January 17 Roundup: PX Sherry – The Last Frontier, Submarine Technology, and George of the Wine Cellar

Faithful Readers, This is the last week of our sherry reviews from “Tapaspalooza 2015.” Since introducing the new content and format, I’ve received feedback from some of our more engaged audience members, with one particularly vocal reader expressing “deep discontent” over the cutback in wines reviewed. It seems the preference remains for at least two wine reviews per week at a minimum, so I’ll be reverting to our old format for tasting notes. I’ve yet to receive any comments, positive or negative, on our two new “essay” sections, though some have remarked in passing that the blog has become more whimsical (not to mention lengthy!). In an effort to keep the populace satisfied, we’ll be introducing a new approach to the editorial calendar: the first week of the month we’ll be time travelling back in time to explore the history of wine, the second week we’ll be reviewing learning aids (books, videos, or podcasts), the third week we’ll explore a wine word in depth, and the fourth week we’ll take a look at a wine region. A new mainstay of the weekly blog will be grape varieties in 250 characters or less. This will also help me manage the workload demands of the blog as this week, having been on a northern Ontario sojourn, I wasn’t really able to turn my attention to Sip It or Skip It until today. 😦 I imagine if anyone is dissatisfied with this latest update, I’ll find out about it!

Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Sip It!
Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez Montilla Mor Sherry

LCBO #: 383422 | 375 mL bottle | $19.95 (now reduced to $15.55 as it’s discontinued)
Alcohol: 16.0%
Sweetness: Sweet
Wine Type: Sherry

The Alvear family has been making wine since the 18th century. Over generations, the family acquired land and vineyards, as well as contracts to ship wine commercially. According to the Alvear website, “throughout its 284-year-long histry, Bodegas Alvear has managed … to combine and put into practice the extensive experience of a privileged land and a dedicated family in order to produce exceptional wines.” Today, Alvear distributes its wines across Spain, and abroad to more than 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia.

You can pick this PX up at the LCBO or at Harrods 🙂 — though right now it’s on sale at the LCBO at a huge bargain. This is a delicious, albeit super sweet wine, that would be mind-blowing with blue cheese or fig ice cream, but I’d suggest limiting yourself to a thimble-full. Deep nut brown, this wine smelled of stewed plums or even plum buttery, with those luscious jammy notes, punctuated by rich floral-honey. On the palate, this is syrupy to be sure, texturally similar to maple syrup, but with crisp, brightening acidity: citrus notes of tangerine linger on the finish. Brown sugar and molasses also come through, but surprisingly absent for me was the nuttiness and salinity that I was expecting.The PX grapes, once harvested, are raisined in the Spanish sun, and pressed to “deliver intensely rich must.” The solera system for this wine was first developed in 1927. Buy it, save it, serve it, gift it, you can’t go wrong with this tasty sweet sherry — just make sure to serve it cold (between 10-14° C).





Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.


United States


Putting that graduate degree in history to use…looking at wine through the ages.


I felt a nice conclusion to our in-depth exploration of sherry this month would be seeing what other long-time drinkers thought about it in all its varieties. That’s how I stumbled upon George Saintsbury, whose Notes on a Cellar should find its way into everyone’s wine library. As much historical record as autobiography, George Saintsbury’s notes, first published in 1920, are delightful, amusing, educational, and quite germane to our January tasting adventure.

I didn’t know who George Saintsbury was before this week when I started reading his Notes, but it seems the Oxford-educated literary scholar had a penchant for the humble vitis vinifera plant as well. A prolific literary critic, his seminal works on French literature put him on the map as an authority on the subject when they were first published in the 1880s. He is no less respected for his insights into English literature, among them a series on “English Men of Letters,” and a work on minor poets in the Caroline period. 

 Despite his fame in literary circles, he is arguably best remembered today for his reflections on wine and wine drinking. His thoughts on sherry were especially interesting to me. He writes:

“Although I am myself no lover of modernity, I do not think there is, or was at any rate a short time ago, quite so much bad sherry about as there used to be. I remember in the middle of the [eighteen] sixties, when Sunday lunching places in London were rare  and I had as yet no club, being driven to feed with an Oxford friend at a small tavern or chophouse in Piccadilly. The scorch and the twang of what they miscalled “Vino de Pasto” abide in my palate’s memory to this day. And it was made all the more wicked because Sherry is plenteous in quality and singularly various in kind.” (Notes on a Cellar, University of California Press, 2008: 53)

George, I couldn’t agree more! In fact, you’ll note a similar observation in my primer on Sherry from last year. Delving into Sherry types, he goes on to observe:

But some of the finer kinds [or sherry] are really supernacular–the best Tio Pepe,” for instance. Only he who indulges in them must remember that they are an exception to the general rule that “Sherry improves in the decanter. When they are opened, the finer ones especially, they must be drunk. I have known a bottle of Tio Pepe become appreciably “withered between lunch and dinner.” (54)

Faithful Readers, you will recall the Tio Pepe from two weeks ago, which we reviewed–a dry white wine which, unlike its Palo Cortado or PX cousin, must be drunk within the same short, subject-to-early-spoilage window as most of your light white wines.

From Fino to our exciting PX, George (who looks a lot like Gandalf, no? See below) covered it all in his cellar notes, colouring his tasting experiences with memories from Oxford, and adulthood in Edwardian England. Of all of Saintsbury’s books, Notes on a Cellar has “never been out of print or  out of favour”; in fact, according to the London Review of Books, “first editions are highly valued in the antiquarian book trade, and [this book] alone has sustained Saintsbury’s reputation into the 21st century.” Aging, ailing, and in his mid-seventies when he wrote it under contract with Macmillan, Saintsbury had been “under doctors’ orders to limit his alcohol intake,” but his ledger–a book he had kept for some three decades–“used to organise his wine cellar and to memorialise what had passed through it and, subsequently, through him,” was a vital resource for inspiring the reflections of this charming tome. I don’t think I could say it better than Tim Patterson, who writes:

…the Notes are a marvelous window into an important era in the history of wine, the period at the turn of the 20th century. At that time rich and/or educated Brits like Saintsbury–well, nobody was quite like Saintsbury–had appointed themselves arbiters of the world’s wines, and were busy establishing Bordeaux as the reference point for fine wine, sorting out the Ports and Sherries, crowning the Mosel, and establishing the idea of well-aged wine as the Holy Grail. In broad terms, the opinions of Saintsbury’s cohort are the conventional wisdom of today’s wine world–and here we see them being created.

Each week we explore the exciting language of wine, deciphering those cryptic wine reviews, and helping consumers expand their libation lexicon.

Lees. You’ve likely seen it on the back of labels that say a wine has been aged on them, but what the heck are they?

If you’re a beer drinker, you may be more familiar with the term, which, like in wine, is a fermentation process in which the wine or beer is aged for a time on the dead or residual yeast, as well as any other particles that find their way to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. You’ll often see many wines, in particular Chardonnay, Muscadet, and Champagne aging for a time sur lie (on the lees), while, in the making of Valpolicella Ripassos, the lees from Amarone are often added to enhance flavour. A Falanghina I enjoyed this weekend was aged on the lees, imparting a yeasty smell. The wine had the butteriness you’d hope for from malolactic fermentation, but none of the heavy oakiness from aging in a cask or with wood chips. The yeast notes were subtle and pleasant to the nose and taste buds. So, there you have it–another wine-making technique under your belt. Until next week, Faithful Readers…


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