|Arab Faux Pas
-The left hand is considered “unclean” since it is the hand traditionally used for personal hygiene (as when cleaning oneself after a movement of the bowels at the bidet). It is therefore impolite to eat, drink, shake hands, or present gifts with the left hand. Even a left-handed person is expected to eat with his right hand in the Arab World.
-Displaying the sole of one’s feet or shoes is considered impolite as it suggests that the person to whom the sole is displayed is “dirt.” It is, therefore, impolite for a gentleman to cross his legs (as is the custom in the Western World) such that an ankle is placed atop the knee of his other leg. It is also impolite to touch the foot of another person. Walking or jumping over (thus exposing one’s feet to another person’s body) a person’s reclining body or extremities is also prohibited.
-Non-Muslims should not enter holy sites in or surrounding Mecca or Medina. No non-Muslim should enter a mosque anywhere in the world without first asking permission.
-People should not be beckoned with a finger: That gesture is reserved for the beckoning of dogs.
-During Ramadan, non-Muslims should not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, embrace, or engage in affectionate or celebratory activity in the presence of Muslims during the hours between sunrise and sunset.
-A Muslim should not be offered alcohol or pork unless he is known to consume those items.
-One should not step upon a prayer mat or walk in front of anyone who is engaged in prayer.
-One should not express admiration for another’s personal possessions as to do so obligates the person complimented to offer the item to the person who gave the compliment. (And when the admired object is given, the recipient is then obligated to reciprocate by giving a gift of greater value).
Klavs Graae’s The Soul of Leather—Makers of the World’s Most Luxurious Belts and Hunting Accessories.
In the real estate business, there is the adage, “location, location, location.” In the leather goods business, there is the phrase “material, material, material.” And for Danish-born leather designer Klavs Graae, the phrase transcends business philosophy and enters the realm of business religion.
When Klavs Graae uses calf and buffalo leathers, they must be from Scandinavian-bred-and-raised animals, the cold, northern climate and the region’s special breeds producing an exceedingly durable, yet supple, leather. And Graae’s exotic leathers—alligator, crocodile, lizard, elephant, and ostrich—are all tanned in Italy with CITES certificates guaranteeing that the skins have met the conditions of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. All of Graae’s leathers are vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed (as opposed to chrome-tanned) in Italy using the absolute highest standards, thereby producing materials that endure and patinate beautifully. Graae’s aim is to produce luxurious leather items that last a lifetime and beyond.
But of all Graae’s products—from hunting bags to business card holders to knife sheaths—he is most revered for his handmade belts with their trademark solid sterling silver buckles. A Klavs Graae belt is designed and crafted such that a young gentleman can wear a belt once worn by his father.
Graae hand-selects each skin from the world’s best tanneries, including Italy’s Tempesti, supplier of the vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed skins used to produce the belts. Tanned from natural plant extracts such as oak bark, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and acacia bark, the skins attain rich hues that age and patinate beautifully. The handmade collection is made-to-measure, one customer at a time; and each element of the construction of each belt—the design, the pattern-making, the cutting, and the sewing—begins and ends at the Copenhagen workshop. Klavs Graae—himself—crafts each belt, from beginning to end and each step in between. And customers are offered the options of selecting specific buckles, thread color, leather color, etc., thereby individualizing their purchases. Each belt is interlined to create contour and lined with Scandinavian calfskin for suppleness and durability. Serafina silk thread is used to finely stitch the perimeter of the skin, and the belt’s beveled edge is hand-rubbed. Dyed, elliptically shaped buckle holes called “double holes”—a “trademark” invented by Graae—allow for a more forgiving fit, and the Graae-designed buckles are made of hand-polished sterling silver. A Graae belt is crafted to become an heirloom piece, improving with age. He offers a custom-dye option, allowing clients to match the color of their belts to their shoes or some other accessory. Each belt is sold in a pouch made of leather of the Scandinavian elk. A certificate verifying the authenticity and origin of the skin from which it is made, and a silver-polishing cloth is provided with each belt.
But one does not just “become” or “declare oneself” the world’s greatest maker of belts; it requires a lifetime commitment to the trade. Klavs Graae entered the leather trade in 1967, fresh out of high school, when he worked at “Bit ov Sole,” the first European leather shop in Copenhagen, craftsmen from all over Europe collaborating and sharing their ideas there. There, Graae designed and made leather garments for such music luminaries as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Then two years later, in 1969, he moved to the enchanting Balearic island of Ibiza, where his handmade leather products became immediately popular with Americans who had sought refuge on the island in their attempts to avoid the Vietnam War. But after one year in Franco-era Spain, Graae returned to Scandinavia, where he lived for 14 years in the forests of Småland, Sweden, breeding wild boar, amongst other things. And it is there, amidst the noble wild boar, that he received the inspiration for his present-day logo, which incorporates the boar’s head.
In 1984 Graae “returned to the civilized world” and founded Graae Design, a company specializing in handmade belts and leather goods. (During those years he was also commissioned by Royal Copenhagen to create special leather cases for the company’s luxurious “Flora Danica” porcelain line). But to a large degree, it was Graae’s decision in 2001 to launch the “Klavs Graae Solid Silver Collection,” a series of exquisite leather belts featuring exotic skins and solid silver buckles, that began solidifying his claim as the maker of the world’s most luxurious belts. In 2009, Graae Design became Graae Copenhagen, the new company expanding its product line to include such items as weekend bags and Ipad cases. In 2014, after five years with the newly organized Graae Copenhagen, Klavs Graae left the company and established Klavs Graae—The Soul of Leather in 2016 (www.soulofleather.squarespace.com ) . It is his hope to pass on his more than half-century experience in fine leather-making to the next generation.
Japanese Faux Pas
-One should not put one’s hands in one’s pockets; to do so is regarded as a sign of boredom or a lack of interest.
-One should not say “chin-chin” as a drinking salute in Japan, for in the Japanese language that expression is a slang for describing the male genitals.
-A person should not blow his nose in public. (He should do it in the bathroom or outside). Sniffling, however, is acceptable. (Chinese culture allows for the blowing of one’s nose in public).
-Pointing at people is considered impolite.
-Shoes must be removed upon entering a person’s home. (Socks, however, should be kept on since being barefoot in someone’s home is not acceptable). House slippers will be provided by the host/hostess. But the house slippers should not be worn into the toilet. (Special toilet slippers are provided).
-All slippers should be removed when sitting on tatami mats. A gentleman visiting a Japanese home should be sure to wear clean, hole-free socks.
