Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tasting Lustau Sherries

My Sherry epiphany happened about 20 years ago at a friend's house in Pacifica, California, near the beach. We were opening all sorts of wines from California, Burgundy, and Bordeaux at the party. Then my friend pulled out what he said was his last bottle of Sandeman Palo Cortado Royal Ambrosante. I've had Sherry before but it wasn't a big deal for me back then. But this one blew me away. We all forgot about the other wines we were drinking and fought for a pour of this last bottle of Palo Cortado. The solera where this Sherry came from no longer exist, gone some years back. To this day I still remember the beauty of that Sherry.

Sherry is one of the great classical wines, perhaps even the greatest, as it has amazing versatility, complexity, and affinity with any food. Not least of its many advantage is its affordability. It is a wine that offers maximum pleasure for minimum outlay. Yet, Sherry has always been a tough sell in the US. We have plied it to customers over the year with ho-hum results.

Lately, however, there is a surge in Sherry interest. The popularity of Spanish cuisine--tapas in particular--no doubt has something to do with it. But I think the young generation of somms, who have fallen in love with Sherry are the chief instigators. Their ardor seems to resonate more on younger drinkers who regard Bordeaux and Napa Cabs as unexciting. Younger drinkers have taken to Sherry more readily than the older generation of wine consumers weaned on Bordeaux and Napa Cabs by wine critics over the last few decades. Before, wine lovers typically started with something sweet like Boone's Farm or Liebfraumilch, then to jammy Zinfandels, Shiraz, and Cabernets, followed by Bordeaux, and finally graduating to Burgundy. Today's younger generation of drinkers start with craft beer followed by natural wines, Jura and Sherry. It's a more compact wine journey. 

Our Sherry Primer Tasting yesterday focused on Lustau Sheries. Lustau's range of Sherries is second to none. Though one one of the leading Sherry producers Lustau is smaller in size than its rivals and more focused on higher quality, artisanal style Sherries. In fact, Lustau started out as a small Almacenista in 1896 before it expanded.

Almacenistas are family-owned, small, artisnal Sherry producers equivalent to Burgundy's negociant-eleveurs. These old families have been keeping and aging Sherries in small soleras for generations. They don't bottle the Sherries but sell them to Sherry produers that bottle and label them for sale.

The quality of the Sherries produced by these Alamcenistas is usually superb and one-of-a-kind. In the past their small production was sold to large Sherry producers that blended them with other Sherries, thus losing the individual quality of the Almacenistas Sherry. However, in the early 1980s Lustau started to bottle each one individually, identifying the particular Almacenista family and solera on the label.

Since then Almacenista Sherry was born. These Sherries are rare because of the tiny production. Almacenista soleras usually consist of less than a hundred butts (oak casks) versus many hundreds of butts for typical Sherry producers in their soleras.

Drake McCarthy, West Coast regional manager of Europvin USA, exclusive importers of Lustau, shared his extensive knowledge and experience of Sherry to everyone. A useful lesson I picked up from Drake is ideas for pairing each type of Sherry with different kinds of food.

We had lovers of Spanish of food and wine attending the tasting, including, of course, La Liga aficionados. 

Post-tasting a group of us checked in at a neighborhood sushi joint lugging a bunch of left-over Sherries from the tasting. At the dinner table is where Sherry excels, and the Sherries we brought proved that. The Lustau Fino Solera Reserva "Jarana" and the Lustau Almacenista Sanlucar Manzanilla Pasada "Manuel Cuevas Jurado 1/80" were perfect with the dozen oysters and sashimi of ama-ebi and hamachi.

Following that, a plate of ankimo (monkfish liver), grilled asparagus, and fried shrimp heads from the ama-ebi were superb with the Lustau Almacenista Amontillado del Puerto "Jose Luis Gonzalez Obregon 1/10"

Finally, with both the Lustau Jerez Palo Cortado "Vides 1/50" and the Lustau Almacenista Jerez Oloroso "Pata de Gallina Juan Garcia Jarana 1/38" we enjoyed slices of garlic flavored melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef tataki and a sashimi fillet of whole iwashi flown in from Japan. The bone was served deep-fried, crisp as potato chips. All perfect with the Sherries.

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