Politics in the Kitchen

The drudgery of this winter gave most of us pause, to contemplate simply everything. The pool of customers determined and sturdy enough to risk their ankles and automobiles to get to my restaurant diminished severely just as my energy costs began to exceed $3000 a month for 3 months running. (Glacial Energy is particularly culpable in this arena, I don't mind telling you). Marketing, the 20th century solution to everything, and I know bloody well we are in the 21st, that's my point, put me further into debt. Add to that numerous bungled repair jobs in my Taberna that required several visits, each one botching things further, each one causing my heart to beat like bongos being played by a bonobo on triple espressos. In a hurricane. With amplifiers. My spreadsheets in a wad, my bank accounts one and all flushed a feverish bright red, I hired a consultant.

Eli was wonderful and had me crying tears of relief after our first meeting. He contemplated simply everything. He gave me immediate tips for better service as well as advice to purchase a POS upgrade, created by a local company called Toast. Crawling with brilliant and personable MIT grads, Toast seems to have predicted every one of the infinite needs of a restaurant when designing their system. The change was smooth, and I have a better grasp on the numbers, with Eli's help.

Through it all, my cooks kept turning out flawlessly sautéed spinach and perfectly roasted free-range chickens and identically round and tender meatballs. In return, l let these kitchen full-timers maintain the hours they've always had, despite the drop in business. They have rent and mortgages just like the rest of us, so despite my crimson numbers, I kept them fully employed. "Your wages are extraordinarily high," said Eli, "and that creates a need for a very large increase in revenue." Truly. Several dollars per hour above the industry standard, it turns out. How on earth do I fix that? Fire excellent workers who have been with me for more than a decade?

Luckily he was not proposing that. As attrition happens, hire at a much lower rate, he suggested. But attrition doesn't happen in a kitchen where workers are well-paid and love each other like family. Mind you, that does include the bickering requisite of familial relationships at times. They stay. Not only do they stay, they come in early to fix the broken faucet with parts they had to buy had Home Depot which required an extra trip on the T. They bring in their boy-tools when the grease trap is hopelessly fouled up so I don't have to call the fix-it boys who charge $90 an hour and make things worse. They build shelves in the wine cellar on slow nights and paint the kitchen floor after hours so it looks nice. They were patient when the old POS dropped entire days from the payroll report and they had to wait for the remainder of their wages. They cover for each other and never, ever call in sick. Nor hungover. When all else fails, they send a cousin who's done time in a kitchen to get the job done. They all have keys to my Taberna, come to work on time, and perfectly predict the amount of preparation needed for a given day. During intensely important soccer dates, they do their prep work at very strange hours in order to make time to see their team play. The only woman in this elite group cried with me and told me to be strong during my divorce, told me not to think so much. They have watched my children grow from chubby toddlers eating oxtail with their fingers to tall teenagers who eat oxtail with a knife and fork.

Congress is discussing the Living Wage and I have 5 cooks who make $19 an hour who work anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week. Those working only 20 or 30 have two jobs. They lead dignified if not luxurious lives, raising families and sending money home to family members who haven't been able to immigrate like they have. In my climate change-induced poverty this winter I am much chagrined to admit I actually had moments of resentment. They were getting paid and I wasn't. I was going further into debt while they paid down their mortgages. Rise above it, I thought, and that got easier as the weather warmed and Eli continued to advise. Rise above it, and live your principles, I advised myself. Did I not vote for Elizabeth Warren? Barack Obama? Do I not cringe when I hear the the CEO's who earn several million dollars a year decry a raise in the minimum wage because it will result in widespread layoffs and raise unemployment?

Justice requires struggle. My struggles this winter were enormous, and I'm sure every small business owner in the region can speak of similar anxiety. However if we abandon our principles and harm those who have even less than we do, we cannot hope to enjoy a thriving economy nor a prideful society. This is what brings an increase in revenue for everyone.

Deborah Hansen


Bravery in the Spanish Wine World - Notes on a Tasting

Blog: Bravery in the Spanish Wine World

Notes on a tasting

Just because a wine is limited doesn’t mean it’s great. Sometimes the winemaker is bold and innovative but that doesn’t necessarily make the wine outstanding, either. But when brave winemakers challenge the status quo and turn their grapes into fascinating juice, it bears discussing because they are brave. Last Thursday I tasted a dozen such wines, all from the Península portfolio, which is a small section from the much larger Olé portfolio of Spanish wines.

