This may not be the time of year when sherry is most popular, but for some reason, the wine gods keep putting them in front of me, so I’m going to just go with it.
The most coveted of all the sherries is oloroso. Made both in Jerez and Montilla-Moriles (which technically cannot call its wines sherry, as this designation is saved exclusively for Jerez), both in Spain, it is what die-hard sherry drinkers consider the pinnacle of the sherry spectrum.
Unlike manzanilla and other fino sherry (amontillado included), oloroso does not have the presence of flor — yeast forming a barrier between the wine and air that prevents oxygenation. The reason for this is it is fortified (grape spirits are added) at an early stage, thereby killing off the yeasts and at the same time elevating the alcohol level. As a result, the wine ends up with about 18 percent alcohol and has a dark-brown color indicative of oxidation.
With rare exception, sherry is aged in what is known as the soleras. These are vessels that are used for fractional blending of wines from different years. When you drink an oloroso chances are some of the wine is from a solera that goes back several decades.
The wines from Jerez are made primarily from palomino, while pedro ximenez is used in Montilla-Moriles. There are subtle differences between the two based on varietal and terroir. I find the wines from Montilla-Moriles have a little bit more weight and less acid.
Oloroso is usually dry, but there are some exceptional sweet versions. Blending oloroso with pedro ximenez makes cream sherry. Others simply have some residual sugar. However, sherry geeks, of which I am a card-carrying member, take pride in our love for the, borderline bitter but fascinating dry wines that can be as complex as any wine made in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo. If you are looking for entrance to this club, here are three to check out:
Gutierrez Colosia Oloroso Sangre & Trabajadero (El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez, Spain): Gutierrez Colosia sold its almacenistas to other companies until 1997, when, after 160 years, it started bottling under its own name. With a faint hint of sweetness, this is a lovely and unassuming wine that over-delivers with a delicious matrix of almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seed oil and toasted vanilla. Suggested retail: $15.99
Lustau Oloroso, 1/16 Angel Zamarano (Jerez de la Frontera, Jerez, Spain): When Lustau was founded in 1896 by Don José Ruiz-Berdejo, it was essentially an almacenista — a small, independent grower-producer. The company grew overtime and began purchasing other almacenistas in 1981. Angel Zamarano is a successful entrepreneur who started out making wine as a hobby and now sells his wine to Lustau. Nutty and rich with dried apricots, prunes and vanilla, this oloroso is a classic. Suggested retail: $39.99
Maestro Sierra Oloroso 1/14 VORS (Jerez de la Frontera, Jerez, Spain): Founded in 1832 by Jose Antonio Sierra and now in the hands of one of his descendants’ widows, Pilar Pla Pechovierto Maestro Sierra is filled with small production troves. Named 1/14 to indicate that 14 butts (barrels) were made from this solera, it is at least 50 years old. An intense wine with roasted nuts, butter, hints of green olives and a long, mind-blowing, palate-awakening finish, sherry does not get any better than this. Suggested retail: $102 (375ml)
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.