Sherry is the next “Big Thing”
My prediction for The Next Big Thing is sherry. As a sherry lover, I’ve been saying this for years, but I think 2016 is the year when Canadians will rediscover the delights of this versatile beverage. Sherry, like Riesling, is the most misunderstood of all wines — and it is a wine, even though it’s lightly fortified with grape spirit. Sherry, like Riesling, got a bad rap because consumers believed it was sweet. And no wonder, when the world’s largest-selling sherry is Harveys Bristol Cream.
But it comes in a vast range of styles, from the crisply dry, salt-tinged Manzanilla of Sanlúcar de Barrameda to the honey-sweet confections made from Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria) or the Pedro Ximénez grape (known familiarly by its initials, PX).
The name sherry is an anglicized version of Jerez, a city in southern Spain’s Andalusia region. Jerez de la Frontera, to give its full name, is the centre of production and, with the coastal towns of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria, makes up the third point of the so-called Sherry Triangle.
Called the Aging and Maturing Zone, the Sherry Triangle is the location of the traditional bodegas, some of whose internal structures resemble cathedrals. There is a larger Production Zone beyond the triangle where the vineyards are permitted to grow grapes to produce the base wine, but to earn the name sherry, the wines must be raised within the triangle.
Sherry is a complex drink. Basically there are four dry styles, each with its own method of production: ranging from lightest to most full-bodied, they are Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso — all made from the Palomino grape. (Manzanilla is considered a Fino, but being matured close to the sea in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, its flavour is influenced by the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. The name Manzanilla in Spanish means “little apple” and also “chamomile,” which is the best flavour descriptor of the lightest of all Spanish sherries.)
In her engaging book, Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, Talia Baiocchi offers recipes and cocktails. She also gives this amusing rule of thumb on how to match sherries to different styles to food. Her advice is: “If it swims, Fino. If it flies, Amontillado. If it walks, Oloroso.”
And I would add, if you have no fear of the dentist, Pedro Ximénez.
The sweet version is called Cream Sherry and is usually produced by blending a dry Oloroso with PX or Moscatel — and for the bargain-priced products, the addition of the wine and Arrope (boiled unfermented grape juice that’s reduced by 50 percent.)
Talking of Cream Sherry, the lactose-intolerant have nothing to fear: there are no dairy products in it. Legend has it — according to Harveys’ website — in the early 1860s, an aristocratic lady visiting Harveys cellars was invited to taste Bristol Milk (a rich dark sherry popular at the time) and then the new blend. She declared: “If that is Milk, then this is Cream,” and as such Harveys Bristol Cream created a whole new sherry category. (Bristol, incidentally, is the British port to which Harveys shipped its sherries.)
Apart from being excellent food wines, sherries have the added bonus of being long-lasting once they are opened because the wines are oxidized. However, I have found it’s best to drink them fresh. An opened bottle of Fino or Manzanilla will last a week or so in the fridge (my advice is to buy these styles in half bottles). The medium and sweet sherries will last two to three weeks once opened.
So, to make my prediction come true, treat yourself to a half bottle of Manzanilla or Fino and chill it as an apéritif. With soup, try a dry Amontillado. And so on. As long as you can determine how your food conveyed itself by land, sea or air, you have Ms Baiocchi’s simple food-matching guideline.