Sherry. El Candado. Valdespino. (£9.95 for 37.5 cl., www.leaandsandeman.co.uk)
“OK”, my mate said, “what’s the sweetest wine you can think of?” I’d just visited the Sherry vineyards so PX slipped off my tongue very easily. If you like sweet, you’re gonna love this dense, rich, complex, caramel, nutty, raisiny, figgy .. I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift. It’s a fascinating sip and, as an aside, it’s delicious poured over vanilla ice cream.
PX is the grape by the way; it’s a Wine Trade abbreviation for Pedro Ximenez. I know it sounds like Real Madrid’s expensive centre forward but it’s a variety found in ‘Sherry Country’ in southern Spain around the white walled town of Jerez.
Forget the naff closure with the little gold lock and key on the El Candado, crack open the bottle with a few friends and you’ll be met with silence ….. whilst they get their heads around this wine’s sweetness and intensity. In case you’re wondering, the wine is named after the lock (candado) in memory of an old member of the Valdespino family who used to lock up barrels of this wine because he thought it was too good to share!
Coming from the ‘hot south’ the acidity (that’s the stuff that makes your mouth water) is only moderate which emphasises the wine’s treacly sweetness even more. The PX’s deep mahogany colour and viscosity on the pour prepares your taste buds for the tasting explosion that’s about to hit your mouth.
PX is made in the traditional Jerez method where the late-picked sugar rich grapes are dried on straw mats in the baking sun for about two weeks, a process that drives out the water to leave raisin-like, ultra sugar-rich grapes.
The fermentation of these grapes starts slowly but then, just as it starts to get up a head of steam and reaches about 5 degrees of alcohol on the dial, the wine is fortified with grape spirit. The result of this glug, glug, glug? The high strength spirit kills the fermentation stone dead, boosting the total alcohol and, importantly, retaining all the natural sugars. The result is a very sweet, high alcohol beauty. For my anorak readers the sugar is an amazing 400 grams per litre whilst the alcohol weighs in at a heavyweight 17 degrees by volume.
The wines go through what the Spanish call a ‘solera system’ where younger wines are added to slightly older wines over many years in a cascade arrangement; the younger wines adding vitality to the older, complex wines. The final (solera) wine is therefore an aged, blended beauty; the El Candado PX has an average age of 10 years.
Valdespino are members of the Grandes Pagos de Espana, an association of top single Spanish wine estates, “equivalent to the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy”, according to President Carlos Falco. There are 30 members scattered across Spain; you can check out the other members at www.grandespagos.com or look out for their square black logo on the back label. On second thoughts, don’t bother, the logo’s far too small; you’re better off spending your time sipping the PX with a few friends.