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Domecq Sherry: The Taste of Time

By Jim Clarke

The House of Domecq has spent almost three centuries pleasing sherry-drinkers of every stripe, including the royalty of Spain and England. They have also grown, eventually becoming part of the enormous corporate tapestry that is Allied Domecq, which owns a diverse range of wine and spirit producers. Wineries like Perrier-Jouet and New Zealand's Montana (known in the U.S. as Brancott) and spirits such as Maker's Mark and Courvoisier are among their brothers and sisters. Size, however, has not compromised quality, as the Domecq family still directly oversees their vineyards and cellars in the Jerez region. Such a long history means that some of their wines are from very old soleras (sherry's distinctive aging system), and a sip of such a sherry is a gateway to the past.

The company was founded in 1730. In the second half of the 19th century they made a huge push forward under the guidance of Pedro Domecq; his early attention to the science of viticulture led to great changes in both the vineyard and the cellar. Among other things, he replanted the mix of varietals in their vineyards with what has become the region's most important grape: Palomino. Since that time the company has patiently expanded its vineyard holdings; they now own about 2,500 acres in Jerez, 2,000 of which are in an area called Macharnudo, where the hillier terrain receives more of the cooling ocean breezes that help the grapes maintain their acidity. They have also paid close attention to clonal selection in the vineyard, maintaining Don Domecq's eye for the best grapes for the job of making great sherry.

In the bodega - properly speaking, in the 16 bodegas - Domecq has an incredible advantage: an ancient lineage of soleras. Their oldest solera, used in making the Sibarita Palo Cortado, was founded in 1792, and other sherries are aged in soleras dating from 1830, 1902, and 1919. Great age gives their sherries depth and power, and Domecq has been careful to insure that the anada - the new wine being added at the top of the criadera - is high quality; compromising such a legacy would be a great waste. To do so they have invested in state-of-the-art facilities in the winery; among other advances, the company has isolated their own strain of yeast to insure consistent fermentation.

Domecq's flagship line includes four sherries: the "La Ina" Fino, a Manzanilla, a Medium Dry Amontillado, and the Vina 25 Pedro Ximenez. They also produce three VORS (Very Old Rare Sherries): the Amontillado 51-1A, the Sibarita Palo Cortado, and the Venerable Pedro Ximenez; the abbreviation indicates a minimum average age of thirty years. Outside of Sherry they produce the Marques de Arienzo Riojas and some sparkling wines, and also own another well-known sherry house: Harveys.

Harveys Bristol Cream

For many, Harveys has developed a poor but undeserved reputation; nonetheless, it remains the best selling sherry in the world. Founded in 1796 and aimed at the British market, until 1960 the company purchased wines in Jerez and shipped them to Bristol, England for aging and blending. Around that time, they began buying their own vineyards so they could protect the quality of their source material. Their true claim to fame is their development in the 1860s of Harveys Bristol Cream, the world's first Cream Sherry. The blend starts with wines from fifty different soleras, including three sherry types: Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso. Finally some Pedro Ximenez wine is added for sweetness, and for the richness and creaminess that is the hallmark of the style. The Bristol Cream is the only sherry that is not only commonly served chilled, but on the rocks - the ice cuts the viscosity. A slice of lemon or lime is often added as well, especially in warmer weather; the acidity of citrus cuts back the sweetness. These different treatments means Harveys Bristol Cream can suit a variety of occasions.

Tasting Notes on some Domecq Sherries

Domecq "La Ina" Fino Sherry: The "La Ina" a full-bodied fino with aromas of pear, almond, and apple, plus a touch of lemon on the palate. A bready note emerges on its crisp finish.

Domecq Amontillado 51-1A VORS: The "51 Primera" is named after its solera. A complex combination of fruits - raisins and figs, primarily - and savory components such as chestnuts, dark bread, and baking spices are accented with a delicate briny note. This sherry unwinds into a long, warm finish.

Domecq Sibarita Palo Cortado VORS: Medium-bodied, with aromas of fruitcake, prunes, and dates, this Palo Cortado maintains the Domecq family traits of power and intensity framed with cleansing acidity. From a solera founded in 1792, only 370 cases are withdrawn and released each year.

Domecq Medium Dry Amontillado: A small amount of Pedro Ximenez wine is added to a more usual amontillado, which adds a touch of sweetness and muffles the acidity somewhat. However, aromas and flavors of caramelized sugar, raisins, and walnuts still come through strong.

Domecq Vina 25 PX: Made from Pedro Ximenez grapes, this dessert wine offers deep wafts of prunes, molasses, and toast; surfing the underside of syrupy, its finish remains amazingly clean. Try serving it with coffee, or pour it over your vanilla ice cream in summer.

Domecq Venerable PX VORS: Their higher-end dessert sherry, the Venerable is less forward but still offer a rich blend of dark chocolate, molasses, and prunes. It's round, big, and elegant in the mouth, demonstrating undeniable class.

Harveys Bristol Cream: Harveys is medium-bodied, or lighter when served over ice. It is characterized by aromas of walnuts, hazelnuts, and raisins, with some light spices and citrus on the finish. It splits the difference between other sherries as it works well as an aperitif when served over ice with lemon, but can also stand neat as an accompaniment to a creamy dessert like cheesecake or creme brulee.

 Published: May 2004