- October 19, 2015
You are in for a treat. This post comes from one of my favorite wine writers. He wrote this just for our enjoyment, so without further ado…
Robert Vardanian’s first Weeklygrape article.
Today we discuss a very specific and highly fantastic wine called…
Williams & Humbert “Jalifa” Amontillado VORS
Williams & Humbert is a large firm that produces wines throughout Spain as well as brandies, rums, and most importantly… sherry. Sherry is essentially a wine with a little brandy added to it. It can be dry or sweet, but the most complex examples are very old and completely dry. Williams & Humbert, which has been around since 1878, is best known for their Dry Sack sherry. Their Dry Sack belongs to a style (or sub-category) of sherry called “medium” – which means that the wine has medium-level sweetness. The Williams & Humbert Dry Sack is soft, easy-to-drink, and super cheap. It smells and tastes like Rice Krispies Treats and is a good gateway into more serious sherries such as the one we are to discuss today.
Williams & Humbert makes one VORS sherry – which means that the wine’s age, on average, comes out to at least 30 years old! It is an amontillado sherry, which is a type of sherry that starts life as a white wine but eventually grows brown with lots of aging (much like a sliced apple left out to dry). This particular amontillado, named “Jalifa,” is completely dry, downright salty, and absolutely remarkable for its price (about $60). Here is my experience tasting the wine for the first time…
The color is that of medium-grade maple syrup. Browning in the center of the glass and moving towards an orange rim. On the nose, the bouquet strikes you as classic sherry but much more refined, elegant and classy than other examples that have reached three decades of age. So many compelling, unusual aromas that remind us why we love sherry. Picture the last 7 almonds at the bottom of the canister, absolutely coated to whiteness in residual salt. It’s also fresh and moist, like a rainforest just recovering from a heavy pour: tree trunks padded in vibrant, musky moss. The aroma of freshly lacquered wood left out to dry: pleasing from a distance, but with a teasing, near-toxic tingle should your nose linger for too long. And, like most amontillado sherry, there are no fruit aromas to be found here.
The wine hits the palate with a gorgeous, ethereal weightlessness. The texture of clouds as you approach some heavenly calling. Ultra, ultra light! It’s also extremely salty, and yet that rich, briny salt which coats your mouth is enlivened by a juicy, nervy vein of acidity that melts the salt into a savory, soy sauce-like umami. The flavors unfold, unravel and entwine eluding any finite form or definition. There’s mushroom, singed walnut, browned butter, espresso, raw dough, date, pumpernickel bread, seaweed, toffee… In short, magnificence and splendor.
This wine is definitely NOT for everyone. It’s actually, hardly for anyone. Which is why it’s 30 years old, ridiculously complex, and only $60. But if you enjoy sophisticated, barrel-aged sippers like Cognac, Armagnac, Islay Scotch, dry Madeira, or aged Mezcal, you owe it to yourself to try a legend such as this. Sherry is often considered the wine world’s best kept secret.
These wines take some getting used to, but once you’re there, you can enjoy these legendary libations for a fraction of the price of other prestige wines like Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. So buy a bottle of dry sherry and see where you stand on the subject. You probably won’t fall in love immediately, but you might just find yourself coming back to it.
The journey of sherry begins with curiosity, often drifts in sheer bafflement, and eventually arrives at fascination and bliss.
– Robert Vardanian