When I was little I knew certain things to be true from careful observations of my family. Firstly, men drank beer, women drank sherry wine and grandma knew best.
Over time my views developed as I observed more, but still all these years later one of these facts still holds true. I realised that sherry wine is a very misunderstood drink.
Sherry starts off as a wine being made in southern Spain, and in all honesty it’s not a great wine. No disrespecting anyone. It just isn’t, until the magic happens. The wine gets fortified with grape spirit. Grape spirit is a clear spirit distilled from grapes, the same process as brandy/cognac undergoes.
This blend of so-so wine and grape spirit is then mixed to the required alcohol levels and put into barrels, which are not filled up to the top. A gap of “two fists” is left for a yeast to develop, cover the surface layer and protect the wine from the air. It also does other chemical magic to the liquid to create the desired flavours wanted by the maker.
Then there is the unique way the sherry wines are blended. Each year’s production is contained in barrels. The oldest stay at the bottom and new year’s stacked above in year. Every year the bottles are filled from the bottom barrels up with the barrel above and so on. Newest sherry re-fills the top barrels. This is the reason for a lack of year on a bottle. There are no vintage sherry wines. This system is called Solara.
Pairing with sherry wine?
Sherry is a fantastic match to many foods, but you need the basic types understanding and what matches well with which. So here’s a starter guide.
Fino: lightly coloured, and delicately flavoured. Bone-dry to taste but very refreshing and best drunk chilled; pairs exceptionally well with olives, anchovies, cured ham. With Paella a staple of tapas bars.
Manzanilla: similar to Fino, but from a different region so the climate has an effect and has a slightly apple-like flavour. Great with all types of Mediterranean seafood especially gambas.
Manzanilla Pasada: as above, but aged longer and develop a nuttier flavour and are a more concentrated liquid. Pairs well with darker seafood such as crab.
Amontillado: starts off life as a fino, but the flor is allowed to die and this exposes the sherry to the air and some oxidisation occurs. Deeper amber colour and more medium-dry to the taste. More body to the drink. Pairs well with hard cheeses and fresh tuna stewed in a Spanish style.
Oloroso: These are rich and full-bodied as a result of being blended with sweet wines. Should smell of caramel and coffee and nuttiness, but not overly sweet. Pairs well with strong cheese and Christmas cake.
Ladies and gentlemen: Pedro Ximénez
Remember I said I knew Grandma knew best? Well. she did. This is rich, sweet, treacly and is seriously intense in flavour. At a tasting once, someone cried out, “It smells like Christmas”. It does, especially if Grandma made the Pudding! It is most commonly referred to by its initials PX. For pairing, it goes very well with chocolate desserts and Christmas pudding as a drink alongside, or with vanilla Ice-cream as a pour over. Top treat is a chocolate brownie, vanilla Ice cream and pour over the PX. Just beyond beautiful.
Another great use is in the creation of a Spanish Hot Chocolate. Create your perfect hot chocolate drink and just before you float the marshmallows and ice-cream on top add a teaspoon [or two] into the drink. Grown-up Spanish Hot Chocolate for cold winter nights.
Over time, I have discovered that men drink other things than beer, women drink other drinks than sherry. However, my grandma always had sherry in her house and therefore it is still an immutable truth. Granny knows best.
Follow the Sommelier UK on twitter for more recommendations as the season of excess dining approaches.
More tips from the Sommelier UK: