Spain isn’t only famous for remarkable table wine; it is also unique in its sherry production. And although I encourage you to think twice before buying commercial wines, with sherry, I sing a different tune. From the commercial to the boutique, these wines have an exceptional quality/price ratio.
Since style ranges from lean and dry to downright sweet and thick, they can be seamlessly paired with a spectrum of foods. Heck, you can even use a splash or a dash to make savory dishes seem richer. It’s like culinary alchemy!
Read on for a sherry starter kit.
Wine’s First Cousin.
Like table wine, sherry begins its evolution as grapes, usually of the lackluster Palomino variety. Pedro Ximenez (pedro hee-men-ETH, or simply PX) and Moscatel are used to produce sweeter sherries. All three of these are white grape varieties, and the resulting sherries will possess a nutty, salty, oxidative flavor profile, regardless of sweetness. Also similar to wine, sherry is a classified DOC like Champagne; it may carry the name sherry because of its address, the Jerez district—a specific area at the southern tip of Spain. Outstanding sherry-style wines also originate slightly to the north of Jerez in Montilla-Moriles, where the non-fortified version of PX excels.
Sherry’s Unique Twists.
During the initial fermentation, local brandy is added to fortify the wine, arresting the fermentation and bolstering alcohol content (Use caution when sipping this “old lady” drink….it contains up to 22% alcohol, compared to conventional wine’s top end of 15%). Next, it’s set out to age using the Solera system, whereby young sherry works its way down a hierarchical stack of barrels to replace portions of more mature juice that, in turn, moves down to an older mixture of aging juice to eventually be bottled. Hence, no vintage dates on Sherries. Some styles are aged under a layer of yeast to protect them from oxidation. Others are left out blatantly, to oxidize. A practical bonus: Once opened, they deteriorate at a much slower rate than table wine.
A Sherry Style For Every Setting.
Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, and Palo Cortado describe different aging regiments. These are all dry, with only Amontillado potentially approaching the medium-dry style. Richer and potentially sweet sherry is inferred with the categorization of Oloroso, Cream, and Pedro Ximenez. (Notice PX is the name of both a grape and a style of wine.) PX can be added to dry sherry to yield cream sherry.
Sherry….A Food-Friendly Wine?
Each Sherry style courts countless sweethearts in the food realm. Just think of the variety on a Spanish tapas menu. The principles of pairing sherry are parallel to pairing wine, according to weight and texture, with food. For Manzanilla and Fino, think lean ocean foods like mussels, shrimp, and of course, sushi! Amontillado and Palo Cortado display a rich nuttiness that can stand up to spice as well as intense flavors, including blue cheese and strong fish like sardines. Spanish Serrano ham and Prosciutto di Parma are naturals with Oloroso because the wine doesn’t fight with the ham’s inherent salty nature. Rich Oloroso also pairs well with fatty dishes….think duck or tuna. Try a Marcona almond and blue cheese-stuffed date wrapped in bacon with a sip of a sweet Oloroso and you’ll believe in magic. PX is strictly dessert juice—it is dessert. Pinpoint your sherry preferences by ordering different sherries by the glass, and drink royally on a subject’s income.
A Starting Point For Your Sherry Exploration.
Savory & James Manzanilla ($11)
Tio Pepe Fino ($15)
Jose Ramon Amontillado ($9)
Osborne Sweet Oloroso Cream ($12)
Barbadillo Pedro Ximenez ($15)