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Understanding Cocktails: Mixing with the Various types of Sherry

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Sherry is many things. Delicious, unique, versatile and varied, it can add a wonderful accent to a cocktail, or act as the base (and, of course, stand alone as a single glass of wine).

For this post, we’re not going to dive into how sherry is made. For that, please check out this piece that we wrote last year. Instead, where going to discuss the flavor and textural differences between each style, and how these differences affect how to mix with Spain’s most famous fortified wine.

Fino/Manzanilla - Delicate, mineraly. herbal, and light, these styles are not heavily oxidized like other types of sherry. This means adding too many other ingredients will swamp the sherry. Adding some sparkling water and squeezing an orange wedge into 6 ounces of either of these types is all you need to do. You can drop in a bit of vodka if you want it a bit stronger, but don’t over do it.

Amontillado/Palo Cortado - Amontillado is the most versatile and common type of sherry to mix with. Palo Cortado is essentially just super nice amontillado, so we suggest you save it for drinking by itself. Because amontillado has flavors that come from oxidation, like dates, figs, nuts and bruised apple, it plays nicely with oak aged spirits. Remember that this style is dry, so you’ll most likely want to add a sweet component. An herbal simple syrup does the trick. Tarragon in particular complements amontillado beautifully.

Oloroso - Its name literally means “aromatic,” and it lives up to it. Good oloroso smells more like almonds and walnut than actual almonds and walnuts. Play to these notes, either with ingredients that also incorporate these flavors, like Amaretto, or complementary ones, such as the baking spices of Angostura bitters.

Cream Sherry - Cream sherry is very similar to sweet white vermouth. It’s sweet, highly oxidized, and naturally a touch herbal. Swap sweet vermouth with cream sherry in any cocktail that calls for it, such as a Manhattan.

Pedro Ximenez - Literally the sweetest dessert wine in the world, a small amount of this stuff goes a long way. Though made from white grapes, the resulting liquid is nearly black. It often has flavors of raisins, walnuts, spices, coffee, chocolate, and is unbelievably rich. A well aged bourbon and coffee liqueur would yield a spectacular after dinner cocktail.

A fun and easy recipe to try at home with Grand Cata ingredients:

Oh So Fino!

4 oz Fino sherry

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Giffard grapefruit liqueur

1/2 oz simple syrup (optional if you prefer a dry drink. Add more if desired)

Topo Chico mineral water

Ice

Lime wedge

Mixing glass

Collins glass

Combine sherry, vodka, syrup, ice and Giffard in mixing glass. Stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into collins glass a little more than half full of ice. Fill to top with Topo Chico, lightly stir to combine. Garnish with lemon wedge and serve.

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Learning to Describe Wine Like a Pro!

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While almost everyone can agree that wine is delicious, everyone has their own tastes. Some of us love rich, bold reds but could do without crisp whites. Others are the exact opposite. Some have a very specific set of flavors they like, while others will drink just about any fermented grape juice.

What we can all agree on, though? The right wine at the right moment is one of the little wins that makes life special. To help you experience this more often, we’d like to cover some important vocabulary and concepts that will help you describe wine. Hopefully this helps so you learn what you do and don’t like in vino.

Find the Key Component

The first step you be to find the most obvious and important element of a wine, and then work down to the details. If you like funky wines, despite how broad a term that is, then ask for them. If you like super aromatic wines, let us know! While a lot of the magic in wine is in the details, plenty of it is also front and center.

Describing Fruit

Not all wine is fruity, though almost all wine has some level of fruit flavor. This makes it a good place to start.

A very common and useful phrase is “fruit-forward.” This refers to when and how intensely you taste fruit flavors. “Fruit-driven” is another common phrase that means nearly the same thing.

Fruit-forward wines have intense fruit flavors right up front, meaning they are the first and most intense thing you taste. Their aromas are generally also heavily weighted towards fruit.

After determining if a wine is fruit-forward, the next step is to describe the actual fruit flavors. Learn what types of fruit flavors you enjoy in your wine, and you will be able to either ask for advice in our, or any, shop. You can also do research yourself to find grapes and styles that showcase those flavors. As an example, pinot noir is known for a fruit profile consisting of raspberry and cherry, while malbec has notes of darker fruits like plums and blackberries.

A nice shorthand way of describing fruit is by their color and type. “Dark fruit” refers to flavors such as blueberry, while “red fruit” would include strawberry and raspberry. “Tropical fruit” and “citrus” are extremely common as well, particularly in white wines.

Describing Other Flavors

Fruit is far from the only flavor profile in wine. Herbal, more savory wines are quite common, especially from cooler regions. Floral tones show up all the time. As with fruit flavors, the point is not always to be completely accurate, but rather to understand in broad strokes the flavors you do or don’t like. While it’s very common for wines to have specific herbal tones like tarragon, rosemary, or thyme, more often than not “herbal” works just fine.

Other key flavor components to be aware of include minerals, smoke, spices and earth. Minerals show up often in crisp white wines, and give a similar impression to drinking very clean, fresh spring water. In reds they’re more metallic and/or rocky.

