Weekend Vinopolpick- September 7

September 7, 2013

“If the future of sherry includes a greater number of smaller-scale, independent bodegas, they would do well to follow the lead of Rey Fernando de Castilla, one of the most exciting producers in the region today.”Peter Liem, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla

 Through many accidents of history, (sieges, revolutions and phylloxera alike) Sherry has seen several ups and downs in its production and demand. Though Sherry has a long history of serving the likes of Christopher Columbus and Shakespeare, it has been a somewhat ignored wine in history, save a small niche of devotees. Recently, Sherry has been experiencing a renaissance among consumers who realize the high quality wine being imported at great values. The versatile food-pairing options of the wines have been promoted by the producers, in league with intrigued sommeliers, helping Sherry gain new ground in the wine world, and Fernando De Castilla is, very clearly, one of those producers at the forefront of this movement. 

The Sherry Triangle

 A little background: Jerez has been a center of viniculture since wine-making was introduced to Spain, with records of Sherry production going back as far as 711 AD. The “Jerez-Xérès-Sherry” Denomination of Origin lies in what is called the “Sherry triangle” that is formed by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the province of Cadiz. Palomino is the primary varietal for Sherry wines, and it thrives on the unique “albariza” chalky white soil of the region, the nature of which is very absorbent; vital due to the small amount of rainfall the Jerez region receives. Pedro Ximénex (aka PX) is also grown in smaller scale, and used for sweetening dry sherries or for the production of its own single-varietal, aged, naturally sweeter sherry. Sherry starts its life as a dry-fermented white wine and is then fortified with the addition of grape spirit. A unique feature in sherry winemaking is the solera system of aging, which is essentially a blending system of casks that hold wines of different ages, resulting in all the casks holding a portion of the oldest wine ever made at the bodega.  The amount of time and how the sherries are aged from that point on varies depending on the style of Sherry that is being aimed for. There are four basic groups of Sherry, ranging from lighter Fino to sweet, rich Pedro Ximenez. 

Fino and Manzanilla: Aged biologically under a thick layer of flor, which is yeast naturally produced in the winemaking process, that prevents any oxygen reaching the wine. Any wine aged entirely under flor is considered a Fino, while Manzanilla refers to a Fino Sherry that comes strictly from the SanLucar region. These wines are often lighter and drier, with distinct flavors of yeast and saline elements. 

Oloroso: Oxidatively aged wines, ie, wines that are produced without the protection of flor, granting more exposure to oxygen, thus changing the flavor of the wine due to its constant evaporation in barrel for several years. This style of wine is therefore more concentrated, producing a wine that is golden to dark brown in color and very fragrant, often showing more secondary characteristics than flavor of the grape, nutty, wooden aromas range to dark chocolate and bitters. 

Palo Cortado and Amontillado: These wines are considered “intermediate” styles, as they undergo both biological and oxidative aging. Amontillado is basically a fino Sherry in which the flor has been allowed to die and the wine continues to age oxidatively, producing something that is similar to Oloroso in body and density but still maintains the distinctive briny qualities imparted by flor. Palo Cortado is a rarer style that is said to have historically occurred rather than be created, beginning as a Fino wine that has diverged from the expected profile and becoming something entirely its own under oxidative aging. These wines tend to have a richer body while maintaining many Fino-like flavors.

Sweet: Sweetened with Pedro Ximénez grape juice. Pedro Ximénez grapes have a high residual sugar content as they are sun-dried to concentrate the sugars before being pressed. Flavors that one can expect from PX are the thick raisiny, sweet flavors of fig and molasses.

Fernando De Castilla
Jan Pettersen, owner and winemaker, among the soleras

The history of Fernando de Castilla in Jerez goes back at least two centuries, with records showing them producing as early as 1837, around the same time many of the large sherry houses still in production were being established.  Formally opened in 1972, a decisive moment for this estate occurred in 2000 when the Sherry-obsessed Norwegian Jan Pettersen took the helm. Pettersen has a passion for Sherry, believing that authenticity of taste is paramount. At the lead among a small group of “boutique” bodegas, Fernando de Castilla is a stark contrast to larger business models, bottling at very select times during the year, maintaining small barrel quantities to ensure quality, and leaving all his wines unfiltered. Pettersen eschews the need to label his sherries by years aged, opting to not use the VOS (Very Old Sherry) or VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) classification despite many of the wines falling into this category. Fernando de Castilla simply produces two bottlings of each style, the “Classic” younger bottling and the “Antique” aged sherries. The Classics are paler, lighter wines, perfect for an introduction into the world of sherry. The Antiques, in the words of Peter Liem, “It is with the Antique range.. that Pettersen truly reveals the strengths of the bodega.” 

Fernando de Castilla’s offerings; Classics on the right, Antiques on the left

Fernando de Castilla Fino Classic NV 750ml ($21.95) $16 special
Winemakers notes:
“Pale golden wine with a sharp delicate bouquet. Light and dry.”

Fernando de Castilla Amontillado Antique NV 500ml ($41.95) $33 special
Wine Advocate 92 points “The NV Antique Amontillado is amber-colored and has a subtle nose of tobacco, some iodine, pollen, beeswax and hazelnuts. The medium- to full-bodied palate shows lots of concentration and acidity, with a very intense finish. 4,000 bottles are produced yearly. Drink 2013-2017.”
Fernando de Castilla Fino Antique NV 500ml ($29.92) $23 special
Wine Advocate 93 points “The NV Antique Fino is eight years of average age when bottled; it’s fragrant and perfumed, feminine and subtle, with dry flowers and a rare balance between old and young. The palate shows a much more serious wine, pungent, intense, saline, sharp and at the same time delicate, complex and long, most probably because it’s fortified to 17% at the time of bottling, something that was common in the past, but that almost nobody does anymore. A most unusual old-style Fino. Bravo! 4,000 bottles produced yearly. Drink 2013-2018.”
Fernando de Castilla Oloroso Antique NV 500ml ($39.95) $31.90 special
Wine Advocate 95 points “The NV Antique Oloroso is open and expressive in the nose, with a predominant note of hazelnuts and varnished wood, a sweet touch of spices, brandy filled chocolates and orange rind. The perfectly balanced palate shows intense, clean, pure flavors and great length. 5,000 bottles produced yearly. Drink 2013-2016.”
Fernando de Castilla Palo Cortado Antique NV 500ml ($47.95) $37 special
Wine Advocate 93 points “The amber-colored NV Antique Palo Cortado has a clean, changing, lifted nose of white chocolate, orange marmalade, almonds and incense, while the balanced palate comes through quite intense, sharp, with good acidity and length. 3,000 bottles were filled. Drink 2013-2019.”
Fernando de Castilla Pedro Ximenez Antique NV 500ml ($44.95) $36 special
Wine Advocate 93 points “The NV Antique Pedro Ximenez is produced from dehydrated Pedro Ximenez grapes in a solera system, and represents half of the production of the range. Mahogany-colored, it reveals plenty of notes of marinated balsamic herbs (somehow an old vermouth comes to mind), licorice and a fresh touch of candied apricots. The palate is fresh, sweet, with echoes of the raisins, showing medium age which makes it easier to drink. It might not be a terribly complex Pedro Ximenez but its freshness makes it very approachable. 14,000 bottles produced yearly. Drink 2013-2015.”