Monday, June 9, 2014

Just one of them lucky months - part 1: Sherry

May was a very lucky month for me, whiskywise.

I was lucky to experience a range of new places and meet a range of very nice people

Here is part 1

Through facebook I had the luck of meeting Alberto Corales of Toneleria del Sur

This is a cooperage located in Montilla in Andulusia, Spain, about 1 hours drive north of Malaga. I had the pleasure of visiting Toneleria del Sur and the nearby Bodegas Pérez Barquero where they make, what us ignorants just call sherry. But this isn't Jerez, and here it's called Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and PX. Not Sherry. Fino. It was repeated to me a few times when I said the S-word

Now, my knowledge of these products were next to nothing, and my interest in these wines comes from the fact that the casks used to mature it, can later be used for maturing whisky. It was time for learning

Traditionally Pérez Barquero Fino is made on a solera system, with three layers of casks. The new wine is filled on the top level. Every now and again, 40% is drawn from the bottom level casks, which is filled from middle level, which is then filled from the top level, which is filled with new wine

Fino Solera

Some of the casks were very old, and you could arguably ask how much wood influence would be left for the Fino and Amontillado versions prepared. Not much I would expect, but I was proven wrong. Both the Fino and Amontillado had a destinctive wooden flavour, which I really liked (I drink whisky for a reason). Some of the casks were said to be near 100 years old so this is remarkable.

Our guide was spanish speaking, she spoke to Alberto in spanish, who translated to me in english, which is neither of us first language and then I translated to my parents to danish. I wonder how much got lost in translation there..

I managed to pick up a few things. All products were made from the same grape called PX, Pedro Ximenez

It's a white wine. The dark colour of oloroso and PX is a result from oxidations. The oxidation in Fino is biological, but limited since the wine is protected by a layer of natural yeast laying on the top of wine in the barrel. If the yeast is allowed to die, the wine will undergo oxidation and becomes quite darker. This is known as Amontillado. Both Fino and Amontillado are dry and woody, and quite delicious if you ask me. Especially the version made by Pérez Barquero, which were well aged for longer than 10 years (I still wonder how this is defined in a Solera system)

Oloroso is fortified and has the yeast removed in an earlier stage, giving a much bigger oxidation and a darker brown wine, with a nuttier taste.

Pedro Ximenez, named after the grape, is made with a wine from dried PX grapes and is also fortified. This is a very dark, very sweet thick fluid, and actually far too sweet for my likings. Tastes like raisins more than anything, and no surprise, as it's made from dried grapes. I don't like PX sherry, but I really like the whisky that can be produced from casks that held PX sherry, so I think you all should do me a favour of go out and buy a bottle and drink it. Most others has this as their favourite amongst the different varities coming out of Andulusia, so please do :-)

The spirit used for fortification is wine spirits

Sherry Casks

After the Bodega, we went for a short tour at the Toneleria del Sur cooperage, which is a small cooperage in Montilla that specialises in repairing and preparing sherry casks for the scotch whisky industry.

They also make new sherry cask to be seasoned. Seasoning sherry casks is done a lot these years as the demand for sherry casks is high and the natural production isn't sufficient for the big distilleries in Scotland

American Oak is the main oak used

This is an old cask

A cask is getting a new stave

The workshop

When in Spain, I decided to try a few local brandies. I was very positively surprised, as I am not usually a fan of say Cognac

The brandies I tasted had a clear impact from the sherry cask they have been matured on (also Solera style typically). My favourite was this one

Now where do I get a cask strength version of this ?


  1. Sounds like a great trip Steffen, thanks for sharing!

    So I take it that the ex-sherry casks that the whisky industry gets may have not contained, technically, Sherry (i.e. Jerez wine)? Is it legal then to use the term so liberally?

    In my very limited experience with these wines I came to same conclusion like you: I liked the fino but found the PX way too sweet - I could not finish a half-bottle of the thing, I'm using it as a replacement for Modena vinegar, since they are similarly sweet, sirupy and aromatic.

    Glad to hear there's hope with Spanish brandy - the ones I had were clearly sweetened to the point of being undrinkable. I haven't heard of the 1866 though. I bet it's also one of those experiences that you had to be there. I'm curious if you'll enjoy as much a bottle when you drink it back in Denmark! For example I love wodka when in Poland, rakia in Bulgaria, and tequila in Mexico, but the bottles I bring back languish forever.

  2. You might be right Florin, unfortunately I didn't buy a bottle as I went to Scotland right after this trip, directly from spain and wouldn't fill my suitcase when anything but whisky (I only had room for 3 bottles)

    Regarding the name sherry. Toneleria del Sur, used the name "Sherry Casks" and they are from Montilla as well. I noticed that Alberto several times said "Sherry or PX", in the sense that what we call PX sherry, they differ as well. I honstly don't know how far the production has to be from Jerez before the product isn't regarded sherry anymore. I do recall a bottling (whisky) labeled as "South African Sherry"

    We all know (I assume) that barrels from Jack-D is regarded as ex-bourbon barrels, so it is probably similar to this discussion, which in my opinion is theoretical, but doesn't have any practical sense