Texture

We’ve covered texture before, so we’ll stick to the basics here. Some adjectives to keep in mind include rich, bold, and heavy for bigger, more powerful reds such as cabernet sauvignon, and fresh, crisp and lively for lighter reds, rosé and whites.

Crucially, however, is knowing how to describe texture when it defies expectations for the style. A great example is California chardonnay. Some styles are as creamy, rich and opulent as even the biggest reds, so it’s important to specify texture in addition to flavors. At the store, we often get asked about richer, fuller rosé, since usually the style is so light.

That’s it for some of the basics. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own terms and phrases, too. Getting in the habit of trying to describe the wines you like will lead you to a better appreciation for wine in general, and will help you to pick out the bottle that best suits any occasion.

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Enjoy a Free Vertical Tasting with Klaus from Alta Cima

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This evening, we have the pleasure of hosting a great friend of the store, Klaus Schoeder, General Manager of Alta Cima in the Lontue Valley of Chile. Klaus kindly packed his bags with back vintages of Alta Cima’s flagship wine, Ensamblaje. This means we get to finally host our first “vertical tasting” at Grand Cata!

A vertical tasting means sampling the same wine over multiple vintages. This can give you insight into how a wine will age, the chance to taste different choices made in different years, and begin to understand the evolution of the winemaker’s relationship with the land the grapes come from.

History

Klaus Schröder, Alta Cima’s winemaker and Klaus Schoeder’s father, started the winery in 2000 on a plot of land he purchased in 1974. Klaus chose the plot because as head winemaker for San Pedro winery, he consistently purchased grapes from the area because of their quality. Specifically, he liked the elegance and structure of the grapes. Klaus Sr. wanted to one day have his one winery where he focused on finesse and softness in his wines, and the grapes from this small part of the Lontue Valley provided perfect fodder for this dream.   

Klaus Sr. has been making wine since the mid ‘60s. From a small town in northern Germany, he attended a local agriculture school. He did so well, that Geisenheim University, one of the most prestigious winemaking schools in the world - on par with UC Davis and Montpellier - admitted him in 1959, despite usually not accepting applicants with only agriculture degrees.

After graduating in 1963, Klaus Sr. then worked for 2 years in wineries in Germany. A bout of wanderlust led him to apply to wineries throughout the world. One of the wineries that offered him a job, San Pedro’s in Chile, sparked his interest. Klaus arrived at the winery on October 10th, 1965, his 26th birthday.

After San Pedro’s, he moved to Erasmus and created the first vintages of “Don Maximiano,” a national treasure in Chile. Then he moved to Santa Rita and created “Casa Real,” their flagship wine. The 1989 vintage is widely considered one of the greatest wines Chile has ever produced.

The Land

By 2000, Klaus felt it was time to return to the land he’d bought in 1974 and start his own winery. As mentioned above, he knew that the grapes from his land were excellent. Over the past 18 years, he’s been studying why. Here’s what he’s learned.

Basically, there are three specific ways that air moves over the vineyards. Two of these movements can be categorized as winds, the third as more of a gentle roll. The vineyards sit in a very specific part of the Lontue valley with unique topographic qualities. The wind movements all meet at this particular place.

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Alta Cima’s vineyards lie at the tip of a small mountain corridor juts inland from the Pacific ocean. The Lontue river flows across the tip of the range from the south, then turns quickly towards the ocean, creating the Lontue valley. This means the valley is open at the end that meets the ocean, allowing ocean winds to glide through the valley in an eastwardly direction.

At the same time, a second prevailing wind blows from the south, funneled by the Andes, the “cordillera de la costa” - the smaller mountain range that runs along the coast - and the corridor described above. These two winds meet right where the vineyards are planted. In the morning, this creates a fog that protects the grapes and freshens them. This fog blows off around midday, and for a very small window of only a few hours, the grapes have enough heat to ripen.

In the afternoon, the third air movement comes into play, as a second fog descends from the Andes, again freshening and cooling the grapes. Crucially, it very rarely rains throughout the summer and fall, despite the constant fog.

The final piece of the climate puzzle is one that much of South America has going for it: drastic changes in temperature from day to night. During the day, temperatures exceed 90 degrees. At night, they drop as low as the mid 40s. This combination means the grapes have enough access to heat to fully ripen, but also maintain the acidity needed to create wines with elegance and finesse.

The Wines

Today we will be sampling multiple vintages of Ensamblaje Gran Reserva. Klaus Jr. chose each vintage for specific reasons. Tasting them vertically will give you a clearer picture of the philosophy and capability of Alta Cima.

2001 - The very first wine produced and bottled in the winery. This shows the aging potential of AC wines.

2003 - A widely acclaimed vintage across the area, this wine lead to wide recognition for the winery.

2010 - One of the best vintages of the last 10 years

2015 - Current vintage, by tasting the others you can see where this one is going. Also celebrates the 15th anniversary.

We look forward to see you at the shop this evening! Klaus is a true friend of the store and a very engaging character who’s passion for his family’s winery is palpable. And the wines he brought with him are world class.

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