- June 30, 2015
Hello, my fabulous readers. It is I, Jonathan Hood, and I would like to introduce you to your new favorite wine writer. Her name is Chloe Dickson and she is British. Now I know what you’re saying to yourself subvocally as you read this… British!?! Is she going to have a funny accent in her writing? My answer to you is… yes. There. I’ve said it. Now, without further ado! (drum roll)
OK, readers, hear it from me… Sherry is making a comeback! Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Sherry? That funny little drink that my granny pulls out from the back of the liquor cupboard each Christmas?” Yes, that’s the stuff… Well, sort of. That random bottle that your granny ceremoniously dusts off each year is definitely sherry — however, it’s most likely a “cream” or a “medium” sherry, meaning that it’s been lightly sweetened to please foreign palates. It’s basically a bicycle with training wheels, or a beginner’s version. Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good old cream sherry with your Gran, but the styles of sherry that are currently making a comeback are the inspiring and complex traditional beauties that are enjoyed throughout Spain: briny and feather-light Fino and Manzanilla, rich, nutty, intense Amontillado and Oloroso, and the naturally sweet, luscious, dessert-perfect Pedro Ximinez. These bad boys get my palate watering like a pack of Pavlovian dogs, and thankfully, it turns out that I am no longer alone.
If you’re not familiar with the world of sherry yet, fear not. I get much pleasure in bringing new converts to the church, so here’s a brief introduction to get you up to speed. Sherry is a blanket term for Spanish fortified wine hailing from the Andalucia region of Spain’s southwest coast. There are myriad styles, flavors, brands, and quality levels of sherry, and amazingly, all of it is made in a tiny demarcated area known as the “sherry triangle;” a stretch of land bordered by the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sancular de Barrameda. If sherry hasn’t been made in the triangle, it’s simply not authentic sherry… don’t listen to anything otherwise. Quite like many wine regions around the world, sherry production is governed by a set of laws and practices that help maintain quality. Sherry can only be made from one of three grape varietals: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez (PX), and Muscat. All styles must be fortified to 15-20%, and they must go through extensive blending and aging under oxygen or yeast in a system known as a Solera. This Solera aging process is where sherries gain their complexity, nuances, and stylistic characteristics. A yeast-aged sherry will be crisp, light, and bone-dry with a saline quality (Fino, Manzanilla), and an oxygen-aged sherry will be rich and dark with notes of toasted nuts, dried fruit, and coffee while varying from bone-dry to lusciously-sweet (Oloroso, PX). There are even styles that undergo both yeast and oxygen aging, such as Amontillados and Palo Cortados.
Are you still with me? OK, good!
Sherry’s history and heritage spans back hundreds and hundreds of years, and for a vast chunk of time, it was one of the world’s most popular styles of wine. It was the chosen drink of the Brits for generations – monarchs, ministers, and commoners all dabbled in tipples — and, due to being fortified, it was able to withstand long sea voyages and thus became increasingly popular in the British colonies, the United States, and further afield. Columbus, Washington, and Jefferson drank it by the boatload! But technological advances in shipping, coupled with a slew of wars and one very famous Prohibition, aided in the international decline of this fascinating beverage. As quickly as it had risen to fame, it plummeted to a diabolical death.
In more recent times, the demand for broad market spirits and sugary fruit-forward cocktails kept the merits of sherry mothballed from all but a few Sommeliers and sherry lovers (your granny did her best!). But fast-forward to the present and we’re now starting to see a change; members of the 20-40 year-old drinking demographic are epicurean explorers. They demand quality and are open to all things new and unique, and as a result, local craft beer, small-batch spirits, and artisanal cocktails are re-defining our drinking culture. As we continue to shift from macro to micro and from sweet to dry, Somms and sherry enthusiasts are cashing in on a trendy opportunity for our beloved…. mixology! Bars such as New York’s Clover Club, Portland’s Bar Vivant, and San Francisco’s Romolo all feature a handful of delicious sherry-infused cocktails in their bar programs — all of which are very popular. Couple that with the brew masters and distillers currently experimenting with drinks aged in sherry casks and the few token San Francisco hipsters who have discovered En Rama sherries, and we’ve got a recipe for resurgence on our hands. Needless to say, all of this makes me very happy. I think it would be a stretch to say that Sherry will reach the dizzy heights of its colonial heydey anytime soon, but this little revival is a tell-tale sign that sherry is becoming fashionable once more. So yes, crack open that bottle of beginner sherry with your granny and dabble in that Amontillado-infused cocktail, because just like a bicycle with training wheels, at some point you will get brave enough to take them off completely.
Chloe’s sherry recommendations (tasty, affordable and easy to find):
Fino: Valdespino’s Inocente, Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, Sandeman ‘s Don Fino
Amontillado: Lustau’s Los Arcos, Hidalgo’s Napolean
Oloroso: Lustau’s Don Nuno, Alfonso Oloroso
Pedro Ximénez: 1927 Alvear PX