You should start any Spanish tasting with manzanilla or cava. We began with Totus Tuus, a unique cava I’ve been pouring by the glass in Taberna all month. The indigenous grapes of the D.O. Cava are xarel-lo, parellada, and macabeu, and they are often rounded out with a bit of chardonnay, pinot noir, or even monastrell. Totus Tuus, which unabashedly declares “I’m all yours!” in its very name, is a bold cepage of 40% chardonnay, with 18% each of xarel-lo, macabeu, and parellada, and a little smackerel of pinot noir at 6%. It makes for a rich and almost creamy style of cava, on a base of firm minerals with racy notes of caper and piquant sheep cheese. Family run, with all estate-grown fruit (in limestone and sand with a clay subsoil), Totus Tuus is left for on the lees for 18 months, making it a Brut Reserva. Both a lively food wine and a lovely sipping wine.

The 2013 vintage of Rogo godello (C.V.A, D.O. Valdeorras) is my favorite so far. The vintage is considered ‘Classic Galician’ which is a euphemism for cool and wet. When you love cool-climate wines as I do for their grace and acid, the euphemism becomes the highest form of praise. Fresh fruit and flowers predominate in the wine, but 60 days on the lees give it a shroomy mist that shimmies nicely with the lemon-acid lilt. Godellos from the D.O. of Valdeorras tend to be rounder and bouncier than their Ribeira Sacra counterparts who drink in much less sunlight and lean more toward truffle, dairy and yeast in their flavor profiles. The latter are better for aging, and acquire profound complexity (Dominio do Bibei’s Lapola is a fine example). Rogo godello 2013 will soon become a part of my 320-strong family of Spanish wines!

Whenever I taste Leirana albariño (Forjas del Salnes, D.O. Rias Baixas), which is not as often as Kerin Auth, our articulate Península presenter but still pretty often, I am moved by the oxymorons in my mouth. How does ripe fruit cut such a swath of acidity across my palate? How does a windswept granite vineyard just 50 meters from the cold Atlantic Ocean yield a wine that teases the tongue with distinctly tropical notes of passion and star fruit? How does such a tense and nervy wine, taut with the tug between sand and sea, produce such peace and pleasure? I love what Rodri Mendez and Raul Perez have achieved here: an old-vines albariño, that is fresh and bristling, fermented in (80%) stainless steel and (20%) old foudres. They harvest 10 days later than everyone else for maximum ripeness, and the ever-so-slightly higher sugar levels mean no malolactic fermentation happens, thus preserving this firm and bracing style that I live for. The 2013 vintage (remember, classic, cool and wet!) is as lean and expressive as the ’11 and ’12, but with more brine, a bigger mineral sizzle, and a bitter quince skin edge. I’m equally infatuated with the single vineyard Leirana Finca Genoveva, but this beauty was not on the menu that day. Both are on my menu, happily.

Speaking of menus, I must mention that we were fed a sassy little bowl of squid noodles richly sauced and garnished with black-eyed peas, yuzu, clams, and creme fraiche by our hosts West Bridge restaurant. Delicious with all three wines!!

Producer Forjas del Salnes also makes Bastion de la Luna 2012, a stunning red from the D.O. Rias Baixas that epitomizes my moniker of ‘brave’ in the Spanish wine world. Created from equal parts of caiño, loureiro, and espadeiro, this red wine is fresh and complex, with tight tannins edging a sophisticated core of exotic things such as dragon fruit and patchouli. Red raspberry and serrano pepper chime in and add to the wild mix. Why brave? Misters Mendez and Perez dare to make a wine from grapes that very few people outside the zone have ever heard of, in a land where everyone expects white (albariño), out of a desolate garage on a nondescript side street in a sleepy town. They co-ferment the whole grape clusters (that means all stems are included and all three varietals share space) in large eight year old French barrels for 30 to 45 days. The grapes undergo light foot-treading and little else - no pressing, no racking (removing of the clear wine off the settled lees and sediment), and the wine will even be bottled directly from these barrels! Raul likens these wines to carefully brewed tea, where one must steep long and gentle, never squeezing, never pumping. I love the marriage of old-time techniques born from lack, to the post-modern practices born from reverence for simplicity, for purity. It is brave because they may not ever score points and it is beautiful because it eschews the constraints of the establishment. These Spanish winemakers are my role models to be brave and not cave!

