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You know you’re in for a treat at a wine tasting when your mind is filled with images of mythical ocean-dwelling monsters before you’ve taken a single sip. Such was the case this past weekend as Andy Seymour of AKA Wine Geek guided his audience (myself included) through a lineup of sherries and a brief history lesson at the Summit Wine and Food Festival.
Seymour painted a vibrant picture of the history, tradition, and legends that surround these famous fortified wines, which are produced in the demarcated growing area known as the “sherry triangle”—Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, three coastal towns in southwestern Spain not far from the Pillars of Hercules, the ancient name for the promontories at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, beyond which, it was once believed, lay certain death for mariners.
He went on to describe the extremely hot and sunny climate, the chalky “albariza” soils with their high calcium content and a landscape laced with rivers that help blanket the vineyards at night in a layer of cooling fog. The geography creates grape-growing conditions that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
These same conditions are at work in the centuries-old bodegas. Temperature and moisture are controlled in these huge cathedral-like buildings by opening or closing windows to let in the prevailing winds and by hosing down dirt floors. Inside, the “solera” aging and fractional blending process occurs. Each solera is literally a group of barrels containing sherry of various ages. Blending occurs over a period of many years so that the final bottled sherry is the product of multiple vintages.
As we sipped our first taste of a refreshing sherry cocktail, the Very Berry Cherry Cobbler, Seymour transitioned seamlessly to the year 1830 and the invention of the straw (apparently a godsend before regular dental hygiene was the norm) then he cranked it into wine geek high gear with a discussion of biological vs. oxidative aging—the secret to the different sherry styles, ranging from delicate and bone dry to sweet and unctuous.
Tune into my next post as I attempt to explain this in terms even I can understand with details of the seven sherries we sampled.
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.