You may see the word “Sherry” in the title above and think, "I don't like sweet wines so let's skip this one" but wait! I'm not going to talk about sweet dessert wines here. The majority of Sherries are crisp, complex and dry. These wines stand up to and enhance the flavor of many types of food.
Not long ago I embarked on a wine-lover's trip to the Andalucia area of Southern Spain and stopped in for a couple of days at the birthplace of Sherry, Jerez as it is called there. I visited several bodegas, the places where the wine is made, bottled and stored. I met with winemakers who are very passionate about their craft and, best of all, I was able to taste a number of Sherries, some straight out of the barrel.
Take a look at my video from the Gonzalez Byass bodega where the charming master blender/winemaker Antonio Flores Pedregosa tried to teach me to use a venecia, a long rod with a tiny cup at the end, to pour wine taken straight from the barrel into my glass. What a shame most of that delicious liquid ended up on my shoes!
There are many different styles of Sherry. All dry Sherries are made from the Palomino grape and are aged either biologically or oxidatively, using the unique solera system in stacked barrels. Let's take a look at the two types of aging used, the resulting type of wine and, the best part, the food pairings!
Fino and Manzanilla sherry age biologically under a layer of protective yeast called the flor which blankets the surface of the wine, preventing it from oxidation, keeping it fresh, while imparting flavors and aromas like nuts, yeast, dough, dried flowers and olive brine. The only difference between a Fino and a Manzanilla is that the latter is matured in barrels by the sea in the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda which imparts a saline quality to the wine. Both wines are practically clear in color and are bone-dry and should be served chilled like a white wine. My favorite way to enjoy a refreshing glass of Fino is with some salted marcona almonds, lightly fried food and a selection of interesting, but not too strong cheeses, such as aged Manchego or Tetilla, a light, creamy cheese. As for Manzanilla, I prefer fresh shellfish, perhaps briny oysters, clams, and mussels. Either style goes well with many other types of food, ranging from Japanese sushi to specialty Spanish hams and olives. Take a look at my recipe here for Clams With Bacon, Corn, Tomatoes and Mushrooms. I served this dish with a Manzanilla from La Guita and it was a spot-on combination!
Oxidative aging (exposed to oxygen!)
Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso sherries have been aged at least partially without the protective flor. The exposure to oxygen in the barrel causes these wines to range in color from gold to golden brown, depending on the amount of time spent aging. They are dry and have very complex, rich, round, nutty flavors and should be served slightly chilled, but not as cold as you would serve a white wine. Amontillados and Palo Cortados go fabulously with soups as well as chicken and pork with a creamy sauces, or with a full-flavored cheese like Cabrales, a strong Spanish blue cheese. The nuttiness of both of these wines is enhanced by rich vegetables such as asparagus, cauliflower and spinach. The even fuller-bodied Olorosos go superbly with all kinds of strong "stinky" cheeses as well as cured meats, game — think partridge or venison — and fish that is rich in oil such as wild salmon, tuna, trout or mackerel. To my delight, I even enjoyed a glass of Oloroso with a very spicy Chinese Kung Po Chicken. The richness of the wine held up well and enhanced the spicy flavors in the dish.
Finally, please don't use a tiny tulip-shaped glass when drinking Sherry! If you are in a restaurant (in NYC try Pata Negra), ask for it to be served in a white wine glass. The larger bowl will allow the wine to express its full range of aromas and flavors. For me, there is no other wine that offers the age and complexity of Sherry for the price. So now it's time to break out a bottle with your favorite meal and say, Salud!!
Below are some delicious food pairings I savored with dry sherry!