April 11, 2013

NV Valdespino Oloroso Don Gonzalo

After a little Sherry immersion recently, I was inspired to buy a half bottle of Valdespino Oloroso "Don Gonzalo" to see what I thought. This 20+ year solera of wines apparently going back up to 100 years represents one of the intellectual curiosities of Sherry, and Port and many other fortifieds - how the heck is wine this old and this good so relatively reasonably priced, much less available fairly commonly?

Peruse a good wine shop and it's not unusual to find table wines from the '90s, even '80s or earlier, from top producers. Pricing is usually steep though. If the current release of a given producer is $50, the 20 year old model might be $150 or more.

But in most fortified wines, prices for older wines are incredibly reasonable. Not cheap, but for $23 I purchased a half bottle of wine that's at least 20 years old and really a blend of wines going back decades, a solera where casks of old wine are partially bottled, topped up with newer wine and aged longer, bottled in part again and refilled, etc., so that over time the base wine might be several decades old and the youngest wine in the blend, in this case anyway, is at least 20 years old.

Did you follow that? Essentially, this is 20 year old wine with some elements going back perhaps a century, in a tidy little bottle for just over $20. That's cheaper than a bad seat at an NBA game. Sometimes my head spins thinking about things like how. How is it possible?

Well, fortified wines aren't exactly trendy, and even if the hipsters have found Sherry, I think people talk about drinking Sherry more than they actually drink Sherry. Supply, meet demand.

But if you're adventurous and interested in value, two things I happen to believe are true of me, here's a wine for you.

The Don Gonzalo is tawny in color, fitting many years of cask aging. The aroma is pungent of flor, the surface yeast that is a trademark of Sherry, covering the wine surface in not quite filled barrels and giving a signature aroma and flavor you need to experience to understand. There is also a wooden scent, spirity, not unlike cognac.

The flavors follow, with lots of roasted nuts, wood spice, caramel and other sweet notes balanced by a medium body, a notable lack of thick syrupy texture, a pronounced saltiness, and an acid spine that carries the flavors to a long finish but cuts the sense of sweetness from the aroma and first taste impression.

In sum, the wine is complex and delicious, exotic and a little rancid (in a good way), caramel sweet but almost electrified with acidity that cuts a precise point in the center the wine. It ends up not being that sweet, so you might have this for dessert but pair it carefully with something a bit savory to accentuate the tension in the wine. Or you might just have it on its own after dinner to sip. It's that good.

Regardless, try a wine like this. It's like traveling to darkest Spain without leaving your dining room table. It's come all this way and waited so long for this moment, how can you resist?

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