by Juel Mahoney
Ask me about sherry and I will say I love it. Like most people in the wine trade, I’ve been banging the drum for sherry for years. Only recently has it gained prominence on certain wine lists, mostly because of the rise in the number of tapas bars in London. Often it is hidden on the wine list or gathering dust on the bottom shelf in a wine shop woefully underpriced considering the amount of history involved in making it.
The average dry sherry consists of decades of vintages blended together made from old bodegas and hidden soleras in the dry white landscape of Andalucia in southern Spain. It has a fresh, nutty taste that acts as a magnifying glass to flavours in food – highlighting and emphasising new angles to taste making many known favourite foods new again.
At this year’s Annual Tasting, we asked Jeremy Lee from Quo Vadis and The River Cafe’s Emily O’Hare to join us in a panel discussion to talk about this maddening disconnect between customer and trade in their love for sherry. Hosted by Bibendum’s Willie Lebus it was a lively discussion – perhaps fuelled by all the great Sherry we tasted – exploring how well the different styles of Sherry work with food.
“I’ve been passionate for a long time. The time is right with this whole revolution in food at moment to make sherry a lot more mainstream,” said Willie Lebus when asked why he wanted to do a seminar on Sherry.
So, can we dust down those bottles languishing at the back of the shelf and reclaim it its rightful place at the front of the menu? And can Sherry work well with other cuisines? Jeremy Lee prepared small tasting samples of dishes to find out.
”I am finding the umami character in amontillado is great with mushroom risotto,” said Emily O’Hare from The River Cafe, sommelier at one of the world’s great Italian restaurants, showing how sherry so naturally moves amongst different cuisines. The Botaina Dry Amontillado NV from Lustau had been aged for 15 years and is complex and richer than dry yet retain a dry fino character.
The Manzanilla from Delgado Zuleta worked well with all the dishes but especially the Salsify with Parmesan. This is especially light and fresh sherry from the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda. Like a sea breeze, the touch of saltiness makes it very more-ish with parmigiano reggiano.
As a treat we ended with Raisin and Pedro Ximenez Ice Cream made with Bodegas Alvear Solera 1927 PX from Montilla-Moriles. A twist on the usual rum and raisin, this is a decadently rich wine.
How can the trade share their love for sherry in practical terms. There were some great ideas from the floor, including:
- Smaller serving sizes. There was a good discussion on whether a normal wine pour of 175ml is too much at the higher alcohol point, making it overwhelming for the diner.
- Sherry reigns in the tapas bar but with the move towards snack-sized portions it is also naturally at home. It does not necessarily need Spanish food.
- Emily suggested it would be a good idea to stick to one bottle on the table and work through every course.
- “Sherry is not just for Spanish restaurants,” said Emily, ”It goes great with Indian food.” Willie added, “Manzanilla fino is perfect with Asian food, especially sushi.”
- “Sherry opens up a new world of flavours”, says Jeremy Lee, “it is a great wine to experiment with a menu”.
Read Jenny Mackenzie’s report on 2013 Annual Tasting - A Matter of Taste for Harpers Wine & Spirits. Here is her interview with Emily, Jeremy and Willie: