Friday, July 20, 2018

Perfection In A Bottle: Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry

Is this Sherry truly perfection in a bottle? 

In my own personal view, it was perfection, though I'll qualify that declaration by stating the sense of perfection came through due to a variety of factors, from the friends who shared that bottle with me to the lengthy history of this bottle. However, on its own, without all of those other factors, this Sherry is exceptional, maybe the best Sherry I've ever consumed. It very likely may be the best wine I drink this year. I can't recommend it highly enough and I hope to acquire more of it one day. If you ever find this Sherry on a wine store shelf, don't hesitate: BUY IT!

Before getting into the history of this Sherry, I should give a brief explanation of the Solera system, a process of fractional blending that is essential to the production of Sherry. A solera consists of a number of different tiers of barrels, known as criaderas. The oldest tier is commonly located on the floor of the bodega and progressively younger tiers are placed above this oldest tier. At various times during a year, Sherry will be extracted for bottling from the oldest tier, commonly 10%-15% of the barrel though it may be as much as 35%. Then, Sherry from the next oldest tier will be added to refill the oldest tier, and this process is then repeated for each tier as it is used to refill another tier. As such, the oldest tier eventually becomes a blend of Sherries of many different ages.

Now, onto the fascinating history of this very old Sherry. The origin of the Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry extends back to the early 18th century, when the solera system first started to be used by the Sherry industry. The bodegas of Aguilar y Cia were established in 1740 in Sanlúcar, and the solera that would eventually result in the Yuste Amontillado was founded sometime between 1740-1750. Just take a moment to consider its age, before even the U.S. acquired its independence, and maybe during King George's War.

We then consider the family of León Aldama y Respaldiza, which came to Sanlúcar from the province of Álava, part of the Basque region. In 1823, León took possession of the bodegas of Aguilar y Cia, acquiring their old barrels of Sherry. His family became quite famed in Sanlúcar, especially for their vast vineyards and fine wines. When León died in 1863, his two nephews, Pedro Aldama Gaviña and José Gabriel Aldama Camba, became his primary heirs. Eventually, José became the first Conde de Aldama ("Count of Aldama") and seems to have taken primary control of the family's wine holdings and production.

During the 1880s, the dreaded phylloxera came to the Jerez region, destroying numerous vineyards and causing a number of bodegas to close. José lost some of his valuable vineyards and though American rootstock was used to save Spanish vines, José found fault with these new vines. He didn't care for the wine made from the new grapes and refused to add the wine to nearly all of his soleras, except for a few test cases. He basically stopped producing any further wine, and only purchased pre-phylloxera wine to add to his established soleras. Around 1888, José finally decided to seal at least some of this oldest soleras, such as those acquired from Aguilar y Cia, behind plaster, allegedly to protect their value and prevent them from being adulterated with wine from new grafted vines.

When José passed away, his nephew, Antonio Aldama Mendivil, the Marqués de Ayala, acquired the estate. Antonio took well to the Sherry business, acting as an almacenista for a number of other companies, and he also invested in other business, from mining to banking. The old soleras, hidden behind the plaster, remained untouched. Eventually, around 1921, there were significant changes and Antonio's financial situation came down crashing as he had started paying insufficient attention to his businesses, being distracted by other matters such as his philanthropy.

Due to his bankruptcy, Antonio was forced to sell off most of his businesses and investments. It then appears that in 1927, the old solera from Aguilar y Cia that had been hidden behind plaster was finally unearthed and then sold to Manuel Argueso Hortal, a wine company that no longer exists. Even under that new ownership, the solera remained essentially untouched, eventually being sold to Valdespino and then later being acquired, with a winery, by a property developer.

Bodegas Yuste was founded by Francisco "Paso" Yuste Brioso, and in 1991, he purchased the historic Bodega Santa Ana in Sanlúcar, and then in 1998, he bought the Viña La Alamedilla, 46 hectares of vineyards in the Jerez pago Carrascal. Around 2001, the property developer who acquired the old solera and winery from Valdespino sold it all to Bodegas Yuste, which took the materials to reconstruct the Bodega Los Ángeles, located in Sanlúcar. This became the home for the ancient solera begun so long ago by Aguilar y Cia.

To this point, the only wine that entered the solera was a small amount to compensate for natural evaporation. Bodegas Yuste later chose to bottle two Sherries from this solera, an Amontillado and, due to some barrel variation, a Palo Cortado. The average age of these Sherries is estimated at 130-150 years old.

Have you ever tasted a wine that old? And how much would you expect to pay for such an old wine?

Last fall, while visiting Chicago with my friend Adam, we stopped at a wine store and I noticed the Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry (500ml/$210) on a shelf. As a passionate lover of Sherry, it was difficult to resist the siren call of this unique Sherry. I've previously enjoyed some old Sherries but nothing this old. I also loved the nature of the bottle, almost like a decanter (and I've kept it now that the Sherry is gone). I bought the Sherry and then fervently hoped it would make the flight home safely, which it fortunately did.

