Thankfully, I have been quite busy over the last few weeks and will be even busier next week. I have run excursions to Jerez, to the Sierra of Aracena and to the Sierra of Grazalema. That means I have been exposing clients to great sherries, excellent Iberian ham and superb extra virgin olive oils. There’s also been some tapas tours around the great bars of Seville, with some fine warm weather to boot.
Sherry-style wines do not differ greatly from one year to the next, due to the solar system which they go through. This means that the wine that is bottled is a blend of many different vintages, Having said that, however, I think the lightest styles of fino and manzanilla can differ depnding on the time of year that they are bottled. These wines age in sherry butts under a layer of yeast. The thickness of the yeast changes during the year and is normally at its most vigorous in the spring. This will bring about changes in the wine such as the concentration of acetaldehydes, the chemical components that give finos and manzanillas their characteristic tanginess. One of the wineries in Sanlúcar de Barramdea does a special bottling of manzanilla in the winter, spring, summer and autumn every year and there are distinct differences in each of the bottlings.
Extra virgin olive oil definitely changes from one year to the other, especially if it is from a small producer and not from one that produces millions of litres. One of the olive mills that I visit frequently produces around 50,000 litres of very fine extra virgin olive oil. They produces single varietal oils as well as blends and have both organic and non-organic oils. I have tasted their oils from the last harvest quite a few times now and they taste different from the previous year. An oil of theirs that had a distinct taste of mustard leaves last year, has a more artichoke-like taste this year. Also, the pepperiness left at the back of your throat by the oil, which was very acute last year is less so this year. Fine extra virgin olive oil, therefore, is somewhat like fine wine, with variations from one vintage to the next. Also, some extra virgin olive oils can reach the price of fine wine!
Acorn-fed Iberian ham can also vary from one year to another. In years that are dry with very little rain, the trees that provide the acorns produce far less. The acorns are also much smaller than in years with a lot of rainfall. This means that when the pigs are eating acorns during the critical months before slaughter they are far less plentiful and not as nutritious. This will be reflected in the hams that are ready to eat several years later, after they have been fully cured. They will probably taste less sweet and not be so aromatic. In the area that I visit, hams made from pigs slaughtered this year should be very good as acorns have reached a good size and have been plentiful.