Sherry Wine News

Machines Rather than Points

In his third piece, U.S. guest wine writer Doug Frost, MW MS, examines the all-consuming experience of drinking through the styles of Sherry and looks to metaphors to help describe them.

Sherry’s diversity is never in doubt. We know them as dry and salty wines; we‘ve tasted staggeringly sweet wine, more 10-40 or 30 weight than 90 points. Or whatever measure you prefer. We use numbers too often when there are myriad other measures at our disposal. Math seems a reductively absurd measure for the aesthetic experience of compelling wine.

Metaphor is just as common and makes more sense in my view. We constantly compare wine to art, or to people. This one is like a gentle watercolor; that one is a raging Pollock. This bottle is a slim woman; that one a loud-mouthed imbecile. Okay, maybe I’ve chosen poor examples.

But as I swirl Gonzalez Byass Noe’s remarkable PX in my glass, as slow as a lolling walrus, differing metaphors arise. If you’ve ever spent time with machines (and I did in an earlier life), you could actually evaluate most Sherries by thinking about machines. Bodegas Tradición VORS Amontillado is like lawn mower oil; Lustau Dry Oloroso more the viscosity of auto lubricant, like the stuff you bought at the convenience store and dumped into one of your early vehicles; truth be told, it needed a lot of oil. Most Fino is like the stuff in the little tiny can that makes that tic-tic sound when you squirt oil out of it: pure, colorless, clean and effective. By the time you get to Moscatel or PX, I don't know what machine takes that kind of oil. It would have to be a very big and noisy machine. I worked around those a few times but I have no idea what they did. It was high school; I just walked by those machines and, anyway, it was far too noisy to ask. And, besides that, it was HIGH School. I was just wandering about, trying to stay clear of the boss.

But Manzanilla is smooooooth, like vodka wishes it could be, like it promises to be and sometimes is but usually abandons flavor as compensation. And even with relatively low acid, Manzanilla feels drier than all those famed “dry” wines. Its innovation is to make 15% alcohol taste like 10%. In itself, that’s cool. 

And it’s great with food. Octopus especially. Today, I’m thinking octopus. It’s near lunchtime and tomorrow I go to Greece. So, yeah, octopus.

But then there is En Rama. Not that guy the Beatles hung out with. En Rama. It could be a mantra if you needed one (next seminar, I’m getting the whole crowd to close their eyes and chant in a befuddled monotone, “en rama…en rama…en rama”. Consider yourself forewarned.), but it’s a kind of Sherry that was once something you bought by the glass in Sanlúcar and that was the only option. You can bring some bottles home now but it drinks too easily. So you probably have never brought enough home.

En Rama is Fino or Manzanilla freshly drawn from under the flor, not pasteurized or filtered. It’s different than the usual Fino or Manzanilla like those big machines were different from the little machines: intensity. It’s a face full of flor, and if you weren’t clear before about flor (“flower” is a dumb word for flor), well, now ya know.

En Rama from Barbadillo, their Manzanilla Solear Saca de Verano 2016, is a nearly violent experience: the salt threatens to take over, then the brine is flushed with a dose of something like bitter lemon pith; finally, the sheer textural power of the wine piles on. But it lays out more than it lays on; it’s on show rather than smothering you with kisses. 

I like this show. It’s something you observe rather than absorb because the sheer amount of aroma is more than you can get, more than you can take in. Every time you smell it, you are aware that you have not smelled it all. Tasting it is, somehow, for a second, I’m standing next to that big machine and the guy in the goggles looks at me but doesn't say anything because we couldn't hear each other anyway and we’ve never even spoken so what is there to say. But that is one big, noisy machine. What were we talking about?

It’s going to take a lot of food to tame this one. I’d best get started. Now where the hell am I going to find En Rama in Greece.


*Photo credit of octopus paired with Manzanilla to 15 Romolo, San Francisco.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
Doug Frost, MS, MW
Doug Frost is a Kansas City author who is one of only four people in the world to have achieved the remarkable distinctions of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He has written three books: Uncorking Wine (1996), On Wine (2001), and the Far From Ordinary Spanish Wine Buying Guide in its third edition (2011); is the wine and spirits consultant for United Airlines; and writes about wine and spirits for many national publications. He is also the director of the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition, the Mid-American Wine Competition, the Washington Cup Spirits Competition, the host of the Emmy Award nominated PBS-TV show Check Please, Kansas City; producer and host of the Emmy Award winning TV series FermentNation; and is a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource, an educational and consulting company whose other partners include Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, Paul Pacult and David Wondrich.
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Doug Frost, MS, MW @winedogboy
03 November 2016
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