Anthony Rose: 'Maurizio González Gordon is sherry royalty'

 

An invitation to join in the blending of González Byass' new Palmas range doesn't come along every day, so when Martin Skelton, who heads up the UK office, invited me, it didn't take me long to say yes please. Imagine a game-loving monarchist being invited on a shoot at Balmoral with the Queen. Maurizio González Gordon, who runs the traditional family Jerez firm of González Byass, is sherry royalty, so the opportunity to join in the blending was not to be missed.

Antonio Flores, González Byass' chief winemaker, was born inside the winery, literally, and has made Tio Pepe since 1980. Naturally he needed my help in blending the four special finos that make up the Palmas range. In the quiet of the tall, dark bodega, we tasted 20 barrels for each of the Una, Dos and Tres Palmas. Selecting our favourite 10 samples of each, we whittled them down to four in the analytical setting of the tasting room. Una is the most delicate, Dos more yeasty and brioche-like, Tres starting to develop nuttier, buttery notes.

The name Palmas comes from the traditional chalk mark drawn on barrels chosen for the special delicacy of the wine. One chalk mark is made for the youngest and four for the oldest, shaped like a palm leaf, hence Palmas. Una, Dos and Tres are chosen from Tio Pepe barrels aged between six and 10 years old that have kept their protective white veil of yeast, or flor. For the rarest, Cuatro Palmas, we chose the nuttiest, most concentrated, amontillado-like of the six remaining barrels aged 40 plus.

The idea for cherry-picking the best of Tio Pepe to create these four genuinely traditional styles is in line with the vogue for appetisingly food-friendly dry styles of fino. Thanks in part to the tapas bar phenomenon, the trend is on an upward curve against a backdrop of declining sales of the sweeter vicars and maiden aunts' sherries. A recent big sherry tasting in London showed that the region's more forward-looking producers are hanging their sombreros on a host of new wave, quality dry styles and special bottlings like en rama and Palmas.

The Palmas will be on sale this month through the Wine Society, Justerini & Brooks, Berry Bros and Lea & Sandeman with recommended prices, in ascending order, of £12.49, £16.99, £36.99 and £51.99. Check now if you're interested because they'll fly. To replicate the idea of Una Palma, try Delicado Fino, 50cl, £13.99, Waitrose, for its savoury aromas, fresh-bread, yeasty characters and appetising tang. Also delicious is Lustau's Manzanilla Pasada, £7.49, Marks & Spencer, all cashew nuttiness and bone-dry, savoury bite. For a full account, check out anthonyrosewine.com. Finally, don't miss out on tickets for The Wine Gang's fabulous Christmas Fair in Bath's Guildhall on 24 November: thewinegang.com/live.

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