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Wine Review: These wines quell misconceptions of sherry

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“The men will retire to the study for port and cigars, and the women may adjourn to the library for their sherry.”

Those infamous lines from the British movies of old helped to reduce sherry wine to the unmerited position of “a woman’s drink” which, in that male macho-dominated age, was totally undeserved. Whenever port wine is mentioned, it conjures up the image of a fat gentleman ensconced in an overly stuffed chair surrounded by the smoke from a large cigar with a glass of port in his hand. The mention of sherry engenders pictures of overdressed Victorian-styled ladies holding delicately stemmed glasses with their pinkies extended.

That entire scenario is completely wrong, totally ridiculous and out of date, but has resulted in sherry being relegated to the position of being merely a cooking wine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sherry was the beverage of preference during the founding of our country, and it is said a good deal of it flowed during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

After that rather long-winded introduction, let’s take a good look at sherry wines. Sherry comes in many forms, from a sweet, full-bodied wine often served as or with dessert, to a dry, rather complex sipping wine.

In any of its forms, sherry also has become an integral ingredient in many recipes. Just FYI, the “cooking sherry” sold at many supermarkets is of lower quality and has been infused with salt to make it useless as a beverage.

The process to make sherry is complex, ending in an ancient aging technique called the solera system. The aging barrels are set on their side and piled into a pyramid with eight to 10 barrels on the bottom. After a period of aging, the wine to be bottled is removed from a corner bottom barrel but always leaving about one third of the wine behind. Then, starting with the next barrel in line, the wine is passed from one barrel to another with the newest vintage taking the top position. This results in a small bit of ancient vintages in each bottle of sherry – and why that bottle cannot carry a vintage date.

Here are three types of sherry by Gonzalez Byass, a Spanish winery with origins traced back to 1835.

Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez ($24.99)

If you like sweet, this wine is sure to please. Its deep mahogany color announces the very sweet aromas, raisins and caramel. The flavor mirrors the aroma with the added suggestion of wood. The finish is velvety and very sweet, again stressing raisins and dates. As a dessert in itself, it is exceptional and works perfectly to accompany fruit salad.

Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Cream ($49.99/375ml)

This wine must be older than old having spent 30 years aging in casks. The word cream in the name is a sure indicator of exceptional sweetness. The Matusalem Cream has a most heavy body, while the color resembles the darkest mahogany ever seen. The wine exhibits rich aromas and flavors of dried fruits, raisins, exotic spices and, as a benefit from the aging, oak. It is one of the most enjoyable sherry wines I have yet encountered. If you have never experienced a sherry, this one is the perfect introduction.

Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximenez ($49.99/375mm)

This incarnation of the Pedro Ximenez grape variety also was held in oak for 30 years after its treatment by the solera system. The grapes that were preselected to be fermented for Noe were sun-dried before they were pressed. The wine was fermented to 5 percent alcohol and then stopped by the addition of brandy, which raised the alcohol content to 15 percent. This wine also boasts a flavor and aroma of dried fruits and, of course, oak and is the perfect end to a fine meal.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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