The snowflakes started to tumble as we warmed ourselves to the taste of Elo 2011 (C.V.A., D.O. Yecla), a decidedly Mediterranean red wine with the color of old Rioja and the fragrance of fine cherry confit. Grown in rocky limestone at 2,526 feet of altitude, these monastrell grapes are uniquely harvested and vinified. To keep alcohol levels low (13%, which is low for this piece of Spain), picking happens in late August and early September. The whole clusters are fermented in open concrete tanks and the wine is aged for 12 months in 3 year-old 500 liter French barrels. The goal was to express the fruit and warmth of the zone with a wine that was lighter and more nuanced than the usual point-scoring, raucously big-fruited and tannic styles typical of the zone at lower altitudes. Success! Both reds in this flight, Elo and Bastion de la Luna, were perfect with the tilefish, potato, and broccolini dish sauced with whey. I am partial to red wines that play nicely with fish!

Back to the Atlantic, to yet another example of bravery, this time in the south of Spain. From the land of Sherry comes a red wine made from an all but forgotten grape called tintilla de rota, called Atlántida (2012, by C.V.A., single Vineyard, Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz). Winemaker Alberto Orte, co-owner of Olé Imports, shares a passion for resurrecting old and indigenous grapes just as his counterparts in Galicia Raul and Rodri do. In the 1800’s Jerez had over 20 red varieties planted as well as over 50 white. Lamenting the dependence on virtually one grape variety today (palomino, joined by a bit of moscatel and an even smaller bit of Pedro Ximénez), Alberto is now methodically planting and studying 80 strains of palomino as well as various clones of tintilla de rota. The goal of Atlántida was to make a classic dry tintilla table wine, which hadn’t been done in 300 years! Brave indeed. The 2012 is only the second vintage, and is a stonier and fresher example than the 2011 which I was lucky enough to taste in the winery back in 2013. I love the rich panoply of aromas - blood, ripe plum, black pepper and chalk. The wine is macerated and fermented in oak vats, then spends 16 more months in French oak (12 months in 500 liter, 4 months in 225 liter). Powerful, worthy of long aging, and thoroughly delicious.

Let’s go back up north, to the D.O. Bierzo, the land of mountains and mencia. And Raul Perez. Produced by La Vizcaina in the Valtuille zone, three wines called Las Gundiñas, La Poulosa, and La Vitoriana, each from 2012, reflect the terroir of small places within the zone. All are made with whole cluster fermentation and inoculated with vineyard-specific yeast. They actually bring a small container of the macerating grapes out to its mother vineyard and allow the hungry yeasts to alight and do their enviable, magical job of gobbling up sugar and leaving behind alcohol. The container is brought back into the winery and its contents are distributed among the vats of grapes from that particular vineyard. Very brave, as a lot can go wrong in Mother Nature’s wild, wild west of a world. Yeasts don’t bend to the will of anyone, ever.

The mencia grapes in Las Gundiñas 2012 all hail from eastern-facing slopes from a few hillsides in Valtuille, as the descriptive name ‘Lomas de Valtuille’ on the label clearly states. Clear if you know that lomas are hills! The aromas of morcilla and tart cherry yogurt are actually tantalizing, and the wine is full-bodied and confidently meaty and tannic in the mouth, with an extremely long finish.

La Poulosa 2012 also bears the ‘Lomas de Valtuille’ identifier, but these particular lomas are at the base of the hills, with more clay and sand, and more southerly exposures. The wine is juicy and rich with superlative tannins and the characteristic blood and cherry one-two punch. It is not overripe, because the low-land location means that the sun is not always generous with her time!

La Vitoriana 2012 Lomas de Valtuille is made from very old vines that were planted in 1922, in a north- and south-facing parcel. The northern side is harvested 10 days later than the southern, and the rich clay soil of both sections is apparent in the exquisitely ripe and round wine. Almond and black cherry dominate the nose, with smoke and hickory wafting through. Broad and expansive on the palate, muscular and youthful, promising to age gracefully.

