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Tannic Panic! Issue #25: Amontillado You'll DIE For
This week we're getting spooky and talking Amontillado Sherry (in bottles, not casks)
Excerpt from “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe, 1846
As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.
GOOD MORNING, WINOS — WAKE UP AND SMELL THE SHERRY.
What is Amontillado, you ask? To understand the “nuances” of Amontillado Sherry, first it’s best we lay the stonework (I’ve got my trowel and mortar right here) of the broader category of Sherry itself.
Sherry is a renowned style of fortified wine originating from the righteous coastal region of Jerez in Andalusia, Spain. Contrary to what you may have thought, much of the Sherry produced is completely dry in style (though there are excellent, and not-so-excellent examples of naturally sweet & sweetened Sherry as well). But to best understand what is in the bottle, it is important to have a concept of how Sherry is produced.
DID YOU KNOW… In the extremely wholesome coastal city of Jerez de la Frontera there are in fact more casks of Sherry than people… or at least, living people.
BIOLOGICAL V.S. OXIDATIVE AGING
Sherry is unique as a style of wine in that the aromas & flavors in each bottle are derived almost entirely from the winemaking process, rather than the grapes used to produce it. Because of this, varietal character is not an important element in the final product of Sherry, and thus the ideal grapes for production are quite neutral in character (LIKE ME!)
Broadly speaking, the processes used to achieve this fall under 2 categories: biological aging, and oxidative aging.
The climate of Jerez, characterized by scorching summers and mild, humid winters, plays a pivotal role in the winemaking process. The intense heat and humid conditions foster the development of a special film-forming yeast called "flor," which thrives on the wine's surface during fermentation (LIKE ME!) offering protection from oxidation and producing acetaldehyde which imparts the characteristic flavors of biologically aged Sherry.
Fino Sherry (dry), Manzanilla (dry), and Pale Cream Sherry (sweetened), are examples of Sherry that exclusively undergo biological aging to achieve their flavors.
For oxidatively aged Sherry, the wine will be fortified to a higher abv to kill off the protective flor, exposing the surface of the wine to oxygen while it matures. This imbues characteristic oxidative flavors into the wine, such as toffee, leather, spice, and walnut. Oloroso (dry), Pedro Ximénez (naturally sweet), and Cream Sherry (sweetened), are examples of Sherry that exclusively undergo oxidative aging to achieve their flavors.
So where does Amontillado fit into this equation?
Amontillado sherry typically commences its journey as fino sherry, aging under a cuddly little blanket of flor. The wine is then refortified and fed into an Amontillado system, where it is allowed a period of oxidative aging. Amontillado thus often shows a complex blend of biological and oxidative characteristics, and the resulting wines can be incredibly high quality and age-worthy.
Of course Fortunado couldn’t appreciate the nuance. THE FOOL!
… AND NOW FOR THE REVIEWS (IN ORDER OF PRICE):
Profile: Roasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts), toffee, iodine, prunes
This is a solid entry level Amontillado, with a some noticeable residual sugar for anyone who isn’t really to dive into the bone dry end of the pool just yet. It shows almost exclusively oxidative notes on the nose, with roasted nuts, toffee, and a bit of salinity. The finish is fairly short, but that bit of residual sugar lends it much needed some balance and it drinks quite pleasantly.
$15 from Total Wine.
Vina Palaciega Jerez Amontillado Sherry, Jerez, Spain / $15
Profile: Roasted walnut shell, almonds, hazelnut, dried herbs, lemon, lemon peel, maple candy, burnt coffee, soy sauce
This one is dry, and shows a bit more aromatic complexity than the Don Benigno. We’re still seeing those familiar roasted nuts (THE GOOD KIND!) alongside some citrus, with a bit of burnt coffee, maple candy and yes, soy sauce. Soy sauce is not too unusual as a note in Sherry, a bit of a savory/saline element that is common to these wines. The finish again is short.
A slightly different expression from the Don offers another option for an entry level Amontillado for you maniacs to taste.
$15 at Wegman’s.
Profile: dried stone fruits (apricots, peach), brazil nuts, hazelnuts, burnt sugar, caramel, citrus peel
This one (also from Pedro Rodriguez e Hijos, like the Don Benigno) is a little different. Pronounced aromas of dried stone fruits — think of those gooey dried apricots we all know and love — along with roasted and candied nuts (hazelnuts, brazil nuts, praline), burnt sugar, caramel, and citrus.
It is lively and inviting. Take that first sip and you may be surprised to find that you are greeted by a bone dry wine (as the aromatics suggest a sweetness), with a bit of savory character, and high alcohol that is well integrated into the whole, so as not to be overpowering or out of balance. A very long finish.
This was undoubtedly the highest quality example of the Amontillado we tasted.
$22 at Total Wine.
It’s worth noting that in spite of the attractive profiles on some of these wines, Sherry can be a bit divisive — not everyone is going to love it. But we implore you to explore the world of Sherry a bit, as there are a wide variety of styles out there, ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet, from purely biologically aged to oxidatively aged and everything in between. So even if you don’t love these bottles of Amontillado, don’t wall yourself in — odds are there’s something out there you’ll enjoy.
It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said —
“Ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — a very good joke, indeed — an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo — he! he! he! — over our wine — he! he! he!”
“The Amontillado!” I said.
Excerpt from “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe, 1846
Until next time, SPOOKY DRINKING PEOPLE!
Isaac & Zach
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