Sherry Basics


A Flight of Sherries

I am very excited to be attending the grand tasting at Sherryfest in a few days.  To prepare for the event, I’ve been reviewing some basics on sherry…

  • Sherry is a fortified wine made in the Andalucia region of Spain, specifically within 3 towns: Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  • Sherry is made from Palomino grapes, although some sweet styles use Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes.
  • Sherry may be aged under a blanket of flor which is a layer of yeast that creates a seal over the wine and prevents oxidation.
  • Sherry is blended using the solera system.  This is a method of fractional blending where wine for bottling is taken from the oldest barrel, and the barrel is replenished from younger barrels.
  • Sherry comes in many styles:
    • Fino – The driest and lightest style of sherry, Fino is under flor for the entirety of its aging.
    • Manzanilla –  This is a fino-style sherry made in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  The climate of the town leads to a thicker flor, which results in an even lighter wine.
    • Amontillado – This style of sherry goes through 2 stages of aging: first under flor and then without the flor, to let the wine oxidize.
    • Oloroso – This style of sherry is aged without flor, which allows for oxidation and results in darker and nuttier flavors.
    • Palo Cortado – This style is a bit of a cross between Oloroso and Amontillado, and the winemaking varies across producers.
    • Cream – This is a sweet style created by blending Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes with an Oloroso sherry.
    • Pedro Ximenez (PX) – The sweetest style of sherry, PX is made from dried Pedro Ximenez grapes.

I will report back soon with some sherry recommendations. ¡Salud!



Certified Wine Nerd


I did not have much time for blogging this summer, because I was so busy preparing for my Certified Sommelier Examination.  All of my studying paid off, and I did it!  I am officially a certified sommelier!!!  Now, you might be wondering – what does it take to become a certified sommelier?  Well…  the examination is conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers and consists of three parts: a blind tasting, a theory test, and a mock service exercise.

  1. Blind Tasting:  Upon arrival in the examination room, each desk has four glasses of wine: 2 white, 2 red.  The candidates fill out tasting grids to identify key features of each wine through sight, smell, and taste.  Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.00.42 PMPoints are earned for the accurate identification of the various characteristics, and the grid also guides the candidates toward their final conclusion of grape, country, and estimated vintage.
  2. Theory Test:  This portion of the exam tests the candidates’ knowledge of wine theory through 45 short answer questions.  The topics vary across all aspects of wine theory, such as information about grape varieties, wine making techniques, the history/geography of wine regions around the world, etc.
  3. Mock Service:  This final part of the exam allows the candidates to demonstrate their ability to safely open a bottle of sparkling wine or decant an aged bottle of wine, all while being a graceful, charming, and knowledgable server.  The Court sets up an imaginary restaurant and places an examiner at each table.  The candidates are each assigned to a table, and then they approach their “guests”.   The guest will place an order, and while the wine is being opened and served, the candidate will be grilled with various questions about wine pairings and/ cocktail and/or beer recommendations. glasses_on_tray

Candidates must pass all three portions of the exam to earn their certification.  It’s a stressful and rigorous process, but the Court aims to establish a high standard for beverage knowledge and service in restaurants around the world.





False Friends

Learning about wine is a bit like learning a new language, and when learning a new language there’s bound to be some points of confusion or “false friends“.  Here are a few wine terms that are easily mistaken.

Claret vs Clairette

  • Claret is a British term for red wine from Bordeaux, France.
  • Clairette is a white grape used in winemaking in the Rhône Valley in France

Muscat vs. Muscadet vs. Muscadelle

  • Muscat is a family of grapes that has varieties used in wine making and for eating.  In Italy, the sparking wine Moscato is made from the the Muscat grape.  In France and Spain, Muscat grapes are often used to make fortified wines.
  • Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley from the grape called Melon de Bourgogne.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between  Gouais blanc and  Pinot blanc.
  • Muscadelle is another white grape that is used for blending in the Bordeaux region in France.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and an unidentified grape variety.

