What is magic in a glass?

It's Pedro Ximenez to me.

 


Some twenty five years ago, during an informal dinner in a local tavern (tasca in Spanish) in Jerez de la Frontera, my host summoned the owner, “Paco, bring us some of your special Pedro Ximénez”. Paco came over with a dust-covered bottle half full of a dark, dense liquid. He served each of us a carefully measured amount, about one half inch. Very intense and complex aromas, very dark color similar to mahogony, very thick. And a unique flavor, quite similar to dense honey yet very clean. These factors can be considered as the essence of this type of “vino generoso” or fortified wine which in this particular case was some eighty years old. I highly doubt that any may remain in that bottle.
Some twenty five years ago, during an informal dinner in a local tavern (tasca in Spanish) in Jerez de la Frontera, my host summoned the owner, “Paco, bring us some of your special Pedro Ximénez”. Paco came over with a dust-covered bottle half full of a dark, dense liquid. He served each of us a carefully measured amount, about one half inch. Very intense and complex aromas, very dark color similar to mahogony, very thick. And a unique flavor, quite similar to dense honey yet very clean. These factors can be considered as the essence of this type of “vino generoso” or fortified wine which in this particular case was some eighty years old. I highly doubt that any may remain in that bottle.

Pedro Ximénez is a white grape variety grown principally in the Andalucía region of Southern Spain, mainly in the Montilla-Moriles area of the Córdoba province and in and around Jerez de la Frontera in the province of Cádiz, and in much lesser amounts near Málaga, in Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and even the Canary Islands. Pedro Ximénez is one of the three grape varieties used to make the fortified wines, the majority of which are Sherry of various types, including Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso, as well as Palo Cortado and Cream, and of course, Pedro Ximénez or as it is frequently referred to as PX.
 
The Pedro Ximénez wine is the result of a rather complex elaboration process. After harvesting, the grapes are laid out on a flat surface and exposed to sunlight for several days. In this way, the grapes dry out and the natural sugars and aromas intensify and they end up similar to raisins. Once dried, the grapes are pressed and the first one third amount of the juice or “mosto” is drawn off to be dedicated to the elaboration of Sherry. This resulting juice is very rich in sugars. This juice is then deposited in American oak barrils for fermentation. The barrils are stacked three-high, the most recent ones on top. During this period, a natural phenomenon takes place, the formation of a film known as “velo” or “flor” on the surface of the fermenting liquid. This film prevents the oxidation of the fermenting wine while permitting the evolution of the particular characteristics of the Sherry wines. Further on, vinnic alcohol is added in order to interrupt the fermentation and establish an alcoholic level of 8,5 to 9%. Approximately one third of the contents of the upper barrils are transferred to the intermediate level barrils and mixed with the remains of wines in these after transfer of these wines into the lowest level barrils. The wine remains in these barrils for a predetermined period during which the alcohol in fully integrated. The wines are then decanted in order to remove sediments and other impurities. Finally, depending on the destination and ageing, more alcohol may be added in order to reach 15%, and in some specific cases, as much as 18%.
 
The ageing of Pedro Ximénez depends on the final destination, “mass market” distribution,  domestic  or export markets, specially aged and other factors. In general terms, PX wines tend to be “thicker” than the other fortified wines, dark ambar in color, complex aromas and flavor quite like honey. With more ageing (minimum six months) these characteristics tend to intensify, and with prolonged ageing of several years, a properly conserved PX can be spectacular. Pedro Ximénex of ten or more years ageing can be found in many specialty wine shops. With continued ageing, the color changes from dark ambar to various shades of mahogony and very old PX will leave dark film on the sides of the glass. Going through the mouth, it produces multiple sensations, markedly sweet yet not overly sweet, and as it passes it leaves very agreeable sensations of néctar and honey.
 
Several years ago, the Regulatory Board of the Denomination of Origen of Sherry created a special category to recognize the prolonged ageing of Pedro Ximénez wines of thirty years or more. V.O.R.S. signifies Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum – Very Old Rare Sherry. The objective of this classification is to indicate this prolonged ageing and its superior quality. A special label can be seen on all bottles in this category.
 
As in the Sherry region, nearly all wineries in Montilla-Moriles produce Pedro Ximénez and many also are aged for many, many years. Due to diverse factors such as soils, climate, altitude and others, the Pedro Ximénez from Montilla-Moriles differs somewhat from those of the Sherry region. This difference may be subtle or notable depending on particular elaboration processes, ageing and other factors. I personally prefer very aged PX. Nonetheless, I have tasted several “young” PX that are much more than acceptable.
 
When to drink Pedro Ximénez? Frankly, whenever one really wants to. In general, PX is an ideal companion for an almost unlimited number of desserts; pastries, ice creams, fruits and so on. However, it also combines perfectly with many main courses, sirloin prepared with a sauce with 50% blend of PX, eggplant slices fried with honey or quality cured ham, and of course, following the Spanish tradition of “tapeo” at appertiff time. There is no really “ideal” temperature at which to drink PX, however depending on the type and age, between 46º to 54ºF or even from 54º to 60ºF. Again, it’s all up to you. 
 
George H. Potter is an American wine writer and photographer living in Spain. He regularly collaborates with several Spanish and international publications and participates in juries in various wine contests. He recently published the book, CAVA, Spain's Effervescent Treasure.
 

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