Unusual amongst the Oloroso Cream sherries one tends to find in Canada, the Walnut Brown makes use of all three of the legally allowed sherry grapes: the base palomino, the raisiny pedro ximenez, and the lovely muscatel grape. For those unfamiliar with the base process of making sherry, the palomino is left to ferment into a still wine, which is aged in barrels. For the dry fino, this is mixed with a small amount of grape spirits, left to age for a time afterwards, and then bottled at the strength of a strong shiraz (usually 15-16% abv) While the many variations betwixt the fino and oloroso cream styles need not be explained here, essentially there develops a cap of yeast, called flor, which gives the wine a much darker and more nutty flavour, at the extreme end this is called an oloroso (or scented, in Spanish) sherry.
Unlike many fortified wines, the sherry is not fortified during the fermentation process, rather the bodegas add the grape spirit after the initial fermentation and simply age the product in barrels together (for a full explanation, I suggest looking to wikipedia)
As the palomino wine itself is quite dry, it is commons practice to add the wine made from sun-drying the sweeter PX and muscatel grapes, producing a sweet wine which is suitable as an apertif or dessert wine. Those made with the addition of PX on its own are likely those most of us are familiar with, as big names like Harvey's Bristol Cream or the recently honoured Nutty Solera are prime examples. What sets this wine apart is the addition of that third ingredient of the muscatel, and it really makes this a relatively unique experience. Immediately after pouring into a glass, the deep almst black colour makes one think of the syrup-like palomino-less px dessert wine, but without its thickness or legs. A quick swirl around the glass (I generally use a traditional port glass for sherry as well, it gives a better nose) reveals hints of a lighter amber around the edges. The crisper, grape-y scent of muscatel is readily apparent in the nose, and helps to cut the raisiny overtones nicely. A sip reveals a nice balance of the px and palomino on the tip of the togue, with the muscatel gaining dominance in the finish. Despite the sweetness, there is enough of a bite from the alcohol to keep it from being cloying. The finish could be a little longer for my taste, but ultimately I'm pleased.
Overall verdict on the walnut brown? At an average price of $15 it's a great little desert wine, and a nice change from the more raisin characteristic of most oloroso creams. While too sweet to pair nicely with most meals the balanced sweetness would make this an ideal after dinner wine, with some chocolate or fruit dishes. While not good enough to completely displace the more traditional oloroso creams on my shelf, it still makes a great change.
Williams-Humbert Walnut Brown oloroso cream sherry, 19.5% abv. Average retail price: $15
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