To me, the price was extremely reasonable considering the age and uniqueness of this Sherry. Sherry is too often under-appreciated so it can be an excellent value. You would be hard pressed to find another type of wine, of a similar age, at this price point. I also felt that this might be my only opportunity to purchase this Sherry, considering it is a very low production wine.

The next important question I needed to consider was when to open the bottle. Obviously, this was a special wine, and should probably be opened for a celebratory occasion. I finally decided that I would open it for my birthday this year, a kind of a milestone event. Though I could have easily stored it away for several years, I wanted to experience this Sherry, to drink and enjoy it. I didn't want to wait too long. I couldn't deny the siren within this bottle beckoning to me.

And as I've said many times before, wine is meant to be shared, and tastes better when consumed with family and friends. Thus, I needed to make the hard decision of who to share this Sherry with, especially considering it was only 500ml, about 17 ounces. It was extremely difficult to narrow down my list of wine-loving friends to a mere handful, and I hope that I can share another bottle one day with others of my friends.

Now, how can I describe this unique Sherry when words are truly inadequate to depict its totality? First, it is easiest to begin with the Sherry's color, a rich mahogany. Then, after pulling out the cork stopper, it becomes more difficult to describe the nose, a rich and complex melange of harmonious aromas that seduced and tantalized me. Such an intensity and it was easy to sit there and continue to sniff the glass for a time, seeking everything within the aromas. You could identify some of the aromas, such as almonds, citrus, and tobacco, but then there were wisps of more exotic spices and aromas, which sometimes were tougher to identify, but pleasant nonetheless.

And the taste. Wow! Wow! Once again, there was complexity and harmony, a diverse melange of flavors, both familiar and not. So much concentration and bright intensity, yet still remaining elegant and subtle in certain aspects. There was the brine of the ocean, almonds and walnuts, caramel and vanilla, citrus and dried fruit. There were also hints of more exotic spices as well as a touch of earthiness. Each sip brought something new to my palate, exciting me with each taste. The finish lingered on and on, almost endlessly, with sharp acidity and more enticing flavors. I never wanted to stop drinking this Sherry and have never tasted a Sherry as good as this one.

Considering its extreme age, high quality and exquisite taste, I highly recommend this Sherry and consider it an excellent value, even at its price point. This Sherry truly made my birthday a most memorable occasion.

(For more information about Sherry, check out my 40+ articles at All About Sherry)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) All kids want to have fun. But for millions of sick children currently cared for at local Children's Miracle Network Hospitals® (CMNH), fun is on hold. The Dairy Queen®system wants to help those kids get out of the hospital sooner and back to having fun again.

DQ® will once again bring communities together to support CMNH during the 13th Annual Miracle Treat Day on Thursday, August 2. On Miracle Treat Day, $1 or more from every Blizzard® Treat sold at participating DQ Grill & Chill® and Dairy Queen locations throughout the U.S. will be donated to the local Children's Miracle Network Hospital. Funds raised during Miracle Treat Day support critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment and charitable care to help save and improve the lives of local children.

"We want to make Miracle Treat Day the most fun, most meaningful day of summer. The kids at children's hospitals across America are depending on us," said Maria Hokanson, executive vice president of marketing for American Dairy Queen Corporation (ADQ). "Miracle Treat Day is a celebration of how our communities come together to help the kids treated by Children's Miracle Network Hospitals so that they can be at home with their family, having fun and playing with their friends as soon as possible."

Every minute, 62 children are admitted to a Children's Miracle Network Hospital. One in 10 children in North America are treated at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals each year.

Last year, DQ® operators across the U.S. and Canada contributed more than $4 million on Miracle Treat Day alone in support of local Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Since 1984, the Dairy Queen system has raised more than $135 million for the charity through fundraising efforts including Miracle Treat Day, the Miracle Balloon campaign and other local initiatives.

The featured Miracle Treat Day Blizzard Treat of the Day is Oreo®, the most popular Blizzard Treat to date. The Blizzard Treat of the Month for August in the U.S. is the new TWIX® Blizzard Treat. All other Blizzard Treats, including those on the new Summer Blizzard Menu, are also available that day.

2) As French Bistro Les Zygomates enters the quarter century mark, owner Mark Tosi combines the old with the new to create an exciting atmosphere of wine tastings, small plate dining and live entertainment.

Starting on Monday, July 23, newly appointed executive chef Guara Pimenta (formerly of Ambrosia, Restaurant L, & Blue Ox) will feature a small plates menu of globally inspired dishes. Complementing the new menu will be live entertainment from a variety of Americana artists.

