauty in the winery in Sanlucar) or the brand new Aurora which breathes a lovely floral note into all its seaside brine. You'll be finished with your 2 oz pour in no time, and if I think you are ready, I'll try you on the Pastrana, or the Juan Cuevas Jurado, manzanilla pasadas both, whose fresh and briny flavors inherent in manzanilla now wax a little brassy, have deeper chamomile and olive notes, and profound complexity. Smooth and charming, with lots of tang and secrets. Manzanilla pasada is made by starving the flor that forms atop finos and manzanillas, those completely dry and clear sherries we enjoy before a meal, and increasingly during the meal. Flor requires fresh new wine to sustain itself, in addition to oxygen, 65% humidity in the winery, and temperatures in the low 70's. So to make manzanilla pasada, the winemaker simply stops adding new wine to the barrels, and over time, the protective layer of flor dissipates off the surface of the wine and allows for an exchange of oxygen heretofore impossible. The result is sublime, especially when made by someone whose family has been perfecting the art for 300 years! Try some with our bienmesabe -"tastes good to me"- marinated fried haddock.
Emilio Lustau has been making outstanding sherry since 1896, and their line is enormous. A trusted brand, they are not afraid to experiment with their customers' taste. Recently they bottled three unfiltered sherries, a delicious if risky proposition, as unfiltered wines can be delicate. Called 3 en Rama, the three biologically-aged sherries in the line are available in minuscule amounts. They are testing our resolve! The manzanilla is, by definition from Sanlucar de Barrameda, and has all the vibrant sea-spray aromas we love in manzanilla, but with an unreal smoothness in the mouth, and a note of raw cashew. Are you ready for this with your jamón serrano or your olives? Lustau makes two different finos, one from El Puerto de Santa Maria, called Fino El Puerto and one from Jerez itself, called Fino Jarana, so the 3 en Rama line includes unfiltered versions of both of these bright and full-bodied finos. The Fino Puerto Fino en Rama is briny and nervy, with the aromas of the sand inside a mussel shell. Fat olives in the mouth, pure naked pleasure in your brain. Finally, the Fino en Rama Fino is alive with oyster and mignonette flavors, and the minerality is such I am thinking of my finest Chablis experiences. Are you ready for all of this sensuality with your jamón or anchovy on tomato toast with lots of good Spanish olive oil? Or your artichokes sauteed with garlic? I bet you are!
I picked up another treasure this week, also rare and exclusive. A couple of years back I had the pleasure of meeting Antonio Barbadillo, a man who soothed his gums with manzanilla as a baby and grew up discussing which stocks of manzanillas were the best in Sanlucar. He has most recently selected for our pleasured drinking manzanillas from old, treasured stocks around town, and bottled them every 3 months, showcasing each season. The flor changes with the seasons as it is highly sensitive to temperature fluctuation, so the wine beneath it is slightly altered ed as a consequence. The differences are subtle, but the eager palate can indeed feel the difference between the Sacristia AB Primera Saca (bottling, after the verb sacar which means to take out in Spanish) in May of 2012, with its sexy, leesy, buttery funk, and the Sacristia AB Segunda Saca in October of 2012 which smacked more of chamomile, birch, and the toasted acorns I'm sure our hunter-gatherer forebears made. (Mine did anyway). The charming and passionate Antonio chose the word Sacristia for his manzanillas because the sacristia is the place in a church where the most special things are kept. So, too, in a sherry bodega. The oldest and rarest barrels are held in the most perfect part of the bodega, called the sacristia. The sepia a la plancha - griddled sepia - with its little squeeze of black allioli on top, is the perfect pair for the Sacristia AB Segunda Saca I am now proud to serve you.
Finally, when your sweet tooth gets demanding, there is the Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Dulce Matusalem VORS. This 30+ year old sherry is just the right amount of sweet, with balncing notes of bitter orange and toasted hazelnuts. It is divine on its own, beautiful with our 5 imported cheese plate, or with a perfectly caramelized flan. The complexity washes over you in waves regardless of what you choose. For a bright golden sweet experience, try the Muscatel Dorado by Cesar Florido, and be astounded how complex a moscatel can be after it passes through the unique solar system.
Come drink some sherry with us!
(See the blog "The Aperitivo Movement" for more explanation on how sherry is made, for example, the use of the solera system).
Last week I invested in gold, the safest of gambles in uncertain times. It is far more satisfying than an ingot, my gold, and it delights the senses like a cold metal never could. I can actually share with with you my liquid gold, made by R. Lopez de Heredia in Haro, Rioja, Spain. This venerable winery released a few cases of the precious 1991 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco, surely one of the world's greatest white wines. Grapes from the famous Tondonia vineyard - viura (90%) and malvasia (10%) - were vinified traditionally and then lovingly raised in old American oak barrels for 8 years. The wine has been resting and evolving in the bottle for over a decade now, and it is simply gorgeous. Redolent of warm hay, Seville oranges, marzipan, bread dough, lanolin, and seckel pear, the wine has you crazy in love even before the first kiss. The mouth feel is rich and soft, but powerfully vibrant. Lemony notes of acidity and mellow notes of chamomile intertwine with savory hints of salt marsh grass, macadamia nuts, tart apple sauce, tangerine, and honeycomb. Unreal, really. I love this regal wine with our humble croquetas de jamón (ham & bechamel croquettes) as well as our so-savory arroz negro (black paella).
Raventos i Blanc Gran Reserva 2007 joined my cava list last week, bringing the total to 16 cavas on Taberna de Haro's list. The third generation winery Raventos i Blanc already graced my wine list with its unique "Nin Rosat 2009", an elegant cava tinted the palest of salmon by the monastrell grape; and the "Reserva Brut 2009" a classic cava, made from xarel-lo, macabeu, and parellada grapes grown in calcareous clay soils near a forest. The latest bubbly beauty, the Gran Reserva, is as elegant as can be, with the lilting acidity of champagne and the rocky underpinning that only the finest of cavas show. We are so ready for the holidays!