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July 2006

This month, Giles explores the delight of Sherries; I wouln't mind if I do!


Hallo! And welcome to another missive from the wonderful world of wine. This week I am taking a long hard look, not to mention refreshing reviving sip on what has to rank as one of the world's greatest and least understood wines, Sherry.

Up until a few years ago I laboured under the hideous misapprehension that Sherry was sweet, off brown and drunk only by ladies of a certain age and former army colonels called Neville before Sunday lunch. Such an impression was not just imparted in me by the sight of my mother standing in the kitchen talking the Neville, the former army colonel who lived next door whilst lunch was prepared, but by the television advertising at the time, which proudly invoked images of Jeeves and Wooster drinking 'Croft Original' or worse, much, much, much worse, a coach and horses charging around making Christmas deliveries of QC, mercifully missing us out - British Sherry...!

It was only much later that I was inveigled into the world of real Sherry, that glorious wine from the Andalucian region of southern Spain and from that moment I became something of a zealot, so if you meet me at a party, beware.

One of the beauties of this magical wine is the extraordinary styles of wine that can be produced, from the power dry refreshment of Manzanilla, Amontillado and Fino sherries, wines produced from the noble palamino fino grape, a grape that can rank with the very finest on the planet, to the weight and complexity of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez wines.

The styles of sherry are largely fixed; Fino and Manzanilla are always dry as are most Oloroso and Amontillado's and the Pedro Ximenez are sweet, sometimes fantastically so, they like any other great wine depend on the producer and in my humble, by intensively researched, opinion there is one producer that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, the firm of Bodegas Hildago.

Hildago craft a range of sherries, from the every summers evening drinking the La Gitana Manzanilla (£6.99 Majestic, Sainsbury', Waitrose) to the rafter more grand occasion wines such as the ancient an rare Palo Cortadao Viejo (£65 Berry Brothers and Rudd). Their range is vast but for the sake of space and focus I would like to present in order of my preference my top three.

La Gitana Manzanilla is quite simply a delectable wine. Made from grapes grown on the vineyards surrounding the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda on the Albariza soil, the finest there are, and in approximation to the wine town of Jerez. The wine is pale as a Sauvignon Blanc but a thousand times the interest. It is aged on the coast where the cooling sea breezes allow for the growth of thin layer of yeast on the wine's surface known locally as flor, which prevents the wine from oxidizing and allowing it to keep its wonderful freshness. Don't treat it as anything other than a wine, drink it straight from the fridge, for that's where these wines should be kept, you will be assayed by notes of fresh white grapes, lemons, yeast and grapefruits with the merest whiff of salt to give it a savory edge. Wonderful on its own, you can drink it as the Spanish do with tapas or like me take it with seafood or white fish, either way you will be so glad you did.

Changing style completely we have the Amontillado Seco Napoleon (Majestic, Laymont & Shaw £9.99) This is a brown sherry, this wine having started life as a pale Manzanilla but rather than be bottle whilst the flor was going strong it was allowed to sit in cask until the flor died away and the wine was allowed to turn the wonderful chestnut brown that it is now. A lot of people think, and from the exotic nose of almonds, roasted coffee and dried fruits you can see why, that brown Sherries are sweet, but this one, like all the finest ones, is bone dry, the complex layers of coffee, nuts and black treacle coming together in a wine that is both powerful and satisfying. I like to drink this with pate, though having had it with good strong cheddar and the ubiquitous olives I can say that it is as versatile as it is brilliant.

Lastly, and with breathtaking style and verve comes the Pedro Ximenez Napoleon (Majestic £12.99) this is full-throttle, no holds barred sweetheart of a sherry. It is made from the grape of its name but rather than press them once they are picked, they are left out to dry and only pressed when they have become as raisins. This rams the wine with residual sugar and gives it a tantalizing flavour of heather honey, chocolate, coffee and toffee. Superb as an after dinner sipper, you can also employ it to great effect having it with fresh fruit or do as my good chum Elizabeth does and pour some over ice cream - pure summer heaven!

Well, this is thirsty work and I feel the need for a La Gitana right about now.

More soon!

Giles Luckett

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