The perfectly cooked duck breast, garnished with beet, dates, almonds, and spaetzle, was a stunning foil for the four big but refined reds we drank. I mean tasted. With only a few bites left of this memorable bird, we zipped back across big wide Spain to the Mediterranean again to taste the wines of Pinyolet made by C.V.A. in Montsant, using the indigenous garnacha and cariñena (technically samsó since 2011) grapes. Pinyolet is the local word for the slate, blue quartzite and schiste soils, and the 2012 is a heartwarming nose-full of dried fruit spiced with cinnamon, allspice, licorice, smoke and tar. A lovely expression of garnacha, with about 6 months of French oak during its rearing. The 2011 Pinyolet Selección is the more powerful sibling, made from very old garnacha vines with 20% cariñena/samsó blended in. The wine spends a full 12 months in French oak and expresses large and lovely. There’s a bit more terciary funk on the nose, and the fruit glows with ripe intensity. Both are smooth, rich specimens from this zone that surrounds Priorat like a horseshoe and became its own D.O. in 2001.

Also from Montsant are the lovely yet powerful wines from Orto Vins, whose wines will be featured in a Wine Seminar at Taberna de Haro next Tuesday 3/3 at 7:00 pm. Five Orto Vins wines will be paired with five Catalán courses for an unforgettable dinner and learning experience! ($65 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Call to reserve and pre-pay at 617-277-8272). The winemaker is Joan Asens who left Alvaro Palácios’ employ back in 2011 after 2 decades of dedication to all of Alvaro’s Priorat wines but in particular to Finca Dofi, a favorite of mine. At Orto Vins the commitment to biodynamic winemaking is complete. The word ‘Orto’ means that moment of transition during the sunrise or the moonrise, a mystical moment we should all stop and witness more often!

Impeccable vineyard management is Joan’s gift. Three weeks before harvest, all the vineyards are subject to thorough scrutiny for unripe or raisinated grapes, the latter being used in their sweet but wonderfully balanced Dolc wines, one red and one white. The absence of anything underripe or overripe ensures Joan and partners of brilliantly clean and focused wines that grip you with their depth and length. The wines are macerated for 28 days, a full lunar cycle, in barrique. The Orto 2012, a blend of young-vines samsó, garnacha, ull de llebre and cabernet sauvignon, is a bold statement on the potential quality of the zone with its black raspberry clarity and its broad texture. The Les Comes D’Orto 2011 is made from much older vines of garnacha, samsóand ull de llebre and has a more settled feel, smooth like the gently sloping but solid hills - ‘comes’- of its home. It is large and vibrant, throbbing with black currant and damson plum, regal in its embrace of a fine leather armchair. Ever changing, still unfolding, Les Comes D’Orto is a wine to enjoy over the years as well as now.

All Spanish wine tastings should also end with cava or sherry. We ended on an Osborne note, a sherry house founded in El Puerto de Santa Maria in 1772. First we tasted their Oloroso Solera India, a blend of palomino and pedro ximenez which are co-aged. Although India soleras by definition contain pedro ximenez, they are usually blended at the end of the aging period, sometime before bottling. When you co-age the grapes, the integration is palpable, and the result is harmonious, lithe, and dewy. (Emilio Lustau’s East India Solera does a bit of both. The oloroso and pedro ximenez are aged separately for ten years and then blended to age together for another five with delectable results). Here in the Osborne Solera India, the sweetness is seductive, but it is exquisitely balanced by glints of bitter orange acidity and a lusty presence of salinity. It glows with the aromas roasted Brazil nuts and light caramel, and you feel the venerability of this solera which started back in 1922! Average age at bottling is 25 years.

We were also privileged enough to taste the Palo Cortado Solera P∆ P, which comes from a solera started in 1911 and boasts of an average age at bottling time of 30 years. (Remember, sherry is fractionally blended, so there are minute amounts of extremely old wine with each bottling, depending on when the solera was founded). The palomino grapes (92%) were grown in the prestigious Balbaina Pago, where some of the purest albariza (chalk) soils are. The pedro ximenez (8%) is also co-aged and the wine is supple and seamless, a sleek acrobat on your tongue. Redolent of coffee, burnt orange peel and tobacco, the P∆ P is also salty like gourmet toffee and bitter like walnut husks.

