Drinking old greatness

For two reasons, I was somewhat apprehensive about the tasting of fino and amontillado sherries I put on for my regular tasting group this evening. Well, particularly about one of the wines, not actually a certified sherry, but an amontillado from Perez Barquero in nearby Montilla, which I’d bought in Jerez a year ago, after tasting it amongst some other amontillados in a tasting I reported on, with tremulous enthusiasm, here. The same evening as that tasting I wrote about this wine (amongst other things, and not too pretentiously I hope):

“For some reason I found this wine almost heartbreaking, in the way that only great art has affected me before. I don’t think I’ve ever before come as close to believing that wine can be art, can be genuinely mysteriously profound.”

sherry

Not a red wine in the decanter, but a pretty ancient amontillado (made from the white grape pedro ximenez)

After I bought, for 200 euros, my bottle of Perez Barquero Amontillado Solera Fundacional 1905 (the date would be the foundation of the Solera, but this wine is nearly as old as that), I told a significant wine-friend of mine here the story and that I wanted to share it with him, because it had meant so much to me. He told me, gently, that I was being foolish, and that I should never try to repeat or re-create a really special wine experience – that way, too easily, comes disappointment, and dishonour to the original experience. I realised this was right – so I put it on this tasting instead.

My first worry, then, was that I would not get out of the wine anything like as much as I had previously; secondly, I worried that the others in my group (not all of whom had deep experience with sherry) would not much like it. I’d seen, for example, what the eminent Brit critic Andrew Jefford had noted about it in a tasting that included the wine, recorded in the World of Fine Wine (issue 42):

“This is so strong it hurts. It tastes like an emetic. Well, okay a little nicer than that, but this has gone striding right over the line for wine and is fairly and squarely into the medicine category. Once again, I think it is a wonderful thing to make old essences like this available for public view and purchase, as a way of marvelling at the changes that time can bring to wine, but you’d only want a thimbleful, and it honestly isn’t very delicious. [Etc].”

Poor Andrew, to have missed the pleasure we all got out of it tonight. He did score it 17.5 out of 20, which is pretty serious – the other two tasters scored it 20 and 18.5 – although the latter also said “it would be better to drink in a blend than on its own”. We sipped it, and sipped it more with dinner – and treated it, in fact, as any wine is meant to be treated. There was freshness as well as venerable majesty, and it was just fine as an accompaniment to the rest of life, to food and wine-industry gossip, not just as a monument “that deserves treating with huge respect”, as the 18.5 scorer, Richard Mayson, had it. We treated it as a marvellous wine.

For me, I can honestly say that my first sniffing and tasting the wine tonight made the hairs on my arm rise, even if it didn’t bring me as close to tears this time as it did when I first tasted it in an ancient former mosque in Jerez. I thought it, again, wonderful – and probably not just because I realise that I am unlikely to have the privilege of sampling this magnificent old wine ever again in my life.

Incidentally, tonight we also tasted the Perez Barquero Fino and Amontillado – essentially very young and young (just 20-odd years!) versions of the Solera Fundacional 1905, and three parallel wines from the Sherry area proper: Valdespino Fino Inocente and Tio Diego Amontillado, and another truly marvellous old sherry (though comparatively youthful), Lustau’s VORS (30+ year old) Amontillado. I must say that, judging by the levels in the decanters at the end of the evening, we generally found the Lustau perhaps easier to gulp down than the Perez Barquero. Undoubtedly, both were superb wines, eloquent testimony to the now widely underrated greatness of the wines of Andalucia.

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