Harvey and Pepe: Sherry from Gonzalez Byass #SherryWeek


The first time I had sherry was late October 2009: I’d taken a red eye from LAX to Lisbon where I was whisked off to check in and dash down to dinner at the European Wine Bloggers Conference as the guest of Enoforum. As I tucked in to plentiful Portugeuse food and wine, I saw a few familiar faces from the Wine Bloggers Conference and met new folks who filled me in on what I’d missed on the first day.

That first day included a seminar led by Esteban Cabezas on the fortified wine from Jerez made from white grapes known as sherry, a topic I knew nothing about. When he learned this, he offered to school me. As I was seriously jet lagged, later meant the wee hours of the morning local time but was early for me (or late or who knows because jet lag).  We gathered samples and he loaded the power point and away we went into the dark hole that is the solera system of aging wine into sherry.  In brief, each year some is removed, and over time, the wine is transferred from one barrel to another which combines older sherry with younger acquiring a new name along with distinct qualities depending on exposure to air which oxidizes it or by its flor (yeast). Read more about the process of making sherry here. His power point was punctuated with a tasting– and that’s when I fell in love with sherry… more about you can read here in a Quest for Sherry One and Two.

According to wikipedia, there are seven kinds of sherry:

  • Fino: The driest and palest of the traditional varieties of Sherry is aged in barrels under a cap of floryeast to prevent contact with the air.
  • Manzanilla: This especially light variety of Fino Sherry is made around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  • Manzanilla Pasada: This Manzanilla has undergone extended aging or has been partially oxidized, giving a richer, nuttier flavor.
  • Amontillado: First aged under flor and then exposed to oxygen, this sherry is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso. 
  • Oloroso: Aged oxidatively for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, this sherry is a darker and richer wine with alcohol levels between 18 and 20%.
  • Palo Cortado This is initially aged like an Amontillado for three or four years, then develops closer to an Oloroso by accident when the flor dies, or when the flor is killed by fortification or filtration.
  • Jerez Dulce (Sweet Sherries) are made either by fermenting dried Pedro Ximénez (PX) or Moscatel grapes, which produces an intensely sweet dark brown or black wine, or by blending sweeter wines or grape must with a drier variety.

To celebrate #SherryWeek I was sent two samples of sherry last year and again this year for my review consideration:

Jerez Tio Pepe Fino Sherry 15% alcohol SRP $20
Jerez Harveys Bristol Cream 15.5% alcohol $15

Because I had heard of Harvey’s Bristol Cream but never had it before,  I opened it first after dinner one evening. I had no preconceived notions — but I found it easy to enjoy and a great alternative to dessert.

First, there’s no cream in it. This is not like Baliey’s or other “cream’ drinks. Instead, cream refers to the creaminess on the palate– creamy like a caramel can be creamy or an oaky chardonnay can be buttery.

Second, it is made from a blend of three of the methods mentioned above: Oloroso so it’s rich and sweet plus Fino and Amontillado for florals and character.

Third, it is a blend of two grapes: 80% Palomino, 20% Pedro Ximenez. Before phylloxera, over one hundred varieties of grape from Spain went into the production of sherry, today these are the primary grapes along with Moscatel.

Serving: Drink it cold; the table will turn color to let you know! Try it neat or on the rocks with a twist of citrus. Pairs well with desserts from lemon cake to chocolate pie to chocolate covered almonds. It’s sweet so yep, for those people who want to pair chocolate and wine, go for it. I love Belgian chocolates with Oloroso so I bet they’d work well with this.

FUN FACT: Harvey’s Bristol Cream is the most popular sherry in the world.

Because I liked the Harvey’s Bristol Cream so much, I decided next to check out the Tio Pepe. Big mistake to taste it AFTER. The Tio Pepe is a Fino and made from 100% Palomino. So it’s is SUPER DRY and complex, not rich and sweet.

First, think of this 100% palomino as a white wine that is made in an unusual way.

Second, it may surprise you– if you’ve never had dry sherry before, be prepared  You may love it or you may need to give it another chance when your palate is different.

Third, drink it fresh. Drink it soon. Drink it up. Many people keep sherry (and port for that matter) around for too long. You will lose the subtle character.

Serving: Keep it in the fridge and drink it well chilled. Again, think white wine which basically this is. Serve it in a small white wine glass and pair it with white fish and salads with a vinaigrette like you would a dry white wine or with almonds, olives, ham. For tomorrow’s dinner, I’m going to check the recipes here on the Tio Pepe site for inspiration.

FUN FACT: Tio Pepe’s is the number one selling Fino sherry in the world.

Happy #SherryWeek! Cheers!

Gwendolyn Alley with a glass of sherry in her grandfather’s cellar — the bottle is to her left.


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