Home Soleras

I’m afraid it’s more drunken experimentation this week rather than incisive commentary on natural wines or Bordeaux 2012.

Ever since I learned that sherry is created by blending vintages together in a Solera so that the finished drink contains minute quantities of very old wines, I have tried to incorporate Soleras into my everyday life. When I smoked rolling tobacco, I used to put the the dregs from my packet of Cutter’s Choice into the new packet. Thereby small quantities of ancient tobacco were seamlessly blended in with the fresh stuff. Most of the time you couldn’t taste it though occasionally you’d get a really horrible dry cigarette. The reason I did it, however, was to provide a link to the past even if the past was only two years ago. I was trying, in my own studenty way, to create tradition.  I still do something similar with coffee beans.

I was reminded of this blending when last night I poured myself as glass of La Guita Manzanilla. It was from a litre bottle bought at Gerona airport which had been open in the fridge for nearly a week. It had rather lost its nutty bite and I was going to relegate it to cooking duties when I had the bright idea of pouring it into a glass which had a tiny amount of a Rancio Sec (a sherry style wine from Domaine de Schistes brought back from the Rousillon – more on this wonderful drink later) lurking at the bottom. The ratio was something like one part Rancio (mmmmmm rancid) to a hundred parts sherry but difference was startling. It was as if Dr George Clooney in his ER days before he became all political and tedious had applied those electric shock things to it. The nuts were back and how!

It’s worth trying this experiment at home as it gives you an insight into the wonders blending. It sounds heretical mixing two different wines together but this sort of thing is not uncommon in the wine world. Ripasso Valpolicella is made by fermenting the wine on the lees of an Amarone, Cote Rotie used to be fermented on the lees of Condrieu and I think Randall Grahm used to market a wine which was a blend of Washington State and Mosel Rieslings. In the the wider world of drinks, this sort of mixing wouldn’t raise an eyebrow: Scotch owes much of its complexity to being aged in used Sherry or Bourbon barrels.

What I had created was a kind of sherry martini. The Rancio functioned as the Vermouth and the tired Mazanilla as the gin.  Purists might shudder but really rather fine wines can be used as ingredients in cocktails. At a recent trip to a bar in Islington, 69 Colebrooke Row, I had a drink called a Woodland cocktail which was a blend of gin, amontillado sherry and a homemade bitters made from leaves. Rather than being a waste of the rather good amontillado used – something from Fernando Castilla as I recall – it actually complimented and heightened the flavours. The result was utterly harmonious. A word of warning here, though this kind of alchemy works with fortified wines, I very much doubt your best Burgundy would benefit from the home Solera treatment.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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2 Responses to Home Soleras

  1. Brilliant!

    Must admit to a general failure of soleras in the kitchen. The principle seems to have covered most items which come in a packet but replenish a jar – sugar, coffee, biscuits etc. But it simply seems to introduce an element of hazard into one’s consumption. Will one get the lumpy sugar, the flavourless coffee or the stale biscuit? Clearly a failure in the blending…

    Your idea, however, opens new vistas of solera opportunity. Must try it with some of the half-finished bottles

    And here’s to the adventurer who tries it with milk…

  2. Henry says:

    Thanks! My wife threw out my sugar solera containing sugar from 2007. Let me know how your leftover wine solera goes. I did something like that with cooking wine until I realised I was cooking with vinegar.

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