A centenarian experience



Fortunate enough to have recently tasted a quartet of centenarian Sherries in the company of friends, Josh Rubenstein – Head of Wholesale in our Hong Kong office – considers the human factor in wine.

Former heavyweight boxing champion, baddest man on the planet and unlikely philosopher, Mike Tyson, famously said, ‘Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.’ It is fair to say that any preconceived ideas of what tasting a 100-year-old Sherry will be like are immediately thrown out the window the moment the centenarian liquid passes your lips, and an overwhelming sense of awe takes over.

Last Friday I had the great pleasure of sharing four small glasses of Sherry with friends. This is always a fine way to wind down from the work week and bring on the weekend fun, but even more so on this occasion. Our friends at Barbadillo in Jerez, very generously, sent over samples of their 100-year-old Reliquias – Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso Seco and Pedro Ximénez.

Smell, taste and texture are only part of the sensory equation when trying to wrap your head around a drink which has aged under generations of tender care spanning a full century. It’s the magnificent amber-colored elephant in the room, and as much as we shared our thoughts on flavours and aromas we were all clearly thinking about the age.  What was happening 100 years ago (World War I)? Is anyone who worked the vineyards still alive (probably not)? Imagine trying to explain an iPhone to someone in 1915!

Speaking in this way, particularly about the likely passing of the vineyard and cellar team, is rather sad, but it lends an important human element to wine which we too often overlook.  Piero Incisa of Bodega Chacra (Patagonia, Argentina) once told me that people are a critical part of terroir, and his team is found in most of their collateral. To consider the painstaking efforts and vision that go into the production of our wines helps to make them real and alive, rather than commodities with ratings that we may reference only to validate our good taste.

Of course we like wines to smell and taste great, and these absolutely delivered. We were struck by the incredible balance of these wines. Although they were quite concentrated, only the Amontillado was an extreme powerhouse and begged for an Iberico accompaniment – what a finish on this wine! The Palo Cortado, a recent recipient of a 100-point rating from Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutiérrez, was an intense harmony of nutty and orange-peel notes. I could not personally tell you if this was a 100-point Sherry, but I can understand why Mr Gutiérrez may have felt that this was an ultimate expression of Palo Cortado.

I will admit that I was genuinely afraid to try the Pedro Ximénez, worrying that it might strip the enamel from my teeth. I could not have been more wrong. This wine proved to be the softest of the bunch, with rich flavours that slowly tapered off in unison. I don’t think that I could bring myself to enjoy this over ice cream, despite the common pairing.

Looking back, I simply could not imagine experiencing these Reliquias alone. I wish that I could have enjoyed them for hours, to see how they might change over time and to see where it took our conversation. The most interesting wines, for me, have no singular answer and are never just one thing. I miss them when they are gone, but in this case I feel incredibly fortunate that the hard work of fine folks in Jerez in the early 20th century allowed me to share such a unique and memorable experience with great friends.

Find out more about Sherry on bbr.com.