Tonight I’ll be going into a side-by-side comparison of two different wines, but only one strictly satisfies the challenge. However, I’ve mentioned at least once my love for unique and nerdy grapes, regions, and vintners alike. When the opportunity to split a rather enticing specimen of fermented deliciousness with a couple of coworkers came up, I pounced like a jungle cat on unwitting prey. With a bit of luck and coordination I managed to snag the bottle first, so no worries about degradation once someone pops the cork.
Haha! Winner = me.
To explain the unique nature of the bonus wine, I’ll touch on a couple of concepts used in making Spanish fino-style sherry, which in turn addresses my official pick of the week.
Sherry differs from wines previously discussed in that it’s a fortified style. Put simply –
fortified = base wine + neutral (grape) spirit
Other types of fortified styles include port and madeira, which combined with sherry are the best known among wine drinkers. Fortifieds are not at all like cognac or pisco, for example, which distills a finished grape wine to raise its alcohol levels. I’ll go more into detail about distillation in a later post.
Instead, fortified wines involve adding the already made/distilled spirit into the base wine in order to, again, increase alcoholic content.
Cool, okay. But why?
Consider how long wine has been around historically. We’ve heard about the ancient Greeks enjoying the beverage, and even the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh mentions it at key points.
It’s said that beer is even older than grape wine, with mead (honey wine) the oldest of all.
Back then, people didn’t have any fancypants means of storing wine long-term. No Coravin, no fridge, no nifty stoppers that suck all of the air out of the bottle for you. In fact, wine wasn’t meant to be stored for long periods of time, or it would quickly spoil. Basic preservation techniques such as storage in dark rooms or buried underground in brittle clay amphorae sealed with pine resin didn’t do much to halt natural processes of decay.
I shudder to think what flavors pine resin imparted onto the wine…
Early designs and recipes for distillation allowed for the creation medicinal and recreational spirits that would last a lot longer due to much higher alcohol content, but distilling effectively destroys the flavors and aromas in wine. Get tipsier quicker, but it sure doesn’t taste as great.
Fast forward to the age of conquerors and explorers of Europe in particular, when long sea voyages to distant lands required large amounts of food and drink for those hard-working sailors, and perhaps also to sell upon arrival. Water even then wasn’t always safe to drink, and what good was wine that only lasted the first couple of weeks of the voyage in barrel?
How quickly can we say “mutiny”? (Not really, but that’s my guess, anyhow).
Here we come to fortification. Normally, we see this word in relation to armoring or in architecture for making things stronger. It’s essentially the same concept with wine — you fortify by adding pure, neutral spirits in order to make it last (hopefully) the length of the long sea voyage. If you’re a merchant, you pray it’s enough to carry it to the destination, make the sale, and be properly enjoyed by far-away consumers, thereby securing you a tidy profit.
And now we come to sherry itself; to earn its name, it not only must be made in a small region of Andalucia in southwestern Spain, but it also has to follow a strict set of winemaking rules, of which fino is arguably the most basic.
First, vintners make a base wine from Palomino grapes. Then, they pour it all into barrels with enough neutral spirit to increase the ABV (alcohol by volume) to just shy of 15% (most white wines reach around 11% at their highest, red wines 13.5%).
Herein lies the neat wrinkle: these barrels aren’t filled to capacity, as typical for ageing. On the contrary, there’s space left over to allow for oxygen to settle over the wine.
But hey, hold on, isn’t that a bad thing? Wasn’t there a previous post talking about how oxygen = death to wine?
Yes. That’s true. Bear with me.
By deliberately exposing the fortified wine to oxygen, a filmy protective yeast called flor forms over it. In ageing the sherry under that layer in barrel, new and distinctive flavors that weren’t initially present in the base wine begin to develop, such as nuts and brine.
In the case of manzanilla sherry, a type of fino made exclusively in or near Sanlúcar de Barrameda, proximity to the ocean allows for not only the great aromas and flavors imparted by flor, but also increased delicacy. Many consider manzanilla to be the lightest and finest type of sherries.
Methinks I’ve yakked enough about this all… so onto the wines themselves!
Week 8 Wine: Orleans Borbón Manzanilla Sherry
Producer: Orleans Borbón
Region: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Andalucia, Spain
Style: Dry, fortified sherry
The wine is a clear, medium gold.