-Tattoos (“irezami” is the Japanese word for tattoo) are taboo in most of Japan. Persons (even foreigners) with visible tattoos are typically banned from certain public places, especially swimming pools, gymnasiums, hot springs, resorts, etc. People with visible tattoos are also banned from or may be asked to leave places such as restaurants and retail establishments. In Japan, tattoos are associated with “yakuza”: hoodlums and the criminal underworld. The negative connotations associated with tattoos in Japanese culture seem to date from around 300-600 CE (the Kofun period), when tattoos were placed upon criminals as a means of punishment. However, prior to the Kofun period, for example in the Yayoi period (ca. 300 BCE-300 CE), tattoos were acquired for ritual or status purposes.
-Food should never be passed from one set of chopsticks to another. (The only time an item or object is passed from one set of chopsticks to another is when family members use ceremonial chopsticks to pick up the bones of the deceased after the cremation, passing the bones from one family member to another until the bones are placed into the urn).
Necessity, it is said, is the Mother of Invention. What is not said, though, is that Accident is her Surrogate. And in the case of Madeira, one of the three great fortified wines of the world, it was Accident that gave birth—upon the high seas—to the luxurious wine.
In the 15th century, during the Age of Exploration as the Portuguese were pursuing a sea route to Asia by sailing down the west coast of the vast and seemingly bottomless African continent, then sailing up its opposite coast towards the fabled “East,” and the Spaniards, at the bidding of Columbus, were attempting to reach the same Eastern lands by sailing westward into the mighty Atlantic, the island of Madeira, situated in the north Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa, served as a major port of call for the resupplying of Portuguese and Spanish ships prior to their long journeys of exploration. And where there are mariners, there is wine. So it became only fitting that the island of Madeira would engage itself in business of winemaking.
The island of Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in 1419 for Prince Henry the Navigator and was settled sometime after 1420. The island, with its subtropical climate, is considered the first Portuguese territorial discovery during what would come to be known as the Portuguese Age of Discovery, 1415 to 1542. The word “madeira” means “wood” in Portuguese. And it is said that when the Portuguese first encountered the African island, it was so heavily forested that the most fitting name for their new discovery was simply “Madeira.” In order to clear the lush, 309 square-mile island of its primordial vegetation so as to make way for the cultivation of sugarcane, the island was set ablaze. And burn it did—unquenchable for seven long years. In the process, the vegetation that had been robbing the soil of its rich nutrients from time immemorial released those precious nutrients back into the island’s soil, Madeira thereby becoming one of the world’s most fertile places. And for as long as the enchanted isle has hosted human populations, wine has been produced there. So when mariners called on Madeira’s ports in order to supply their ships for extended journeys, wine was one of the items loaded onboard.
But wine is a delicate beverage, exceedingly susceptible to temperature fluctuations, heat, the ravages of exposure to oxygen, and excessive movement—all of which are part and parcel to extended seafaring voyages, especially to the warmest regions of the world. So to prevent spoilage, the wine producers of Madeira drew upon the knowledge—from the mainland Portugal Port producers, and from their neighboring Spanish Sherry producers—of fortifying wine with distilled spirit in order to extend the wine’s shelf life. While Port and Sherry are fortified with a neutral, wine-derived, brandy-like spirit, in the early days of Madeira winemaking, a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice was used because of the island’s history of sugarcane production and the availability of sugarcane-derived spirits. [Since the 18th century, Madeira has been fortified with a neutral, wine-derived spirit like its Port and Sherry counterparts]. And had Madeira wine ended there, it probably would have today evolved into a wine very similar to Port and/or Sherry, and the island of Madeira might have come to be regarded as just another island off the coast of West Africa—not as an island with a wine so famous that the wine is arguably even more famous than the island after which it is named.
But such, fortunately, was not to be the fate of the wines of Madeira. Enter: Accident. When a shipment of fortified Madeira wine did not find a buyer in some faraway destination and was therefore shipped back to the island, the disappointed merchant was met with both surprise and delight when he tasted his sea-aged wine and discovered that it had been deliciously transformed while traveling halfway around the world and back, exposed to extreme heat and excessive movement in the hold of the ship. The ship-aged fortified wine had acquired a flavor distinct from and superior to that of when it was first produced! And other people agreed with the merchant’s assessment—so much so that thereafter, wines that had been shipped across the seas but came back unsold came to be known as “vinha da roda” (“roundtrip wine”) and were highly sought-after. In fact, the vinha da roda wines were so prized that Madeira winemakers went about the expensive proposition of stocking seafaring vessels with casks of wine—not for sale in distant lands, but as ballast in the warm holds of ships such that the wine could return years later to the island of Madeira, unsold and ship-aged. But when it became evident that sea-aging wine was not only expensive, but also unpredictable—on account of storms, pirates, war, and thirsty sailors—Madeira winemakers began figuring out ways of imparting the same ship-aged characteristics to their wines, but on terra firma.
The Making of Madeira
Madeira begins its life like most other wines: Grapes are harvested in the early fall; pressed; then allowed to ferment in concrete or stainless steel vats or in wooden casks. (The grape varieties that are typically used to produce the sweeter Madeiras—Bual, Malvasia, and Negra Mole—are oftentimes fermented on their skins so as to leach more phenols [chemical compounds, including tannins, that affect color, taste, and mouthfeel of the wine] from the grapes, those phenols serving as a natural balance to the sweetness of the wine). The dry wines—typically made from Sercial, Verdelho, and Negra Mole varieties—are separated from their skins prior to the fermentation process). Depending of the desired level of sweetness of the final product, fermentation—the process whereby the natural sugars in the grape juice are consumed by yeasts that then emit alcohol (and carbon dioxide) as the waste product—may be halted by the addition of a neutral, grape-derived spirit that kills the yeasts before they are able to consume all the sugars in the grape juice, thus producing a sweet wine. The added-alcohol also fortifies the wine, extending its shelf life and making it more durable. (The less expensive Madeiras tend to be fully fermented—thereby becoming fully dry—before the grape-derived spirit is added).
The Estufagem Aging Process
Where Madeira makes a major departure from the other fortified wines is in its “estufagem” aging process—a process meant to replicate the abuse to which a wine is subjected when barrel-aged onboard ships on the high seas destined for tropical climates then back home again. In essence, the wine is put through the proverbial gauntlet. But when the precious liquid emerges on the other end, it is filled with character, flavor, color, texture, and longevity—so much so that properly stored Madeira has been known to remain in perfect drinking condition for hundreds of years.
The estufagem process involves deliberately heating the wine (or exposing it to the elements such that it will become naturally heated). The heating of the wine hastens its mellowing and tends to discourage any secondary fermentation during the aging process. In addition, the heating-process serves as a mild pasteurizer. And as the wine in the casks naturally evaporates, the evaporated portions are not replenished, thereby allowing oxygen to occupy the vacant space within each cask. And that exposure to oxygen causes the wine to oxidize, obtaining its characteristic amber color, similar to Tawny Port.
