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Enjoying Wine and Beer in the Augusta GA area

Harveys, Tio Pepe Are Two Of The Best Sherries

Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry, Spain
Tio Pepe Sherry, Spain

Cost: $14-16, 19-21

When was the last time you had a glass of sherry? It probably has been awhile.

Sherry is one of those drinks that has a little mystique about it, and most people don’t know much about it.

I have heard some people talk about sherry as something their aging aunts drank years ago, sitting on the porch, waiting for dinner.

Well if you are not a regular sherry drinker you have been missing out. I love sherry. It’s the perfect drink before dinner, but also pairs well with many meals. And if you need an after dinner drink, it fills the bill there, too.

Sherry can be confusing, which makes some people hesitate. But there are many good sherries out there, so the best way to find out about them is plunge right in. If you don’t want to start with a whole bottle, you can always find sherry on the drinks menu at good restaurants.

I recently tried two of the top selling sherries in the world: Tio Pepe (The No. 1 selling Fino Sherry in the world) and Harveys Bristol Cream (The No. 1 selling sherry in the world). I loved them both, but I probably have you confused already. How can there be two No. 1’s?

While Harveys is the overall top seller among sherries, there are several kinds of sherries. Some of categories include Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado (Remember Edgar Allen Poe?) and Oloroso.

As with other categories of wine, I urge you not to get bogged down in the details until you find some sherry you like. Harveys and Tio Pepe are available almost everywhere, so you can start with them. They are very different styles in taste, but both are outstanding.

Harveys has been making the Bristol Cream blend since 1882. It is a blend of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries which have been aged separately in the Solera system (averaging between 3 and 20 years of age). I’ll explain the Solera system later.

The familiar bottle has been left behind for a snappy new blue bottle with a blue and white label. White parts of the label turn blue when the bottle is chilled. Harveys Bristol Cream has been the top seller for decades, so this is probably a preemptive move to appeal to younger drinkers and get them on board with their parents and grandparents. They are also trying to remind us that sherry is best when served chilled.

It is a delightful drink, with a delicate, fruity nose. I could smell raisins and caramel. In the glass it is almost the color of an amber ale, kind of a light mahogany.

The taste is sublime and it hasn’t changed in decades. I can remember drinking it in my 20s, and I don’t remember the taste ever changing. It is smooth and creamy, with complex fruitiness. There is even a slight nutty taste.

The grapes are 80 percent Palomino, 20 percent Pedro Ximenez. It is the only sherry I know of that is a blend of four styles: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. It is 17 percent alcohol

Don’t confuse Harveys Bristol Cream with something like Baileys Irish Cream or the bourbon creams. There is no cream in the blend; only wine.

The Tio Pepe is a much drier style, which has been growing in popularity. It is a pale golden yellow color with elegant aromas of yeast and almond. The taste is dry, with a wonderful almond flavor. It has a long and complex finish.

The wine maintains it lighter color because a layer of yeast known as the “flor” forms on the surface, protecting the wine from oxygen. The wine remains under the flor for four years.

Tio Pepe is produced from Palomino Fino, a grape variety that thrives in the chalky soil of Jerez. Once in barrel it is aged for a minimum of five years in the solera system.

Wines from different years are aged and blended using a solera system before bottling, so that bottles of sherry will not usually carry a specific vintage year and can contain a small proportion of very old wine. So what is a solera?

It is a process for aging wines over several years and fractionally blending those wines. Think of a stack of barrels with the newest vintage on top and the oldest on the bottom. (That used to be the configuration, but now the barrels aren’t necessarily stacked on top of each other.)

Wine to be bottled is withdrawn from the oldest barrels. Spanish law forbids taking more than 40 percent out of the barrel, but in practice the producers usually take only a third from a barrel. One-third of the wine is taken from the next oldest barrel and put into the oldest barrel.

Again, one third is taken from the next oldest barrel and put into the one ahead of it. This goes on until you get to the full barrels of the most recent vintage.

Theoretically, a small portion of wine from the first vintage when the solera was created could still be in the wine. So some producers are starting to put that year on the bottle. Just remember, when you see 1827 on the bottle it doesn’t mean all the wine was produced in 1827.

The solera process allows the sherry houses to maintain a consistency in style over the decades.

Winery: Both of these sherries have a history going back about 200 years.

Harvey’s was founded in Bristol, England, in 1796 by a merchant named William Perry. Back then wines were shipped to England in oak casks and blended to sell there. Harveys became one of the biggest importers.

John Harvey II and his brother Edward created the Bristol Cream blend in 1882 by sampling more than 30 blends of Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez. It is aged in American oak casks using the traditional system of soleras.

Beginning in the 1970s the company bought many top quality vineyards and cellars in the region of Jerez. Harveys Bristol Cream is now produced in Jerez, the home of sherry, and is sold around the world.

Tio Pepe is owned by Gonzalez Byass. The company is named after its founder. He named Tio Pepe after his Uncle Joe who created the white blend in 1841. The Tio Pepe soleras were established in 1844 and have run uninterrupted since then.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I took these sherries with us on a recent trip to Edisto Beach. We had them at various times with snacks, fruit, nuts and desserts.

We had the Harveys with dessert and sipping on the deck while dreaming about Spain on the other side of the ocean we were staring at. We loved the rich, smooth creamy flavor and texture of the wine.

It should be served chilled. The company recommends it with ice and a twist of orange. Pairs perfectly with fruit salads, ice cream, cheese, cookies and desserts. I’ve heard it is especially good with Oreos.

The Tio Pepe is good with food. I loved it with shrimp and cheese and crackers. It is perfectly suited to tapas-style eating, which is how people drink it in Spain. It should go well with dishes such as ham, chorizo, olives and Manchego cheese. Also serve it chilled.


If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at dennis@bottlereport.com

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