Oooh, neat. I mean, uh… this wine has a clean nose. So many aromas that it’s overwhelming at first, but swirling the glass helps to clear the haze. Primary aromas are limited to citrus (mostly lemon) and some dried stone fruit. Secondary aromas (from the flor) are yeasty, even sourdough-like, and there’s definitely sharp brininess, honey, and some almonds/marzipan in there as tertiary notables from ageing.
This is a complex wine with medium plus intensity aromas.
Oof, lots of acidity here, enough to classify it at high levels. Bone-dry, as expected of this style of sherry, high alcohol levels due to its fortification, and a medium-light body.
One sip and I’m hit with a wave of salt; it’s the first thing to hit the palate, but it’s not unpleasant for the most part. Any fruit on the nose didn’t carry over to the palate, unfortunately, but there’s instead light toastiness from the yeast and a continuation of almonds. Overall, the flavors are of medium minus intensity as they’re overwhelmed by that seaside brine, but the finish is of medium length.
Complexity on the nose definitely ticks all the boxes for fascinating, interesting, and curiosity-inducing, though it doesn’t follow through on the palate in terms of variety nor intensity. The sherry’s finish fades gracefully from the palate into a pleasant tingle of acidity, and fortification keeps the overall body light and crisp.
I’d consider the Orleans Borbón a manzanilla sherry of good quality; if it had even just a bit more going on with flavors and their intensity, the rating would be a solid “very good” instead. Despite this, I would drink it again and look forward to finishing the bottle with some pasta carbonara or something else with salty sheep’s milk cheese and/or bacon (because I bought a bunch of bacon at market, but it works really well anyway, trust me).
This wine has already gone through an ageing process; however, I’d still recommend drinking it now or within 2 years of purchase as the lack of flavor intensity and complexity deems it unsuitable for further ageing.
You can find a 375ml bottle of the Orleans Borbón for around $10.
Week 8 Bonus Wine: Equipo Navazos “La Bota de Florpower”
Producer: Equipo Navazos
Region: Pago Miraflores vineyards, Sanlúcar de Barrumeda, Andalucia, Spain
Style: Dry white, unfortified
It’s important to note that while this wine comes from the exact same region of Spain and uses the same grape, it is not fortified. Rather, the white wine was aged in barrels previously used for ageing manzanilla sherry, and it was allowed to develop a layer of flor in those barrels.
This wine is a clear, medium amber. I’m guessing that the lack of fortifying spirit allows a stronger presentation of color? Speculating here, not exactly sure.
More oohing and aaahing on my part, because the nose is so different. Clean aromas of medium intensity include chamomile tea, underripe lemon, almond and yeast. Like the sherry, there’s an underlying saltiness, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent. The nose here is also more savory than that of the sherry, with a bit of funk (for lack of a better term).
High acidity, completely dry and with a medium level of alcohol, the Florpower has a medium body and medium finish. In terms of flavors, the same continues from the nose with citrusy lemon, almonds, yeast and chamomile. Briny notes continue to take a back seat, which is nice. I also detected some hay and even (rather a surprise) a touch of white pepper.
While “Más acá” on the Florpower’s label denotes less maturity according to the winemaker, I thoroughly enjoyed a greater balance of elements and a softening of harsher points found in the sherry. The length of the finish on this wine remained essentially the same, and while the intensity of aromas was lower, the flavors carried equally.
In terms of a rating, I’d call this a solid “very good.” Still, I would drink it now, as the lack of overall intensity makes it unsuitable for further ageing.
You can find a bottle of the Florpower for about $40, though it may be a difficult bottle to locate. I was able to find it with some coworkers on sale, and splitting the cost helped it fit nicely into my wine challenge budget.
Between the two wines, I’d probably pick the Florpower as my favorite. Yes, it definitely had a softer impact than the sherry, but I could sit back and sip it more easily. Granted, I could use the sherry as an excellent cooking wine, especially considering its low price point, but at the same time I would be curious to make two batches of, say, a risotto or similar dish and compare the effect of the wines side-by-side.
In fact, I’m going to have some extra time this weekend, so I may do just that! Now to find a suitable recipe and break out the Instapot…