Les Zyg will continue to celebrate its 25th year with a soon to be announced series of complimentary wine tastings hosted by former owner and celebrated sommelier Lorenzo Savona highlighting wines from the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Burgundy among other Parisian favorites.

The New Small Plates Menu:
Lamb Lollipops (Herb Marinated, Zyg’s Chimichurri 2/$5)
Mediterranean Olives (Citrus, Chili Flake, Rosemary, Garlic $7)
Crispy Mini Crab Cakes (Jonah Crabmeat, Pequillo Pepper Couli $5ea)
Blistered Shishito Peppers (Lime $7)
Chicken Meatballs (House Made Breadcrumbs, Coconut Curry 3/$3.50)
Hot Dates (Medjool Dates, Bacon, Gorgonzola Dolce, Balsamic Glaze $2ea)
Honey Spiced Carrots (with Bleu Cheese $7)
Fried Polenta (Crispy Polenta Lardons, Putanesca Sauce $9)
Roasted Cauliflower Almondine ($7)
Chicken Souvlaki (Yogurt Marinade, Sumac Spice $3.50ea)
Grilled Asparagus ($7)
Zyg’s Stuffed Sliders (Gorgonzola Dolce, Brioche Bun, Bacon–Tomato Jam $4.50ea)
Roasted Mixed Mushrooms ($7)
Parmesan Truffle Frites (Hand-cut Aged Idaho Potatoes, Parmesan Cheese, Truffle Oil $7)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Cheers To The Quinta Santa Eufemia 20 Year Old White Port

Many Americans are familiar with Ruby and Tawny Ports but they have much less familiarity with White Port, known in Portuguese as Porto Branco. White Port is made with a wide variety of white grapes, such as Arinto, Cercial, Codega, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, and Viosinho. It is generally produced in the same manner as Red Ports but, they are usually fermented without any skin contact and commonly aged, for two to three years, in 550 liter oak pipes. White Ports range from dry to sweet, and the sweetest versions are sometimes known as Lagrima. There is also a special category called Leve Seco ("light dry") which has a lower alcohol content, about 16.5%.

White Port is usually consumed slightly chilled and it's very common to mix young White Ports with tonic to make a Port Tonic cocktail. With the heat of the Douro, a Port Tonic is a very refreshing libation and would make for an excellent drink this summer.

A much smaller and unique category of White Ports are those specifically aged for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years, similar to Tawny aging categories. They are difficult to find locally though at least some are available in Massachusetts. For example, the aged White Ports of Quinta Santa Eufemia (including their 10, 20 & 30 year olds) are available at Julio's Liquors, which is where I purchased a few bottles. And I highly recommend you buy those aged White Ports.

Quinta Santa Eufemia was essentially founded in 1864 by Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho and it is now managed by the 4th generation. Located on the left side of the Douro River, the vineyards occupy more than 50 hectares, planted with field blends of 20+ grapes. They produce both table wines and Ports, including a 10, 20 and 30 year old White Port. At this time, they do not produce a 40 year old White Port. I've previously reviewed their 10 Year Old White Port ($25), noting "With a beautiful amber color, it possessed an alluring nose of floral and herbal notes, and on the palate the taste was complex and intriguing, a bit of an oxidative style. It had a tough of honeyed sweetness though it finished dry, and that finish lingers long in your mouth. It is surely a Port to slowly savor, enjoying the multitude of flavors that pass over your palate."noting

For one of my birthday celebrations, I opened a bottle of the Quinta Santa Eufemia 20 Year Old White Port ($25). It too is a blend of at least Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. It is fermented in traditional lagares, granite treading tanks where the grapes are trod on by foot. It was aged for about 9 months in stainless steel and then for at least more 20 years in wooden casks. Only about 60 cases of this wine are produced each year, so supplies are very limited.

Sniffing your glass, you'll be seduced by an alluring blend of honey, floral and herbal scents, with wisps of citrus. On the palate, the complexity of the aromas is still evident, with each sip bringing something new to your mouth. There is a mild sweetness, well balanced by its acidity, with bright honey notes, citrus flavors, and touches of herbs. It is more full bodied and rich, with a long, lingering finish that soothes and satisfies. It would work well with a variety of desserts, though you could also sit and savor it on its own. An amazing Port, I highly recommend this to all wine lovers. It is well worth the effort to seek it out, especially due to its complexity and superb taste.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Crémant D'Alsace Rosé: Domaine Camille Braun & Alsace-Willm

For any celebration, it's great to open some bubbly, and there's a wide choice of sparkling wines you can select. For my birthday celebrations this year, I enjoyed three different sparkling wines. One of these was a Grower Champagne, the excellent Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, which I drank at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington. I've visited that winery before and love their Champagnes, all which are made from 100% Chardonnay. It was a great way to begin my birthday dinner at ICOB.

