Pedro Ximenez tasting--advice sought
I've had this notion of hosting a vertical tasting of Pedro Ximenez and the idea keeps rattling and rattling around. I'm having trouble with two things: should it follow a meal or be done on its own? That's number one, and my sense is that, given the nature of the stuff, for its own sake makes more sense. I think it would just be too much to try following a full-scale meal. Second issue then arises: what to accompany? I've participated in countless wine tastings, but this isn't the same thing. Fruits and nuts and cheeses logically suggest themselves, and I suppose that all three should be available, but this kind of tasting is new to me and I am seeking all advice, experienced or otherwise.
If you're talking about the ultra-sweet PXes, the most important accompaniment is lots of cool water. When organizing tastings with food, I usually do a straight tasting first -- only the wines, bread and water -- and then refresh the glasses and serve the food, letting participants improvise the pairings. At a recent sherry tasting, we tasted eight dry sherries first by themselves, then with tapas. There followed a solo sweet PX, Gonzalez Byass's Noe, tasted first by itself, then drizzled over a little vanilla ice cream. The Gonzalez Byass website recommends "dried fruits, cookies, plain chocolate and vanilla ice cream" as food pairings for the Noe.
'Tis a frightening thought . . . 8, 10, 12 glasses of Pedro Ximenez lined up in front of people for tasting . . . I'm about to fall into a diabetic coma just thinking about it! ;^).
Generally speaking, the Sherry tastings I've attended -- both for work and pleasure -- have along the lines of what carswell described above . . . several dry sherries of various types -- Manzanilla, Fino, Puerto de Fino, Manzanilla Pasada, Fino Amontillado, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso -- and ages, followed by perhaps a Cream-, Brown- or India Sherry, a Muscatel and a PX.
How many PX's are you planning on trying side-by-side?
Doing a tasting is different than serving dessert. While I wholeheartly agree with the serving suggestions off the Gonzalez Byass website as relayed by carswell (a top-quality vanilla ice cream is great with PX!), if you are doing a side-by-side tasting, I'd opt for something totally different. You want something to cut through the sweetness, completely cleanse the palate and thus prepare for the next sip of a different PX. Sparkling water -- perhaps even one with a bit of lemon squeezed into it. You're going to need to completely cut through the wine if you want the next one to not taste like the first . . .
At the moment, the thought is perhaps 4 PXs (all Toro Albala: 1945, 1959, 1966, and 1971; I'll add the 1981 if I can find it). Yes, a daunting thought on lots of levels. (And part of me even wonders if it's a good idea....) My initial thoughts have taken me in a number of different directions, from a selection of blue cheeses to fruit (or fruit-based, such as an orange flan)...to nuts (for the salt, ditto the cheese). If it's a tasting, though, instead of a meal, I'm afraid not to serve something more than simply a sparkling water, though I like that idea as well.
There are really 2 optimal taste matchups...
1) Sweet/Vanilla... Look for a vanilla ice cream, a vanilla & nut ice cream, a cheesecake w/ hint of vanilla, a creme brulee, a simple flan as suggested, etc....
2) Rich blue cheese, roquefort is a great match...
These flavor combinations are so sensational that I'd definitely recommend doing the tasting with them.
Have a palate cleanser on hand as recommended.
Having done several Port tasting events, I feel that the best way to conduct your evening is to find food items, that will compliment the PX's. I would not do some of the "alternate" formulations, unless maybe at the very end. I would agree with the sparkling water, but I would nix the lemon - personal preference there. You want to do a side-by-side-by-side. Have plenty of plain bread to "cleanse" the palate.
I'd put out cheeses including Manchego and Cabrales, nuts, dried figs, maybe some membrillo, plenty of bread, and water.
I would never serve ice cream, flan, cheesecake or anything else that sweet with dessert wines of that stature. It screws up the palate.
Last time I went to a sherry tasting, as I recall most of us were craving dry red wine and a meal by the end. So after the tasting I'd probably serve a light meal such as tortilla and salad.
While I haven't tried vintage PX, I recall a flight of three, where I had about a teaspoon worth of each, then called it quits. It takes so long for the treacly dessert wines to move across the palate and down the throat.
I do confess that the two times my dinner companions have wanted to order PX after a meal (despite my protests), I ask the sommelier to bring us some sliced lemons too. Tasting them with and without addition of lemon juice, we always vote for with lemon juice. Then we commit the ultimate sin and get a plain dish of vanilla ice cream for dessert and pour it on top. That's how I introduce folks to PX.
The stuff is so sweet, I can't imagine tasting more that a sip or swig of each one. Somewhere I read that you can serve it over ice cream and it still stands up...
I purchased some 1937 Pedro Ximenez from Premiercru for around $17 a bottle, and it is AMAZING, but i can only drink a swig at a time it is so sweet.
I can't imagine pairing PX with dried fruit... I think it would interfere with the flavors inherent in it. I think it goes well with creamy mild cheeses like Tetilla. I also agree that a small shot is the perfect amount...anything more can be quite overwhelming. I think my favorite PX application is the pedro ximenez greek yogurt ice cream at Viridiana in Madrid. It really works. (French toast is a great idea. I'm definitely going to try that.) I hope that the original poster reports back...
PX is absolutely remarkable with dried fruits. I recently had it with a winter bread pudding
with dried fruits and a not-too-sweet caramel sauce. The interplay was outstanding, and since the PX is so much darker and deeper in its flavors than the dried fruit or caramel -- tending more towards notes of molasses and aged balsamic -- the wine was a triumph with the dessert.
I am a huge fan of PX sherries, and have paired them often. I think it will be very interesting
in your tasting to see if the older PXs have maintained this molasses-balsamic profile. I would recommend your tasting not too many, though. A vertical of four going back to '45
sounds remarkable, and I'm betting the flavors will hold.
By the way, the strategy for pairing PX is different than that for pairing dessert wines.
The usual rule is to make sure the dessert (if indeed pairing dessert with a dessert wine)
is less sweet than the wine (otherwise the wine tastes sour).
In the case of PX though, it is so very powerful with its darker version of sweetness and its lower range flavor notes, that it can actually serve as an anchoring for sweet desserts, i.e., the above bread pudding, panforte and ice cream) and the flavors work astoundingly well.
Moreover, even though PX is sweet, the majority I've had lately are not viscous at all. The wines have still had good acid and mouth clearance, and have not coated the palate.
Some PXs do, but I have not had any of that nature in a long while.
I have even used it as syrup on pumpkin pancakes. I served this to one of the greatest
wine palates in this country, and he was blown away.
The pairings I've adored have included dried fruits (especially figs and apricots), toffee,
dark chocolate, salt caramels, panforte or any fig cake, and vanilla or coffee ice cream.
I've found some of the very high-end dark chocolate truffles made with orange peel and even cumin work well. Once a terrific Valentine's Day ended with PX sherry and Godiva chocolates.
Of course, I'd taste all the PXs individually first to discern the differences, and then
head into the pairings. A palate cleanser during this portion might be helpful, though
I would refrain from anything acidic . Sparkling water might do the job nicely.
Anyway you can invite me? I'm happy to help. [chuckling]
Thanks for the long and detailed post. If you have time, would you send me a way to contact you; I've got some questions I'd like to pose.
Oh, and consider yourself invited ;-)
Thanks, again, to those who have posted. While vanilla ice cream and french toast will not be on the menu, dried fruit, chocolate, and cheese most definitely will. And I really like the idea of a palate cleanser, a la sparkling water.
I haven't set a date yet but will certainly report back to the board.