Finally, the Pedro Ximenez Viejo, from a solera founded in 1905. The aromas are beguiling, and I feel like I have a perfect little demitasse of expresso before me, one laced with butter, molasses, and brandy. In the mouth this black sherry is sweet and thick, but downy, not cloying. There is a note of tomato paste and another of tobacco, and all coffee should be this intriguing!

It bears noting that all three bottles of sherry had been open since last October, an incredible feat of staying power. The completeness of this special bottling of Osborne sherries, the playing of all the notes of my palate’s scale - sweet, acidic, saline, and bitter - make them enormously pleasurable. The company was smart enough to simply hold back their old wine in those big old botas (sherry casks) and not sell it during the boom years when sherry was plentiful and in high demand but not especially valued. They waited, bravely.

By Deborah Hansen


Taberna de Haro



Wine Love Chapter Two October Sherry Tasting

Sherry Tasting with Cesar Saldaña & Steve Olson at No. 9 Park

Within minutes of entering No. 9 Park last Friday at noon, I was floating on a sherry high. The room was alight with the aromas of yeast and brine and barrel. All the minerals I had offered up minutes earlier during my hot yoga class were being replenished by Javier Hidalgo’s Manzanilla La Gitana, which is the best choice for rehydration as it is light, focused, and fervently mineral.

Cat Silirie and Melody Reynolds, who will be referred to as The Angels of Food and Wine Pairing from this point on, beckoned us to the table so that the tasting could begin. A passionate introduction was given by Steve Olson, president and owner of A.K.A. Wine Geeks, the company charged with the grand task of promoting Jerez. Steve explained how in order to truly catapult Jerez back into the forefront of the serious wine-drinking world, he needed to “bring it back to cool again.” Cesar Saldaña, Director of the Regulating Council of Jerez, beamed unabashedly at his sherry-smitten disciple. Olson is articulate, clever, and tireless, and has contributed enormously to how indescribably cool sherry is indeed today.

Be proud, my Taberna servers, we’ve been serving and drinking sherry since looooong before it was cool. If anyone asks, we had 9 sherries on our list back in 1998, all by Emilio Lustau. We featured one from each genre, a showcase that was clear and educational as well as delicious: manzanilla, fino, amontillado, almacenista amontillado, dry oloroso, sweet oloroso, almacenista oloroso, Pedro Ximénez, and tintilla de Rota. (The things we love now, pasadas, en ramas, and limited bottlings were still a decade away from Boston). There the collection stayed until I became rather un-cool-ly obsessed in about 2012, and now our list is at 62 sherries. And counting...

Back to the tasting at No. 9 Park. Cesar guided us through each of 21 sherries, carefully grouped into four thoughtful flights. His immeasurable love for sherry rang clear with every articulate and educational explanation he gave. it was thrilling for me to listen to 3 hours of discussion on one of my favorite topics in the world, sherry, and I’d like to share it with you.

Lunch began with a plate of branzino crudo that was both stark and sexy, and as I tore at those pieces of fish, decorated with grapefruit, castelvetrano olives, and purslane, I was struck with how melodious grapefruit is with manzanilla and fino! In Spain they don’t really cook with grapefruit, so it was a new sensation for me to drink my La Guita, a rich and romantic style of manzanilla that I’ve loved since the ‘80s, with the pluck of grapefruit. La Guita is made by Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, purchased by the Grupo Estévez back in 2007, and still the best-selling manzanilla in southern Spain. Its sapid tang puts me right every time. Do recommend it to any guests who appear wan or disengaged!

The Lustau Fino Puerto Fino was as petrol-scented and nervy as ever. A manly fino, it feels like an offering from beach’s oldest and deepest sands. This is the fino we love to pair with jamón ibérico at Taberna. TheGonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, a fino that Cesar said was “like milk in his house growing up” (why didn’t I live there???), had the elegant almond lilt that I love now, and adored back in Madrid because it was the brand that always available even in the randomest of bars. It is a 4-5 year old fino, with depth and a history that is palpable on the palate. The brand dates back to 1844! It, too, was delightful with the delicate fish and bitter grapefruit.