The other two sparkling wines were similar, both Crémant D'Alsace Rosé though from different producers. As I've said multiple times people, Americans need to drink more Crémant d'Alsace, and in fact, they need to drink more wines, of all types, from Alsace. They often provide excellent value and taste. They are enjoyable while young but can also age well. They can provide a sense of history, as well as showcase state of the art wine making. They pair well with a diverse variety of foods and cuisines. And at their most basic, they are absolutely delicious.

For more background on Crémant d'Alsace, check out some of my previous articles where I share my passion for this tasty bubbly, including: Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At ThermopylaeSchoenheitz Winery: A Taste Of BeautyPuritan & Co.: Alsatian Wine AdviceGustave Lorentz: More Alsatian Wine TreasuresAlsatian Wines & Pheasant at Craigie On Main, Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation, and Starting the New Year With Crémant d'Alsace & Lobster.

The history of the Domaine Camille Braun extends back to 1523 in Alsace, and they have been producing wine in the village of Orschwihr since 1902. Currently, the owners, Christophe and Chantal Braun, own about 13 hectares of vineyards in or near Orschwihr, including the famed Grand Cru site Pfingstberg, which has been documented since 1299. The vineyards are now certified organic and Biodynamic, and their total production is only about 8,000 cases annually.

The NV Domaine Camille Braun Crémant D'Alsace Rosé ($25) is made from 100% Pinot Noir, the vines averaging about 30 years, as it is the only grape permitted in Alsace Rosé. Made in the méthode champenoise, the wine remains on the lees for about 18-24 months and only about 10,000 bottles are produced. The Rosé had a pleasing nose of red fruits and on the palate, the red fruits were more subtle and delicious, with hints of spice. It was dry and creamy, with a nice crispness to it as well. The fine bubbles helped to cleanse the palate and cut through the richness while I enjoyed this bubbly with a lobster dinner. An excellent choice for this pairing.

Maison Willm's fame began before it ever started making wine, and it centered on a compelling recipe, Escargots à l’Alsacienne, in which the snails were cooked in a broth of spices and white wine. Around 1896, the Willm family established a wine estate in the town of Barr, located at the base of the Grand Cru Kirchberg ("hills of the church") de Barr. This is a prime area in Alsace for vineyards. In the 1930s, they were one of the first wineries in Alsace to export to the U.S., allegedly becoming a favorite of the gangster Al Capone! I've previously enjoyed a couple other of their crémants, including the NV Willm Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut and the NV Willm Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Noirs Brut. 

The NV Willm Crémant d’Alsace Rosé ($18), made from 100% Pinot Noir, is produced by the méthode champenoise and remains on the lees for about 12 months. With an appealing nose of red fruits and a touch of spice, this was a delicious and lush Crémant with ripe flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. Dry, crisp, and clean, with a fine effervescence, this was a true crowd pleaser. At this price, it is an excellent value for the taste and complexity found within the bottle. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Born Tokusen Junmai Daiginjo: A Sake Worthy Of Celebration

As I've been celebrating my birthday for the last several days, I've opened a number of special bottles to commemorate the occasion. Of course, there had to be a Sake in that mix and it ended up being incredibly special and amazing. That shouldn't have surprised me as I know the brand and they produce superb Sake, including one of my favorite Sakes ever, the Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo. They produce Sake which will appeal to most wine lovers.

The Born brand is produced by the Kato Kichibee Shoten brewery,which is located in the Fukui Prefecture and was established in 1860. The company originally was involved in money exchange, but eventually the village headman chose to enter the Sake business. They use the term "Born" as in Sanskrit, it is roughly translated as "purity/striking truth, and represents the brewery's strong belief in second changes and karmic rewards for hard work." During the early Showa era, which began in 1926, the Born brand was drank at imperial ceremonies, festivals, and presented to special guests.

The Born Tokusen ("Special Selection") Junmai Daiginjo ($57) is produced from the highest quality Yamada Nishiki rice from Special Region “A” in Hyogo Prefecture. The rice was polished down to 38%, a significant amount less than the 50% minimum required for a Daiginjo. It also possesses a Sake Meter Value of +5, Acidity 1.3, and a 16% ABV. What helps to make this Sake more unique is that it was aged for at least two years at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water. Very little Sake is aged like that, but I've found such aging can add more complexity to the Sake.

The aroma of this Sake was alluring and seductive, with rich fruit smells, floral accents and hints of spice. And on the palate, the complexity of its taste thoroughly impressed. There was a rich mouthfeel, an intense depth of flavor including tastes of citrus, melon, grapefruit, pear, vanilla, and licorice. It was silky smooth and elegant, with a lengthy, pleasing finish. Every sip brought something new to my mouth and made me crave the next sip. This Sake paired great with seafood though I could easily see it pairing well with other dishes as well, from cheese to chicken. A superb Sake at a very reasonable price considering its high quality and taste. Highly recommended!