When they needed a lasting record of an event, it is said that the ancients would take a child, throw him in a river and force him to observe proceedings. The idea was that the heightened emotion would create a pin-sharp and enduring memory in the impressionable young mind.
I have my own river-immersion moment with a wine I smelled while I was pregnant. During those nine long, dry months, it was the only one I was so furious to not be drinking that I can remember every nuance, every corner, of its fragrance, and my precise position in the room as I lifted the glass to my nose. I was relaxed about missing out on the very special victory vintage of Léoville Barton, the Château Margaux, the Krug – I could go on with the list of glamorous, decadent wines. But the one I really minded not being able to indulge in was a spring-time glass of en rama fino sherry from a bottle that cost just £9.50.
It’s so easy to overlook the easily attainable and (relatively) inexpensive. Spend £7 on a bottle of sherry – such as Waitrose’s fino sherry (£6.99 for 75cl) or Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference fino (£8 for 50cl) – and you can pour a world-class wine into your glass. You’re not buying a cheap offcut, it’s not an ‘if you can’t afford this, try this’ type of compromise. You’re getting the real thing, in all its glory.
Its smell will sing out as pure and resonant as a church choir. It will have a salty tang, and a slap of iodine that will transport you to the coast on a day when, far out in the bay, the wind is whipping the waves into white horses and splashing sea spray across your face. It might remind you of the smell of crusty sourdough, chamomile or the scent of a struck match. And it will taste dry and bracing, especially with a plate of salted almonds, green olives and air-dried ham. Like a slice of good bread with proper butter this, to me, is the real meaning of affordable luxury.
Part of the richness of this wine from Andalusia comes from how it’s made. Sherry is matured in barrels, and aged through a process of fractional blending known as solera. When the wine is ready to be bottled, a portion of wine (never more than a third) is drawn from the oldest barrels in the solera. These are topped up with wine from the second oldest, which in turn are topped up with wine from the third oldest, and so on. Because the last barrels are never emptied, they will always contain at least a few drops of wine from the year in which the solera was first started. Legally, the average age of all the wine in a solera must be at least three years, but in practice many contain wine that is decades old – true slow wine in action.
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her book, The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta), is out now.