Syrah and Petit Sirah

  • Syrah is a red wine grape originating from France.  Syrah is known as Shiraz, in Australia.
  • Petit Sirah is a red wine grape that resulted from a crossing of Syrah and Peloursin Grapes.  Petit Sirah is also known as Durif.

Pouilly-Fumé  vs. Pouilly-Fuissé

  • Pouilly-Fumé is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
  • Pouilly-Fuissé is a wine region in Burgundy, France that is known for its Chardonnay wines.


  • VDN stands for vins doux naturel.  VDNs are fortified wines, common in the south of France, where brandy is added to the wine to stop the fermentation.
  • VDL stands for vin de liquer.  VDLs are also fortified wines; however, the brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made in the region of Abruzzo, from the Montepulciano grapes.
  • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is made in the town of Montepulciano, from Sangiovese grapes.


Tasting Notes – Jacqueline Bahue Cabernet Franc


Producer:  Jacqueline Bahue
Region: Sonoma County, CA, USA
Grape Varieties: Cabernet Franc
Overall Rating:  
Pairing: Moliterno with Truffles, an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk.  The truffle flavor in the cheese was a great pairing for the smokiness of this wine, and the cheese also cut the tannins a bit.


Color: Purplish/Ruby
Brightness: Dull

Intensity: Low/Moderate/
Age: Some Age
Scent: Cherries and Leather

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Medium/Medium-Full
Acidity: Fresh
Tannin: Medium
Flavors:  Cherries, maybe some blackberries and a bit of smokey/tobacco flavor

Tasting Notes – F. Stephen Millier Black Label

Name: Black Label
Producer: F. Stephen Millier
Region: California
Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon
Overall Rating:  ☆☆
Pairing:  I went with the classic pairing of a burger and and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The burger was from Bareburger and the wine is from one of the Naked Wines producers.  It was a nice Cab Sauv – medium bodied, a bit acidic, and some tannins, which stood up to the burger, but my mistake was choosing blue cheese on the burger, which wasn’t an ideal match with the sour cherry flavor.


Color: Purplish
Brightness: Dull/Opaque

Intensity: Moderate
Age: Some Age
Scent: Cherries, but also something a little chemically

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Medium/
Acidity: Fresh
Tannin: Low/Medium
Flavors: Cherries, but sour, with some cinnamon spice, but also an herbal quality

Tasting Notes – The Pilot Hill Gang

img_20161206_091759Name: The Pilot Hill Gang
Producer: Scott McLeod and Matt Parish
Region: El Dorado, California
Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon
Overall Rating:  
Pairing: This was lighter than I expected from a Cab Sauv., and I had a glass while waiting for my delivery  of “The Kitchen Sink” (Pork meatballs and mushroom sauce over fresh greens, with roasted carrots and delicata squash) from The Meatball Shop.  Once my dinner arrived, the tart cherry flavors complemented the spice in the meatballs  and the dusty tannins were perfect with the sweetness of the carrots.

Color: Purplish
Brightness: Dull/Hazy

Intensity: Moderate/Aromatic
Age: Some Age
Scent: Leather and cherries

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Light/Medium
Acidity: Fresh/Smooth
Tannin: Medium
Flavors: Tart cherries and dust

December Grape of the Month – Cabernet

grape-of-the-month-decemberThere are two varietals known as Cabernet: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc is the original Cab,  and Cab-Sauv is the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc back in the 17th century.  Cabernet Franc has stayed predominantly in France, but Cabernet Sauvignon has spread far and wide to become one of the most widely planted red wine grapes in the world.   Both are usually high in tannins and acid, which make them good for aging. The dominant flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon are cherry and currant, as well as some vegetal notes such as bell pepper and mint. Cabernet Franc is most commonly used for blending in Red Bordeaux wines, where it brings flavors of strawberry and bell peppers and possibly a hint of violet and licorice.