There was another Gonzalez Byass fino in this flight, one I hope, dear servers, to offer very soon on our ever-expanding list. Called Dos Palmas Fino, it is a sherry blessed with a particularly vigorous flor (surviving 7-8 years!) to create a wine of unusual finesse. The word palmas refers to the symbol written in chalk on the cask, a little palm tree-like figure. Two palmas are better than one - more elegance and complexity. This finohad pretty notes of oxidation, traces of light fruit, and flowers slowly drying but still beautiful. Soon, I promise!

Our final fino in the flight was the Valdespino Ynocente , an astonishing specimen made from grapes exclusively from the prized and chalky Macharnudo vineyard, that is an average of 10 years old when bottled! As you know, it is also the last remaining fino to be fermented in oak cask. (By the way, the Tio Diego Amontillado is made from a parallel solera, under flor for 8 years, and then aged oxidatively for another 7-8 years).

The Angels chose for our next flight a dish of 4 different squashes, each exquisitely and uniquely prepared, garnished with speck, burrata, and marjoram. Although I could eat this for breakfast daily from September to January, it was truly THE thing with the rare sherries we tasted. Not tea. First was a Manzanilla en Rama by Barbadillo called Solear, a wildly popular brand in southern Spain. It smelled of focaccia dough with pungent chrysanthemum notes and mellow dried apple. Ten years old and unfiltered, the golden beams of acidity were still bright. Chalk and limestone shone through the chamomile. Terribly torturous since we don’t have it in Boston, but I will see who I have to nudge to get it for us.

Also absent from our market and impressive for its gravitas was the Fernando de Castilla Antique Fino. Ten years old, it was subtly oxidized, with notes of French bread crust, light petrol, and groovy minerals. The next wine is one we love to sell at Taberna de Haro, the Viña AB Amontillado. It is more fino thanamontillado, spending 4 years under flor followed by a long, slow natural dying off of said flor rather than the traditional, quick death-by-fortification of 17º alcohol. It spends another 4 years aging oxidatively, and ends up at 16.5% alcohol, which is low for amontillado. It is unique and redolent of orange, still attached to its finofirst family in every way - tangy, pungent, and relatively light. It is simply dreamy with our lemony roasted chicken.

Still savoring my squash still-life, I swooned over the Napoleon Amontillado by Hidalgo. Made with the La Gitana solera, it still bristles with its minerally manzanilla past-life while blossoming with dried apricots and toasted pecans. Heady and gorgeous stuff. It shared a space in my heart with the Principe Amontillado by Barbadillo, a 20 year old amontillado (from their manzanilla pasada solera). Glorious, silky, and redolent of cepes, it was a lovely end to the flight. Barbadillo is another brand we must bring to Taberna, ¡¡cuanto antes!!

The Pairing Angels, and their chef de cuisine Ben Weissberger, prepared a third course of Colorado lamb with artichokes, anchovy, and olive to be enjoyed with three Palos Cortados and three Olorosos. The Leonor Palo Cortado by Gonzalez Byass was bitter and edgy in an exhilarating way, but the loving touch of glycerine on the tongue balanced the mouth-feel beautifully. I could feel its happiness as it mixed it up with the artichoke! The Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado by Barbadillo was a more sensual affair. There were wild, stony, and yeasty notes buried in the heart of the rich nuttiness and spiced wood. Very round, with an interminable finish. (Remember, anything made by Barbadillo derives from manzanilla as the winery is located in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Amontillados and palos cortados made there begin life as manzanillas, under robust flor, while the olorosos come from the second pressing of the palomino grapes so they have more tannin and structure, and do not spend time under flor, except for the minimal amount in the sobretablaswine, the new wine waiting to be put into the solera system). The final Palo Cortado was by Williams & Humbert, called Dos Cortados VOS. (VOS is Vinum Optimum Signatum, or Very Old Sherry, averaging 20 years of age while VORS is Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, Very Old Rare Sherry, averaging 30 years of age). It was very rich, with nut butter and orange zest flavors, with dark notes of muscovado sugar in an otherwise light and vibrant wine.

