The Rare Beauties of El Maestro Sierra
After Monday’s seminar on “Running the Scales“, Ana Cabestrero, the capataz at El Maestro Sierra, spoke with us about some of the bodega’s rarer sherries, beginning with El Maestro Sierra Amontillado 1830 VORS. Bottled once a year from two 2,000L butts only, “The 1830 is almost a fino amontillado,” said André Tamers of De Maison Selections. “It’s very unique. There’s no more yeast, but it’s reminiscent of a fino.” Fed from a 50-year-old criadera these two barrels contains the mother from 1830, thereby capturing the terroir that’s been dropped down from the centuries. Never moved, emptied or cleaned, these original barrels that were built by the Bodegas’ founder Jose Antonio Sierra, are repaired in-house only when necessary.
With only 400 full bottles made for the world market each year, there are 300-half bottles, all of which are numbered, allotted for the U.S. market. Hand-drawn straight from the cask and bottled en rama (without any stabilization, filtering or color correction), the 1830 VORS is pale brown in color, floral and woody with notes of hazelnut, citrus, brine and penicillin-like yeast.
“Every once and a while,” said André, “a barrel develops natural oxidation that’s nor forced.” Originally marked as a fino, the El Maestro Sierra Palo Cortado realizes itself through specific yet still un-defined traits of terroir. “It’s a strange beast,” he added, “with characteristics of an amontillado and an oloroso.” As Ana makes her way through the bodega, she might identify a cask or two (or none) that show a Palo Cortado coming on and fortify these barrels to 18%. “A rare wine that time defines,” the Palo Cortado spends less time under flor than a fino and is darker in color. An elusive creature, the Palo Cortado is defined by the winery itself, as it’s only the capataz that can determine if a barrel is showing the appropriate traits. For the past three years, El Maestro Sierra yielded no Palo Cortado, however there are some bodegas that cheat by mixing an amontillado with an oloroso to create a cheap Palo Cortado. With aromas of almond, yeast and brine, the palate is rich yet fine.
From 14 butts that have been in the solera for at least 50 years, comes the annual bottling of 100 cases of El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 1/14. Higher in alcohol because of the ‘Angel’s Share’ that evaporates from more time in the casks, the Oloroso botas reside closest to the ceiling because their contents prefer warmth to the ground’s coolness. Here, the Oloroso 1/14 is fed by 22 barrels that are in-turn fed by more criaderas containing 15-year-old oloroso, which have been fed by other botas in the solera. Deep and rich with dense aromas of yeast, vanilla bean and hazelnut/almond nuttiness, the palate offers a spicy herbaceousness and saline acidity.
Saving the richest for last, we tasted the El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez Viejisimo, bottled straight from a 50+ year old solera. Deep and dark with notes of dried fig concentrate, coffee, chocolate and wet tea leaves, the acidity lifts the palate to a lingering spice on the finish.
As Sherryfest 2013 reaches its end, we offer great thanks to Ana for the generosity of her hand and spirit. We hope that you, like us, have come to know and love sherry just a little more through the celebrations that took place this week, and while Sherryfest is complete, our consumption of Sherry continues year round.