There are three primary methods for heating the wine:
–Cuba de Calor: Typically used for inexpensive Madeiras, this popular method of heating the wine entails heating large quantities of wine in either concrete or stainless steel tanks that have been surrounded by heat-coils or piping that allows for hot water to circulate the container, heating the wine contained therein in the process. Per Madeira Wine Institute regulations, the wine is heated to temperatures as high as 130 ºF (55 ºC) for a minimum of 90 days.
–Armazém de Calor: The “sauna approach” to heating the wine, this method, used only by the Madeira Wine Company, entails storing the wine in large wooden casks in a specially designed room equipped with steam-producing tanks or pipes that heat the room. Regarded as a gentler method of heating than the Cuba de Calor method, the wine in the Armazém de Calor system is steam-heated for at least six months and usually for more than one year.
–Canteiro: In the canteiro method, the wines are aged without the use of any artificial heat; the wine is stored in casks in the winery’s warmest rooms, or outdoors, warmed only by the heat of the sun, from as few as 20 to as many as 100 years. This method is used to produce the highest-quality Madeiras.
Wine that has been “cooked” in the estufagem method is sometimes described “madeirized” wine.
Most of the grapes used in the production of Madeira are white grapes, the four most famous ones, from sweetest to driest, being: Malvasia (also known as Malmsey or Malvazia); Bual; Verdelho; and Sercial. Madeiras made exclusively from those varieties are referred to by the name of the grape. (See “Styles of Madeira” below). But these four varieties account for only about 10% of all the Madeira produced. And only occasionally—on account of their relative scarcity—are the other white grapes, namely Terrantez (very rare), Bastardo, and Moscatel, used.
But the go-to, “work horse” grape variety found in many blends and vintage Madeiras is the red grape Negra Mole (formerly called “Tinta Negra Mole”). It alone accounts for approximately 85% of all production of Madeira. It is the consummate “blendable,” “mixable,” “adaptable” grape, hence its ubiquity. Triunfo and Complexa, both red grapes, are less known. Efforts are underway, on the part of Madeira producers and the Madeira authorities, to have Negra Mole take its rightful place, along with the “famous four,” in the pantheon of Madeira grapes. And efforts are also underway to create regulations such that the Negra Mole name can appear on labels as a bona-fide style of Madeira.
European Union regulations specify that a Madeira that identifies itself as a specific grape (for example, “Bual” or “Verdelho”) must be comprised of at least 85% of the stated grape. (Old Madeiras—those dating from before the late 19th century—used a similar rule. And since enactment of the rule in the late 20th century, grape varieties are specified. Wines dating from the beginning of the 1900s up to the early 1990s are also varietally labeled, but not always accurately or verifiably so. And most modern Madeiras that are not varietally labeled are generally made of Negra Mole). The “problem” is that traditionally, the names of the four most famous, highly regarded Madeira grapes—Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho, and Sercial—are also used to broadly to describe the style of wines derived from those grapes: sweet, medium-sweet, medium-dry, and dry. So when a gentleman orders a glass of “Malvasia,” he may be getting a sweet Madeira, but not necessarily a Madeira made from at least 85% of the Malvasia grape.
Because of the island of Madeira’s mountainous, volcanic terrain, it is difficult to cultivate. But with ingenuity and a characteristic tenacity, the native people have traditionally constructed terraces, called “poios” (similar to the terraces in Portugal’s Douro Valley where Port is produced), in the island’s red and basaltic bedrock. Mechanical harvesting is therefore near impossible, thus making wine-grape growing a costly endeavor on the island. Then, to complicate matters, the island is of an oceanic climate with tropical influences. And because of its abundant rainfall and average mean temperature of around 66 ºF (19 ºC), fungal grape diseases and botrytis are constant threats. So to combat those threats, the island’s vineyards are often planted on trellises known as “latada” that raise the canopy of the vine off the ground, thereby sparing the vines of such earthborn vinicultural hazards.
The History of Madeira
The wine mentioned in the vivid descriptions of the lavish, fabulously wealthy, 18th-century sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean is almost always Madeira. Besides being a luxurious, delicious wine, before the era of artificial refrigeration, Madeira was one of the few wines that could survive the long sea journeys to the tropics then remain in perfect condition for years in the equatorial heat.
By the 1500s, a bona-fide wine industry had been established on the island of Madeira, the Dutch East India Company being a major purchaser of wine when en route to India. But it was in the 1700s that the wine that came to be called “Madeira” was met with international demand: in Russia, North Africa, Great Britain, Brazil, the American colonies, and the Caribbean islands.
Because no wine-quality grapes could be grown in the first 13 colonies of North America, wines had to be imported, Madeira being the most popular. And when the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, Madeira was used for the celebratory toast.
The Phylloxera Epidemic that decimated Europe’s wine industry in the middle of the 19th century also visited upon Madeira’s vineyards. And by the end of the 19th century, most of the island’s vineyards had been uprooted and converted to sugarcane production. Things started to look up for the island’s wine industry in the early 20th century, but then came the Russian Revolution in 1917, followed by Prohibition in the United States (1920 – 1933), thereby drying up two of Madeira’s premier wine markets. The result was that for much of the 20th century, the wines of Madeira were most associated with “cooking wine.”
But the end of the 20th century saw a resurgence in the prominence of Madeira: The five classic Madeira grapes (including Negra Mole) were replanted, and hybrid grapes were banned in 1979. And in the 21st century, Madeira wine is again becoming popular in the Benelux countries (Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg), France, and Germany, with rapidly emerging markets in Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Styles of Madeira
Unblended Madeiras Made from (at least 85% of) the Four Classic Grape Varieties
Some of the most esteemed Madeiras are made not from blends, but primarily from one grape variety. And the four “noble” varieties are used for such wines, the name of the grape variety also being the name of the Madeira:
–Sercial is fermented to almost completely dry. The wine is characterized by high acidity, hints of almonds, and high-toned colors. Sercials are categorized as “seco” (“dry”).
–Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial. Thus, Verdelho is a little sweeter. Verdelho is characterized as somewhat smoky, with high acidity. Verdelhos are categorized as “meio-seco” (“medium-dry).
–Bual (also called “Boal”) is a medium-sweet Madeira, the result of fermentation that was halted early, thus preserving much of the natural sugars from being converted to alcohol. Bual is characterized by its dark color, medium-rich texture and raisin-like flavor. Bual is categorized as “meio-doce” (“medium-sweet”).
–Malvasia (also known as “Malmsey” or “Malvazia”) has its fermentation halted early, thus preserving much of the natural sweetness of the grape must. The result is a sweet wine characterized by its dark color, rich texture, and coffee-caramel flavors. Malvasia is categorized as “doce” (“sweet”). The four classic Madeira grapes are endowed with naturally high levels of acidity, partly derived from the volcanic soil in which they grow, and the lack of ripening in the case of grapes grown at high altitudes. As such, in the case of the sweet Madeiras, the natural acidity serves as a balance to the natural sweetness of the wine, thereby producing a wine with a distinctly understated, rather than imposing, sweetness.
Madeiras Made of Blends
When a Madeira is made of a blend of wines, the grapes that account for at least 85% of blend must be specified on the label.
-Reserve: Wines aged for at least five (5) years. [Wines labeled as “Sercial,” “Verdelho,” “Bual,” and “Malvasia” must be aged at least five years and thus are always at least of “Reserve” classification].
-Special Reserve: Wines aged for at least ten (10) years. Most wines labeled as “Special Reserve” will have undergone canteiro aging—without any artificial heating system.
-Extra Reserve: Wines aged for more than fifteen (15) years. Richer in style than Special Reserve, Extra Reserve is rarely produced today, most producers opting instead to wait an additional five years in order to qualify as “Vintage Madeira” or even “Colheita Madeira.”
-Colheita (or “Harvest”): Made of wines from a single harvest (vintage), but aged for a period of at least five (5) years, but shorter than a true vintage Madeira, which must be aged for a period not less than 20 years. Colheita may be labeled with its vintage date, but it must include the word “Colheita.”
-Vintage (or “Frasqueira”): The wine must derive from grapes from the same year’s harvest. Vintage wine must be aged for at least 20 years, and the vintage year is declared on the bottle. But because in Portugal the designation “Vintage” is a trademarked term reserved for the producers of Port, vintage Madeira is never labeled as “Vintage Madeira.” Its vintage status is instead indicated by a specified vintage year that calculates to the wine being at least 20 years old. And whenever the term “vintage” is used to describe Madeira, a common “v” rather than its capital counterpart is used—unless at the beginning of a sentence.
-[Wine labeled “Finest” may prove misleading for the novice. In actuality, “Finest” Madeira is a modest-grade Madeira, aged for at least three (3) years, and typically used for cooking.
The terms “pale,” “dark,” and “rich” may be used to describe a Madeira’s color. Since 1993, Madeira made purely of the Negra Mole grape is restricted to using only the “dry,” “semi-dry,” “semi-sweet,” and “sweet” classifications.
Wines labeled with the term “Solera” were made in the solera method traditionally used for the production of Sherry]. But the solera system of Madeira allows for a maximum of 5% of a cask’s overall contents to be added to/extracted from for a maximum of 10 cycles. As such, by the time a solera-aged Madeira is bottled, the bottle contains a minimum of 50% of the stated vintage. [Whereas, for example, with the solera system of Sherry, because there is no maximum allowable number of additions and extractions per cask, the actual percentage of 1880 wine in a cask established in 1880 may be negligible in 1990]. (See “Sherry” below).
-The style of Madeira called “Rainwater” is popular in the United States, China, and Canada. Many of the major Madeira producers bottle a “Rainwater” style wine. How the style came to be called “Rainwater” remains a mystery. One account claims that the style derives its name from wine made of grapes grown on the steep hillsides, where irrigation is difficult, thereby requiring the grapes to rely solely on rainfall for their survival. Another popular theory is that wine shipped to Savannah, Georgia in the then-American colonies was accidentally diluted by rainwater while awaiting collection on the city’s docks. And rather than discarding the adulterated wine, the merchants passed it off to the unsuspecting colonists as “a new style of wine.” When the colonists found it to their delight, “Rainwater Madeira” was born.
“Rainwater Madeira” is a comparatively mild Madeira, somewhat similar to Verdelho and typically made from the Negra Mole variety. It must be aged at least three (3) years before release. It is usually served chilled as an apéritif.
Traditionally, Madeira is labeled by stenciling white paint directly onto the dark glass bottles, not with paper labels as is the case with most other wines. The stenciling tradition emerged out of necessity: In the olden days, Madeira would be stored in attics where the humidity would compromise paper labels. Stenciling was seen as the most practical solution. And thus it has remained, so much so that the boldly stenciled bottle is part and parcel to the wine. Today, though, so as to be able to legibly fit more information onto the bottle, paper labels are being increasingly used. But truth be told, on a bar’s back-shelf stacked chock-full with bottles from all over the world, a white-stenciled bottle of Madeira immediately sets itself apart from other bottles.
Shelf Life and Storage
Madeira is arguably the world’s most durable wine. Because during its production it is deliberately subjected to the conditions that normally destroy wines—exposure to heat and oxygen—the wine emerges practically immune to such conditions by the time it is bottled.
When a young gentleman romantically thinks of expensive wines, he thinks of cool, dark cellars with stacks of dust-encrusted bottles containing wines from some distant past. But the fact is that most white and red wines—even those of the finest quality—are created to be drunk within a handful of years after bottling. But for Madeira, as one of the world’s great fortified wines, longevity is its hallmark. To date, the oldest Madeira that has come to market is a 300-year-old Terrantez dated from 1715. And Madeiras are routinely known to survive over 150 years in excellent condition. Before the invention of artificial refrigeration, Madeira was the wine-of-choice for shipments to distant lands and for consumption in the world’s warm regions such as the Caribbean, the East Indies, tropical South America, and the warm, southern regions of the United States.
Traditionally, Madeira is corked with driven-corks. But increasingly, since a bottle of the precious wine is oftentimes not finished in one sitting, the wine is stoppered with “T-top corks” so that a bottle can be easily recorked between uses. And as such, so as to prevent the leakage that can sometimes occur when bottles are stoppered, Madeira is best stored upright as opposed to lying on its side. But in actuality, Madeira is so durable a wine that once opened, it need not be recorked in order to maintain its palatability. Except for dust and fruit flies, an opened bottle of Madeira can sit uncorked indefinitely without compromising the precious wine.
Wine cellars are also not necessary for storing Madeira. To the contrary, the wine has historically been popular in locales where wine cellars do not exist. Madeira can be stored anywhere at room temperature—with all its fluctuations—and survive unscathed for centuries. Frankly, no harm will come to a bottle of Madeira even if kept in the trunk of a car all summer long!
Madeiras may be drunk once released onto the market. Once bottled, young Madeiras undergo no measurable improvement; however, vintage Madeira, over the course of a hundred years or so in the bottle, will intensify in richness and flavor. And for the few people who live long enough to certify the improvement, it is worth the wait!
Uses of Madeira
Very low-grade Madeiras are oftentimes flavored with pepper and/or salt and used for cooking.
Dry Madeira is typically served chilled and used as an apéritif. Medium-dry Madeira is a classic complement to foie gras. The sweeter Madeiras are served at room temperature and drunk as dessert wines or after-dinner drinks.
Butt Hair Me Out!
Hair removal is a high-maintenance activity, so most men tend to leave hair that is socially acceptable, unattended. Many men, for example, do not routinely shave their legs, underarms, or forearms. But some men, for various personal reasons, prefer to regularly remove even hair that is highly unlikely to be seen by the general public. The hair that grows in the cleft of the buttocks of many men is an example of such hair. The problem, however, is that because of the human anatomy, those hairs are generally difficult for a man to personally access for removal purposes. The general consensus seems to be that depilatory creams should not be used since they are relatively harsh, while the anus, which is situated in close proximity to the hair that grows in that area of the body, is relatively sensitive. Shaving with razors poses even more anatomical challenges: Some men, who insist on conducting the activity by themselves in total privacy, prop one leg up or stoop over mirrors, or perch themselves onto the rims of their toilet bowls or bidets and hope for the best results.
If shaving is the method of choice, it is important that the hair to be removed–which is generally of a coarser texture than other bodily hair–be thoroughly moistened with warm water immediately prior to shaving so as to soften its texture, thereby reducing the likelihood of subsequent ingrown hairs. And it is best that a woman’s “bikini-area” razor, which is specifically designed for private-area shaving, be employed–as opposed to a conventional men’s razor. Some men opt for self-applied or salon hair-waxing removal techniques. Because waxing removes hair bulbs and other sub-epidermal portions of hair in addition to surface hair, the period between waxing and the appearance of new growth is longer than with the shaving technique since shaving removes only surface-level hair. In either case, new growth presents the potential for ingrown hairs and embarrassing itching. To reduce the chances of ingrown hairs, an exfoliant should be used 24 hours after the hair removal, thereby reducing any accumulation of dead skin that might obstruct the free growth of new hair. And the occasional itching caused by new growth of hair must be handled as discreetly as possible: By grinning and bearing until relief can be obtained in privacy, or by placing one’s hand into one’s pocket and providing relief as inconspicuously as possible. In order to avoid excessive irritation and reduce the incidence of ingrown hairs, the general rule is that private-area hair should not be removed before it attains a length of one-eight inch. While salon waxing is arguably the most effective way to remove buttocks-cleft hair, it is certainly not the most economical since in order to keep the area relatively free of hair, waxing would have to be conducted every two to three weeks. Considering efficacy and economy, then, a gentleman on a budget should request the assistance from his sex-partner for either in-house waxing or shaving.
With all the foregoing, the long and short of it is that when it comes to how a gentleman should handle the hair in the cleft of his buttocks, no one else has any business butting in unless invited in. Some things are simply of a nature too private to be decided by public opinion. And at the end of the day, hair is neither here nor there. Therefore, a 21st-century gentleman should do as he pleases with his hair, for he alone shall suffer the social conseequences or reap the social benefits of his choices.
Lobster; Crabs, hard-shell, soft-shell
A lobster served whole is a sight to behold. But it may be intimidating to the novice. Properly presented, a whole or halved (always lengthwise) lobster, whether steamed, boiled, or grilled, will be brought to the table with a paper bib, a clam (or nut) cracker, and an extra bowl or plate for the discarded shells.
Once the bib is donned, the task at hand begins. And the only way to eat a lobster served in its shell is with the hands, assisted by the clam cracker and the shellfish and dinner forks (The shellfish fork is generally too small to properly eat the larger cuts of lobster, but it is used to extract and then eat the flesh from the intricate portions of the shell). Some species of lobsters have claws, which are generally pre-cracked when the lobster is presented to the table. While bracing the lobster in the plate with the left hand, the right hand is used to twist off the claws at the juncture where they connect to the main body of the fish. The separated claws are then further cracked open with the clam cracker, and the flesh is eaten with the shellfish fork. The cracked shells are placed onto the extra plate that has been provided for that purpose. If the lobster is halved, the meat in its tail will already be partially exposed and should be picked out, bite by bite, with the dinner fork, or lifted entirely out by using the left hand to brace the lobster in the plate while the dinner fork, held in the right hand, is used to carefully lift the full half-tail from its shell. The extracted tail is then cut into bite-sized portions and eaten with the dinner fork. The legs of a lobster also contain meat. They should be broken at the joints and pulled apart, sometimes simultaneously separating the meat from its shell such that one of the pulled-apart portions extracts the flesh from the other. When the meat remains intact despite the separation, the meat is best accessed by progressively biting the appendage from one end to the other, slowly pushing the flesh towards the exposed end with each successive bite. If a lobster contains roe, it should be eaten with the fish fork and savored. At the end of the course, the paper bib should be removed and folded outside-in. It is then placed onto the table to the upper left side of the plate containing the discarded bones. Immediately thereafter, a finger bowl containing hot water and lemon slices will be presented in order for the diner to refresh his hands in preparation for the following course. (See Finger Bowls above). A similar procedure is followed when eating hard-shelled crabs.
“Soft-shell crab” is the culinary term for certain species of crabs that are eaten in the molten state. Because a molten crab usually develops a new, hardened shell within 24 hours, the crabs are harvested just before they molt so that they can be eaten at the opportune time. When presented to the table, they will have been cleaned and cooked and are to be eaten in their entirety with a knife and fork.
Sherry is a fortified wine from Andalusia, the south-western European region established as an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain. Situated in southern Spain, Andalusia boasts some of the country’s most popular provinces, including Seville, Granada, Córdoba, and Málaga. The Andalusian autonomous community is officially recognized as a “nationality of Spain,” meaning it is a region, the inhabitants of which—as is the case with the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, for example—have a strong, historically based sense of cultural uniqueness and distinctiveness of identity within the overall Spanish national construct. It is oftentimes said that what is today Spain is more a socio-political fabrication than it is a nation. But whether that is true or not, what is certain is that if there one thing that unites the Spaniards, it is Sherry, one of the great wines of the world.
Under Spanish and European law, the term “Sherry” enjoys Protected Designation of Origin status, specifying that wines may only be legally labeled “Sherry” if they come from the “Sherry Triangle,” an area in the Province of Cádiz embraced by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. Particular to the protected area is the almost-white, chalky, marl-type albariza soil that in the summer develops a hard crust beneath which precious moisture is trapped; the hot, humid climate, conducive to the development of “flor,” a veil of yeast-like growth that forms on the surface of the barrel-aging wine, protecting the liquid—if so desired—from the ravages and discoloring effects of oxidation; and the solera system. (See below). The region is fortunate to receive rains when it is most needed in viniculture: in the autumn, after the hot, dry summer months; and during the spring, just before flowering-time. There are a total of 25,000 acres (approximately 10,000 hectares) of vineyards in the Sherry Triangle.
The word “Sherry” is an English derivation of “Xérès” (Jerez). (The wine was previously known as “sack,” which derives from the Spanish “saca,” meaning “extraction” [from the solera]. Even today, there is a popular brand of supermarket-grade Sherry known as Dry Sack, produced by the venerated Sherry bodega Williams & Humbert).
Sherry is made from three principal white grapes grown in the demarcated region: Palomino, named after a 13th-century Spanish knight; Pedro Ximénez; and Moscatel. And it is from these three grapes that the various styles of Sherry are made—from the pale, dry versions, such as as Fino and Manzanilla, which are similar to white table wines, only with a higher alcohol content, to the darker, more full-bodied wines, such as Amontillado and Oloroso, that have been allowed to oxidize as they age in the barrels. Then there are the sweet dessert Sherries that are made with the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes or from blends of wines from those grapes with wines from the Palomino grape, Palomino being by far the most prevalent variety used for the production of the celebrated wine. (In actuality, the Palomino grape,which can trace its origins to Phoenician times, is an undistinguished grape in the pantheon of grapes: It is prone to oxidation [darkening and spoiling]. But as a result of the Triangle’s magical micro-climate, the grape produces an excellent wine that exhibits none of its “flaws” that manifest in other environs. When pressed, the Palomino grape enjoys a lively fermentation, with all of its sugars being converted to alcohol, thereby producing very dry wines). Finally, there are the cream Sherries (See below).
While Sherry’s general reputation is that of a sweet dessert or aperitif wine, it is also available in dry and semi-dry styles that serve as excellent complements to food. But, interestingly, unlike Port and Vin Santo, for example, which derive their sweetness naturally, Sherries (except for a few examples of vintage Sherries) begin as dry wines. After fermentation is complete—after all the natural sugars in the grape juice have been converted to alcohol, the wine thereby becoming “dry”—the dry base-wine is then fortified with a grape-derived, brandy-like spirit in order to increase the wine’s overall alcohol content. And it is that fortification with extra alcohol that accounts for Sherry’s relatively high alcohol content and its longevity once bottled. Wines that have been classified as suitable to be aged into the pale, dry Fino and Manzanilla styles are fortified until they attain an alcohol content by volume of 15.5%. As those wines age in the barrel, a yeast-like growth—poetically referred to as “flor,” Spanish for “flower”—forms on the surface of the wine, insulating it from any exposure to oxygen that would naturally occur during its barrel-aging period due to the porous nature of wooden barrels. [Barrels containing wines destined to become Fino and Manzanilla are purposefully not filled entirely with wine so that the flor has space to form and develop]. As a result of the insulation from exposure to oxygen during the aging process, the wine retains its pale color. It was not until the 1850s that the phenomenon of the flor was discovered. But once it was revealed, it broadly expanded possibilities for Sherry: As a pale, dry wine, it could be paired with tapas, arguably the quintessential Spanish gastronomical indulgence.
The wines earmarked to be aged into the darker, dry Amontillado and Oloroso styles (typically wines that, for whatever reason, did not develop and/or maintain a significant flor) are fortified to achieve an alcohol content by volume of at least 17%. In that higher-alcohol environment, the yeast-like flor cannot exist. And, as such, the wine is exposed to the natural oxidation that takes place within the barrel environment, thereby attaining darker hues over time. Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries are known to achieve colors ranging from golden-brown to deep amber or even mahogany during their typical aging periods of eight years and beyond.
Pedro Ximénes and Moscatel grapes are used to make the sweet Sherries. But they, too, are fermented completely before being put into barrels to age. They are then typically blended with Oloroso and Amontillado Sherries to achieve the desired degree of sweetness. (See below).
The Solera System of Aging Sherry
All Sherries must attain an average age of at least three years of barrel-aging before being bottled for sale. [Unlike many styles of Port, which are bottled with a recommended drinking-age in the distant future, except for a handful of unfiltered Sherries, Sherries are expected to be drunk when bottled, even if they may endure—in excellent condition—for generations once bottled]. And the defining aging processes of Sherry is the solera system. Typically, bottles of Sherry contain a blend of the wines of several years. And because of the unique solera system, bottled Sherry (except for vintage Sherry, which is not aged in a solera system) will not indicate a vintage year. The solera system is in effect a type of fractional blending/aging of wine.
The word “solera” derives from the Spanish word “suelo,” meaning “floor.” When a solera is first established, a set of barrels is filled with wine that is to be aged and placed, lying down, upon the floor. (Before entering the solera system, the wines will have already aged for approximately two years in vats). As such, that first set of barrels is also referred to “solera.” A tier of barrels containing a younger wine is then stacked atop the solera tier. Then another tier of barrels containing yet younger wine is stacked atop the previous two tiers, and so on. Each tier above the solera tier is called a “criadera,” or “nursery.” And each criadera tier, typically named and/or numbered (e.g. “Criadera 1,” “Criadera 2”), contains wine of the same age. For stability and practicality purposes, soleras generally do not exceed five tiers high—even if the solera contains more criaderas. The uppermost criadera is called the “sobretablas.” (When a solera consists of many tiers of criaderas—some containing as many as 20—the various tiers are sometimes placed in different parts of the bodega, or are even sometimes situated in different buildings within the winery complex).
The wine to be bottled is extracted only from the ground-level solera tier, the tier containing the oldest wine. The aged wine extracted from the solera tier is referred to as the “saca,” from the Spanish verb “sacar,” meaning “to extract.” The amount of wine extracted from the solera tier is then replaced with wine from the first criadera, situated immediately atop the solera tier. Then the amount of wine taken from the first criadera is replenished with wine from the second criadera, and so on, until wine is extracted from the sobretabla tier to replenish the wine taken from the criadera immediately below it. The amount of wine extracted from the sobretabla is then replenished with young wine just entering the aging process. [The very first, virgin extraction from a “newly” established solera, then, contains only the wine that was initially put into the ground-level solera when the solera was first established. But thereafter, as each tier is replenished with wine from the tier immediately above it, the wines begin blending. It is customary, then, for several extractions from a solera to take place prior to the first bottling of the solera’s wine for market, thereby ensuring a wine that reflects the balanced nuances of the solera and the characteristics of the various vintages]. [It should be noted that in the case of premium soleras containing very old wine, wine from other soleras with similar profiles—rater than young wines—are used to replenish the wine in the sobretablas of the recipient solera]. The solera-aging process of replenishing the extracted wine is called a “racio,” from the Spanish verb “raciar,” “to wash down.” By law, a maximum of 35% of a barrel’s contents may be extracted. But normally, so as to maintain the distinctive characteristics of each tier, only about 10 – 15% per barrel (a little less from Manzanilla soleras) is extracted. The saca/racio process usually takes place several times within a year, exact figures rarely disclosed. Environmental conditions and the type of Sherry being aged also figure significantly in the amount and frequency of sacas/racios: In Jerez, for example, a Fino solera is likely to be refreshed two to four times per year; whereas in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, due to higher activity of the flor, a Manzanilla solera may undergo six to 10 sacas/racios per year. [It should also be noted that all casks in a solera do not undergo the saca/racio process at the same time; it is typically spread out over time].
The underlying rationale of the solera system is to ensure continuity and consistency of the wines: By blending various vintages, the variability of wine quality from one year to another is minimized once the solera is well-established and the wines therein have been significantly integrated. Thus, with the solera system, there are no “good” and “bad” years that so often plague wine-making. The system also ensures that the bottled wines will maintain a constant average age since new wines are only gradually integrated into the system, the older wines thereby absorbing and being invigorated by the influence of the new wine as it mixes with the proportionally greater quantities of older Sherries of the solera. In addition, in the case of the flor that is required in the production of Fino and Manzanilla Sherries, the new wine contains the necessary micro-nutrients to support the development of the yeast that serves to protect the wine from exposure to oxygen, thereby permitting the liquid to retain its pale color and distinctive flavor-profile. (Absent the regular nutritional input of the new wine, the flor would die off, thereby subjecting the maturing wine to an oxidative maturation). [In order not to disrupt the flor, the new wine is not poured into the cask from the top; instead, the new wine is gently introduced underneath the layer of flor without damaging it].
It is believed that the solera system originated in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the second half of the 1700s. Prior to its introduction, all Sherries were añadas (or yearly vintages), a system that continued into the 20th century. (See “Vintage Sherry” below). Some of the oldest soleras still in active use are at Osborne (Capuchino established in 1790/Sibarita in 1792); El Maestro Sierra (1830); Valdespino (1842); and Gonzalez Byass (1847). The purpose of a solera is to serve as a perpetual aging-system that gradually and slowly matures, thereby acquiring a unique character and personality that it imparts upon the wine that it embraces. [Some Sherry producers print the establishment date of the solera on their labels, a practice that may lead unsuspecting consumers to believe that the stated date represents the age of the Sherry contained in the bottle].
The nature of the solera system is to seamlessly blend wines from various vintages. As such, it is impossible to date the bottled wine. An average, approximate age of the wine, however, may be determined. Factors such as the starting-date of the solera, the number of criaderas, the typical percentage of each saca, and the frequency of sacas, are taken into consideration. When bottled, the “age” of all Sherries is assessed and determined by a cadre of professional tasters from the Consejo Regulador, the governing body of the Jerez D.O. (Designation of Origin), which is authorized to reject wines it deems immature. It is also that body that as of 2001 grants, based on flavor-profile, the age-statement designations of VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum/[unofficial English equivalent, “Very Old Sherry”]) for Sherries 20 years or older; and VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum/[unofficial English equivalent, “Very Old Rare Sherry”]) for Sherries 30 years or older.
Vintage Sherry, or Jerez de Añada, is today rarely produced, so much so that even aficionados are sometimes under the mistaken impression that it no longer exists, the last bottles, they think, having been brought to market in the early decades of the 20th century. Before the introduction of the solera system of aging Sherries (See above) in the second half of the 18th century, all Sherry was vintage Sherry: Grapes would be harvested and pressed; the grape must would be allowed to completely ferment, thereby becoming dry; the wine would be fortified and put into wooden casks; and years later, there would be amber-colored Oloroso and Oloroso-type Sherries, which would sometimes then be sweetened, filtered, and bottled.
But even with the rise of the solera system as the system for making Sherry, casks of Vintage Sherries continue to quietly exist, even if in proportionately small quantities, in the far corners or darkened areas of Sherry bodegas, for they serve a practical purpose: Because no new wine is introduced to the barrels aging Vintage Sherry, they age quicker; and when aged, this old wine can serve as a high-quality resource for “tweaking” and “correcting” the flavor-profiles of soleras. But once Vintage Sherries became secondary to solera-aged Sherries, Vintage Sherries, by the early 20th century, had seen their last commercial days—until their recent comeback in the 1990s when the large bodegas of Gonzalez Byass and Williams and Hubert started making their Vintage Sherries available to the public. And since then, other bodegas have followed suit.
The wines intended for Vintage Sherry are usually produced from full-bodied, sweeter musts since such musts tend to produce wines that better appreciate the characteristics derived from oak barrels. And because of the higher per-volume alcohol content (20-22%), the wines undergo oxidative maturation (since no oxygen-insulating flor will exist in that environment), thus producing Oloroso (which means “scented” in Spanish), Amontillado, Palo Cortado, or one of the sweet varieties. Also, because of the evaporation that occurs during oxidative maturation, and because the “angels’ share” (“merma”) is not replenished, the wine, over time, becomes increasingly concentrated. [On occasion, the concentrated wine is transferred to smaller barrels so as to minimize the exposure to oxygen that is witnessed as a result of empty space in a barrel].
As with solera Sherries, Añadas are available dry, semi-dry, or sweet. When the cellarmaster, called “capataz” in Spain, determines that the Vintage Sherry is almost ready for bottling, a designated quantity will be sweetened. This is typically achieved by adding naturally sweet grape must of the native Pedro Ximénez variety. After the Sherry has been sweetened, it remains in the casks for additional months or years, producing a complex, balanced wine. The word “abocado” (“smooth”) on the label denotes a sweetened Sherry. The word “amoroso” is used to indicate a sweetened Oloroso. Alternatively, Sherry is sometimes (but rarely so) sweetened on the front-end—the natural way, like Port: Fermentation is interrupted by the addition of a grape-derived spirit, thereby preserving the unconverted sugars in the wine. Thereafter, the wine is aged, producing a naturally sweet Sherry years later.
The History of Sherry
Introduced by the Phoenicians around 1100 B.C.E., wine-making has been a part of Iberian culture for 3,000 years. And throughout that long history, the town of Jerez has been at the center of Iberian viniculture. Like the Phoenicians before them, the Romans continued the wine-making legacy when they took control of the Iberian Peninsula around 100 B.C.E. But Sherry as a distinct style of fortified wine is the result of the Moorish culture of North Africa. When the Moors conquered the region in 711 C.E., they introduced the technique of distillation, which would figure significantly in the development of Sherry. During the Moorish period, the city that is today called “Jerez” was called “Sherish,” from which the words “Jerez” and “Sherry” derive. (Coincidentally in the Persian [present-day Iranian] city of Shiraz is made a wine very similar to Sherry. But the Persian name “Shiraz” has mostly been discounted as the source of the word “Sherry”).
In 966 C.E., Al-Hakam II, the second Caliph of Córdoba, in adherence with the Islamic proscription of the consumption of alcohol, ordered the destruction of vineyards. But the people of Jerez argued convincingly that the vineyards also produced grapes that went to feed the empire’s soldiers, resulting in the Caliph sparing two-thirds of Jerez’s vineyards. Thus, by the time the Moors lost control of the city of Jerez to Alfonso X of Castile in 1264, the Moors had been producing fortified wines in Spain for over 500 years. Sherry was the wine carried by Christopher Columbus to the New World onboard the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María. And it is said that in 1519 when Ferdinand Magellan prepared for his journey to circumnavigate the world, more money was spent on Sherry than on weapons. The British became enamored with Sherry when, in 1587, Francis Drake sacked the the Spanish city of Cádiz, at the time site of one of Spain’s most important seaports, as Spain was preparing an armada to invade England. Part of the spoils of the famous sack were the 2,900 barrels of Sherry that had been warehoused in Cádiz pending being loaded onto the Spanish war vessels. Upon Drake’s return to England, the English delighted not only in their victory, but also in their acquired Sherry. And their fascination with the Spanish wine has endured ever since. By the end of the 16th century, Sherry had earned the reputation in Europe as the world’s finest wine—bar none.
The Major Types of Sherry
There are three major categories of Sherry: Dry, Sweet, and Cream, each with subcategories.
The Principal Dry Sherries
–Fino: Meaning “fine” in Spanish, is the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of Sherry. It is served chilled, typically as an aperitif wine, but also as an accompaniment to tapas, nuts, or any dish for which white wines would be a natural complement. Though fortified, because of its relative delicacy, Fino Sherry is best drunk shortly after it is bottled.
–Manzanilla: An especially pale type of Fino Sherry made exclusively in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where, due to higher humidity, because of Sanlúcar’s proximity to the marshlands of Doñana, the flor flourishes year-round (whereas in other areas of the Sherry Triangle, the flor tends to die down with the arrival of the dry, hot weather), resulting in the one of the palest (and some say driest) of all Sherries.
–Manzanilla Pasada: A Manzanilla that has undergone extended aging or that has been partially oxidized, giving it a richer, nuttier flavor. Favored by the natives of Sanlúcar, the wine is said to suggest hints of salt on account of the proximity of the sea to the wine’s birthplace.
–Amontillado: Named after the wine-making town of Montilla (Córdoba), this Sherry is in effect a transitional wine between a Fino and an Oloroso. Like Fino and Manzanilla, the wine is first aged under a protective layer of flor. But the layer of flor dies off, or is allowed to die off, thereby exposing the wine to oxidation, which renders it darker in color. Amontillado is a naturally dry Sherry. (But it is sometimes slightly sweetened, though, when such is the case, it cannot be labeled “Amontillado”).
–Oloroso: Oloroso is aged with little or no flor, resulting in the wine’s darker color. With an alcohol by volume content of between 18 and 20%, Olorosos are amongst the most alcoholic Sherries. Naturally dry, when Olorosos are sold sweetened, they can no longer be labeled “Oloroso.” Instead, they must be labeled “Cream Sherry.” Rich amber in color, Oloroso is usually served as an aperitif and complement to cured hams. It is also regarded as suitable match for difficult-to-wine-match foods such as asparagus, eggs, and artichokes. The best Olorosos tend to be the oldest ones.
–Palo Cortado: It is said in Jerez that Palo Cortado is not made, it happens—rarely. The wine begins its life as Fino, but, for whatever reason, the flor either does not form or forms and quickly dies. This rare occurrence results in a Sherry with an aroma similar to Amontillado, but with a color closer to Oloroso.
Sweet Sherry (also called “Jerez Dulce”)
Sweet Sherries are made from either the Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grape varieties. (The Pedro Ximénez grape, oftentimes abbreviated as “PX,” is an extremely sweet grape that can be found throughout the greater Andalusian wine region. “Pedro Ximénez” also refers to a wine—named after the famous grape). When the PX and Moscatel grapes are employed in the production of Sweet Sherry, the grapes are left to sun-dry, thereby reducing their water content and concentrating their already-high quantities of natural sugars. In effect, the grapes are dried almost until they become raisins. The grapes are then pressed to extract their super-sweet must, which is then allowed to ferment. As the region’s naturally occurring yeasts consume the sugars in the must, they emit alcohol (and carbon dioxide) as waste products. But unlike with grapes with lower sugar content, where the yeast is able to transform all the sugar to alcohol, thereby producing dry wines, in the case of PX and Moscatels—and especially in their semi-desiccated forms—the yeast consumes so much sugar that they emit a correspondingly high amount of alcohol in the process. And in that high-alcohol environment, the yeasts perish, leaving the uneaten natural sugars in the fermented liquid. And it is that leftover sugar content that accounts for the natural sweetness of Sweet Sherry. The sweet liquid is then fortified with additional grape-derived spirit and put into casks for aging. Sweet Sherries oftentimes age to a highly prized, very dark, almost black wine. When aged correctly, these wines are regarded as some of the best in the world. They are enjoyed with desserts or drunk unaccompanied, in small quantities, as meditativewines, each sip savored.
[Sweet Sherries are also sometimes mixed with dry Oloroso Sherry or other dry Sherries to create semi-dry Sherries].
Popular outside Spain, but not within Spain, Cream Sherry is in effect sweetened Oloroso Sherry (or, in the case of Pale Cream Sherry, a sweetened Fino Sherry). Such Sherries are traditionally sweetened by mixing-in Pedro Ximénez, a naturally sweet wine. Alternatively, the wine may be sweetened with sugar or a grape juice concentrate. One of the most commercially popular Cream Sherries is Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Traditionally, Cream Sherries are served as a dessert wine or as a complement to pâtés.
Pale dry Sherries, whether drunk as aperitifs or as complements to food, are drunk chilled from regular, stemmed, white wine glasses. Darker dry Sherries are generally drunk at cellar temperature from white wine glasses, but are also drunk from stemmed, tulip-inspired glasses referred to as a “copita” or a “catavino.”
When Sherry is served as a compliment to a soup—typically also flavored with Sherry—the wine is traditionally served in a small, stemmed, V-shaped glass.
Sweet and Semi-Sweet Sherries are served in small stemmed glasses.
Shelf Life of Sherries
Sherry is generally stored upright—to minimize the wine’s exposed surface area—in a cool, dark place. Once opened, pale Sherries should be drunk the same day. Darker Sherries (especially the sweet ones, since the sugar acts as an additional preservative), aged in an oxidative manner, are only minimally affected by subsequent exposure to oxygen and may be re-corked and enjoyed weeks or months after opening.
Because most Sherries are filtered in the production process, they are not decanted; they are poured directly from the bottle. (Some hosts serve them from stoppered, decorative crystal decanters for aesthetic purposes).
Like Port, properly cellar-stored dark and Sweet Sherries can endure through the decades and across the centuries, though, unlike Port, because Sherries are filtered before bottling, they tend not to improve once bottled. Pale Sherries are meant to be drunk within a few years after bottling.
The oldest wine in Crimea’s Massandra Winery collection is Sherry de La Frontera dating from 1775.