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Friday, 15 November 2013

A Century of PX‏: Toro Albala

A review of PX going back to 1911 with Antonio Sorgato Godeau of Toro Albala and Michael Palij MW of Winetraders

Aged wines and dessert wines are two of my favourite things - a masterclass on aged dessert wines, the most extensive tasting of PX ever held in the UK, left me rather speechless.

Pedro Ximenez is the grape of sweet sherries - air-dried, it produces wines with the colour and consistency of used engine oil.

But well-made, with good balancing acidity and complex aromas of roasted spices, nuts and fruitcake, it is one of the world's great wines.

PX is most commonly blended with aged solera-method dark sherries - amontillado or oloroso - to add some sweetness to their complex bitter flavours, resulting is the sort of sweet, dark "cream" sherries associated with grannies and vicars.

It is, however, also made into varietal wines in its own right with no solera method and therefore has a vintage association.

Toro Albala makes PX every year, storing the wine in old oak casks and only bottling when the wine is considered ready for drinking - this means they are released not necessarily in vintage order.

We started with a youthful, entry-level 2010 before moving on to the Gran Reserva Selection going back in time not just beyond my own birth year or that of my parents, but to a time when my grandparents had not even been born.

The basic process for making PX is the same each year, but the details vary; the length of air-drying, the amount of Amontillado added to adjust sweetness and flavour.

One constant is that both the concentration and the proportion of acidity increase with time due to evaporation.

Don PX Dulce de Pasas 2010 two years in steel tanks, organic, the grapes were sun-dried in temperatures of 45C-50C with zero humidity for 10 days. 400g/l residual sugar, 5kg of grapes per per litre of finished wine. The result is viscose and difficult to filter. Dark golden mahogany, cooked mixed fruit and Christmas cake, a hint of nail polish. Viscose and syrupy with fresh acidity; cooked mixed fruit and raisins.

Match with blue cheese or ice-cream.

Gran Reserva Selection

Don PX Gran Reserva 1983 380g/l I have colleagues who were not born when this wine was made. Opaque black, with some clearness around the rim. Restrained nose of roasted spice and dark chocolate. Spice, dark chocolate, black coffee, roasted nuts; some savouriness on the finish. Longer, mellower and more harmonious.

Don PX Double Label 1976 from an era of flares and platform boots. 350g/l with 20% Amontillado, bottled in 2009. Opaque black, fragrant nose of raisiny cooked fruit. Spice, fruitcake, roasted nuts and dark chocolate. Lively, fresh and long.

Match with a dark chocolate dessert.

Don PX Double Label 1962 pre-dating the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, 350g/l, 95 Parker Points, bottled in 2011. Opaque black, roasted spice, liquorice and tobacco. Sweet vanilla and toffee, espresso. Fresh with savouriness on the finish.

Don PX Double Label 1949 the first of two post-war bottles and Antonio's personal favourite. 280 g/l, bottled in 2011, 97 pts. Black but more faded translucence around the rim. Tobacco and toffee, mellow and savoury, harmonious.

Don PX Double Label 1946 100 pts, this one is The Daddy for trophy hunters. Black and completely opaque with cinnamon, marzipan and white pepper. Fruitcake and cooked prunes; fragrant, intense, concentrated and long.

Don PX Double Label 1939 from the year that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, 400g/l, bottled in 1997. Black but faded around the rim with some translucence. Taken directly from barrel to bottle with no filtration, slightly cloudy with some sediment in the glass.

Fragrant and mellow with mocha aromas, creamy texture, spiced fruitcake, raisins and prunes, balanced fresh acidity. Long and savoury.

Don PX Double Label 1911 only 106 bottles made, from the owner's private collection, this century-old wine dates to an almost-Victorian era when Germany and Russia were still empires ruled by royal houses.

Bottled in 2003, translucent black; coffee and liquorice, some industrial hints. Sweet vanilla and toffee, fragrant and floral with black chocolate savouriness. Harmonious with a gentler texture than any of the other wines, it has a mellowness that comes only from extensive ageing, yet also a freshness and vibrancy that belie its centegenarian status.

Rather like Mick Jagger or Sean Connery, its youthful, rogueish charm is still present - it has an energy - but it is matched by the assurance that comes with longevity.

It is hard not simply to be in awe of such great aged wines, to be overwhelmed by their longevity, their very existence and presence all in one place.

And yet, conclusions must be drawn if the experience is to be shared, rather than merely indulged:

- all the Gran Reservas showed both family characteristics, with subtly nuanced variations from vintage to vintage, as well as a linear progression with age

- all the wines were lovely drinkers with a loose-limbed hedonism; they did not require thinking, intellectualising or analysing to understand. After the formal masterclass, it was a joy simply to taste through all the wines for the pleasure of drinking them

- whilst the 100-pointer 1946 may have been the most technically adept wine, for me the unique, harmonious mellowness made the 1911 the most enjoyable wine on the day

All the wines are available (in very limited quantities) from Winetraders. They come in a hand-made box with a vial sample to try in advance of opening the bottle itself.

Other related articles
Aged Greek Dessert Wines at CWW

Toro Albala - website
Winetraders - website

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