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The Sherries of González Byass

by Tom Cannavan, 06/99

I have long been an admirer of the sherries of González Byass. In particularl their Tio Pepe fino, which maintains remarkable quality for such a vastly popular and mass-produced brand, and especially their range of 4 special old sherries; Amontillado del Duque, Apóstoles, Matúsalem and Noé, each of which contains wines averaging 30 years old, with some blending of 100 year old wines. This was also a rare chance to taste an amazing and very scarce Vintage Sherry from 1970 - only 812 bottles of which were produced. The tasting was organised by Peckhams, a Scottish fine wine and food chain, and led by Brian Calder, the ebullient, larger-than-life Managing Director of González Byass, who just happens to be a fellow Scot.

Tio Pepe Fino Sherry - £7.39
Very pale straw tinged gold. This has a fine, developed flor nose with subtle straw and almond notes. Palate is bone dry with bitter-orange nuances. It has good acidity and a long, smooth finish. Very good.

Elegante Fino Sherry - £5.49
This is another fino, average age of the solera being 3 years as opposed to Tío Pepe's 5. It has a slightly darker straw colour and a yeasty, flor nose but is dumber and less aromatic. The palate is dry, rather richer but has a less refined quality. There is slightly raw alcohol in the finish.

Caballero Amontillado Sherry - £5.49
This has a pale caramel colour and a fine, nutty nose with hints of burnt caramel aromas. It is off-dry with more nutty flavours and some sweeter, caramelised orange notes. A little bit short in the finish.

La Concha Amontillado Sherry- £5.49
More colour, a light to medium caramel. Quite a rich toffee-like nose then quite dry on the palate with very pure, ripe fruit and woody overtones, but nutty and dry into the moderately long finish. Good.

Alfonso Oloroso Sherry- £7.99
Mid amber/orange colour. Really attractive walnut and toffee nose, hints of marmalade and marzipan. Very dry on the palate with peppery fruit and tart lemony flavours, though a richer, walnutty aspect emerges adding roundness. Bone dry, long and elegant. Very good.

San Domingo Pale Cream Sherry - £5.49
Very pale straw/lemon colour. Flor nose, hints of sweetness but mostly yeast and almond aromas. Sweet attack, but quickly turns rather pallid and weak on the mid-palate before raw acidity kicks in on the finish. Not my cup of tea admittedly, but for me the only poor wine in the range.

Superior Cream Sherry - £5.49
Aptly named compared to the above. Mid-brown, tea colour. No yeast, but lightly caramelised nutty nose with hints of brown sugar. Sweetness on the palate with warming burnt sugar notes, orange and a drying note of olives and nuts in the finish which is quite long. Very nice.

Amontillado del Duque - £20.99
An old favourite of mine, this wine has a pale/medium tawny colour with hints of green on the rim. A gorgeous, walnutty aroma rises from the glass with notes of bitter seville orange, spice and toast. Quite full bodied but dry, sweetness of old-oak, very long and tightly structured with fine tannins. Wonderful fine wine.

Apóstoles dry Oloroso - £20.99
I have sometimes found this a little sweet, but have always thought it a lovely wine. Medium ruby/tawny colour. Intensely sweet, figgy fruit on the nose with notes of almond, vanilla and old-oak, varnishy notes. Gorgeous drinking with its full, rich, nutty flavours, hints of mollasses and fudge and lovely dry, nutty finish. Delicious stuff.

Matúsalem Oloroso - £20.99
Very dark brown with tawny rim. Gorgeous nose. Some honey, figs, very, very intense almost oily notes. Rich, full-bodied and beautifully balanced between opulent orange and honey flavours, tangy acidity and a sweet, almost endless finish. Another stunning wine of great complexity.

Vintage Oloroso 1970 - £???
This wine sells for anything between £60 and £150 retail in the UK. With only 812 bottles in existence, this wine with a whopping 24% alcohol is a rare example of a single vintage Sherry, aged in new American oak for 25 years. Beautiful old tawny gold, with green tinge to the rim. Absolutely sensational nose. Clichés about nosing a wine for hours suddenly come true with this sherry: vivid, pure, penetrating bouquet of minty intensity. Figs, butter, hints of charred-oak and sweet quince fruit. On the palate bone-dry but a huge wine. Fabulously concentrated and flooded with flavours of walnut, fig and pear. Dark, brooding old-wood firmness but then an alluring sweetness - quite whisky-like and peaty with a finish that persists for minutes. A sensationally good wine.

Noé - £20.99
Well, it was always going to be hard to follow that. This Pedro Ximénez wine is a dense black/brown colour. The nose is of raisins soaked in rum, brown sugar and bitter chocolate. So thick and viscous I actually find this just too rich (and I like PX generally). It is quite an amazing experience with its weight of chocolaty super-sweet fruit and huge viscosity, and it somehow manages to stay balanced with good acidity and a very long finish. Another great wine, but just too much for me - unless poured over vanilla ice-cream of course....