I adore palo cortado. As mysterious and intriguing as it is on the palate, so it is on the intellect. No one truly defines it well. “It falls between an amontillado and an oloroso.” Or, “There’s a moment in the sherry’s life when the capataz decides it should be a palo cortado because of its aromas and structure.” And, “Palos cortados just happen. Certain barrels take on special characteristics distinct from the others in the solera, so they get labeled with the ‘cut stick’ - palo cortado- symbol.” These are lovely, provocative statements that have spawned many a spirited conversation and increased consumption at my table. Lovely, maybe, but neither precise nor helpful.

Enter Cesar Saldaña, whose roots go as deep into the zone as any 100- year old vine. His very DNA understands sherry, and he was born to communicate its complexities. He explained palo cortado so precisely and eloquently I felt sunbeams in my brain! Palos cortados are round and rich because they retain glycerine. This is due to their brief time under flor, usually only 2 - 4 years. Compare this with amontillado, which spends up to 7 or 8 years under flor, long enough for all the glycerine to be consumed by the hungryflor. Remember, glycerine is a nutrient key to the flor’s survival. The absence of glycerine in amontilladomakes it lean, racy, and sculpted. The presence of glycerine in palo cortado makes it voluptuous, smooth, and plumper. And how exactly is this achieved? Palo cortado is made by taking a young fino or manzanillawith particularly full-body and structure and ushering it through the oxidative aging process early in its life. In essence, you take a fino or manzanilla that excels for its big-boned nature, you fortify it up to 18% or 19%, and you let it age in those old barrels from 5 to 30 years. With amontillado, on the other hand, you push theflor to its limit, 7-8 years, and then when it is losing its vigor, you fortify the wine up to 17% and age it oxidatively in barrels. Simply wondrous, no? (I’ll be asking each of you during this week to talk to me about this, so take it all in...).

Back to the tasting where the olorosos waited patiently to be consumed with perfectly cooked lamb, a rare loin slice and a braised belly piece. Fernando de Castilla’s Antique Oloroso was dry, lean, nutty and intense while the Dry Sack 15 Year Solera Especial Oloroso was rich and layered with fig and maple. Finally, the VOS Royal Corregidor Oloroso by Sandeman was a dark and lush treat from a soleraestablished in 1894. Sweetened with Pedro Ximénez, the wine was a harmonious show of coffee and toffee.

And on we moved to Pedro Ximenez and moscatel, two grape varieties whose thin skin makes them apt for drying. After harvest, they are left to dry on straw mats in the hot Andalucían sun for 4-12 days, concentrating their sugars from about 12 to 25 beaumé. The acids are concentrated as well, which allows for such sweet wines that are also pleasing and balanced. All sugar and no acid makes Pedro a dull boy, as they say. With these sweethearts, we were served a Mexican chocolate panna cotta with cinnamon, orange pieces, and popped caramel corn. Sublime. The chocolate was focused and meaningful, not too sweet, and energized by the orange. It was perfect with all four dessert wines. First, the Emilio Lustau East India Solera, created in memory of the wines that used to travel by boat to the East Indies and sometimes back again, is made ofoloroso and Pedro Ximénez, aged separately for 10 years, blended, then aged together for 3 more. It is truffly, nutty, sweet, and lovely, and, as you know, has long been a house favorite dessert wine at Taberna de Haro. Lustau’s Emilín moscatel is a bouncy, citrusy burst of sweet sunshine, with its sandy soils showing through the orange marmalade decadence. Beautiful with the chocolate and orange, despite its 300 grams of residual sugar. I also love this wine with Payoyo cheese.

The final two wines were pure Pedro Ximénez, dark and sultry. Valdespino’s El Candado is a raisiny delight balanced by firm tea-like qualities. The Noe, a VORS Pedro Ximénez by Gonzalez Byass, caused my nose to quiver and my mind to reel with its pronounced aromas of ancho and guajillo peppers. So roasted and piquant, so obviously sweet but unique, the wine had the classic orange-tinged date and molasses characteristics, but I was thoroughly captivated by the chipotle parade wafting by. With 450 grams of residual sugar, it is the sweetest wine in the world, but divinely drinkable and not at all cloying. I’ve decided I need to create a dessert all our own at Taberna to pair with this special wine.

As always, bring on your questions and comments. How much sherry can YOU sell this fall?? Make me proud. Make the talented and brilliant Cesar Saldaña and Steve Olson proud!






Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence