Gratefully sherry’s reception in the United States has gone through a renaissance with a range of styles, and producers now available. It’s a treasure of a wine offering a range of weight and flavor, and surprising compatibility with the stubbornest of foods.
Growing up in Alaska, our days would close with Native-style smoke fish, and occasionally tundra berries frozen then thawed from our winter cache. The combination produced the best dessert — a rich savory fill of concentrated salmon flavor, alongside a nip of berries more sour than sweet. It’s still my favored dessert.
As an adult, closing a meal depends not only on the last taste of food, but also its beverage accompaniment. With a yen for flavors like smoked fish, however, few wines have the chance to stand up to the close of a meal.
Enter sherry. Fino goes brilliantly with smoked fish.
Sherry carries its own unique categories of production, taking grapes perhaps less interesting or long-lived for still wine (though there are a few examples of people making examples from Palomino), then fortifying them at varying levels depending on intended type, and aging them for years in a complex solara system that depends on either oxygen influence or development under flor.
The Making of Sherry
Understanding the many intricacies of sherry production can be challenging, as can remembering how each of the styles is made. With that in mind I set out to distill the information into a one-page image that would retain the complexity with accuracy, while presenting it in a more accessible manner.
Above you will find the result, a drawing that explains production of each of the major types of sherry — Fino, Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasado, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso.
Six Examples of Sherry
Following are notes on six examples of sherries available in the United States and well worth drinking. The notes progress by order of richness and weight, as would work too in stages through a meal.
Cesar Florido Fino offers delicate persistence with a saline crunch and seaside presence. The wine carries mineral clarity that would do well with oysters on the half shell, or lightly salty charcuterie and melon.
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Pasada does well with a light chill, offering both surprising brightness and complexity with saline crunch, nutty accents throughout, and pleasing savory elements all on pleasing texture. This wine’s seaside aspects and weight would do well with creamier, and lightly spiced seafood dishes.
El Maestro Sierra Amontillado Viejo 1830 brings complexity and great juiciness through floral notes with light nut on a spine of light cedar-tobacco. This wine evolves like crazy after opening, and continues to be enticing throughout. I’m inclined to say enjoy it on its own rather than worry about food pairings. However, it would do well alongside jamon, cured meats, and wild game, as well as firm cheeses.
Cesar Florido “Peña de Aguila” Palo Cortado gives rich, warming aromatics and palate of amber, cocoa butter, nuts and light smoke with tons of length and complexity. The wine is technically produced outside the sherry triangle, but still in excellent proximity to the ocean for aging. This wine would do well with duck, sauteed mushrooms, and firm cheeses.
El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 1/14 brings intensity, juiciness, and lots of length through nut and dried fruit elements mixed through with exotic spices hinting at amber and saffron. Serve only very slightly chilled, closer to room temperature, alongside stronger cheeses, dried fruits, or even spiced (not very sweet) desserts.
Cesar Florido Moscatel “Especial” depends upon an additional step. Grape must that has been heated to concentrate its flavors is added after fermentation in order to bring an additional layer of complexity. The wine carries baking spices, dried cocoa, and hints of nut on a sweet body with brooding length. This wine caps a meal perfectly alongside a nut and cheese plate, or just with coffee.
If you want to read more about sherry:
I highly recommend Sherry, Manzanilla, and Montilla, by Peter Liem and Jesús Barquîn. You can purchase the book here: http://www.sherryguide.net/ (Incidentally, Peter’s work on champagne is also excellent. You can read it here: http://www.champagneguide.net/)
From Eric Asimov, The Book on Amontillado: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/dining/the-book-on-amontillado.html?action=click&module=Search®ion=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%23%2Fasimov%2Bsherry%2F
Keep an eye out for Talia Baiocchi’s book, Sherry, due this October:
The above drawing, The Making of Sherry, was originally commissioned by Steven Morgan, Liz Mendez, and Steven Alexander for a sherry event that took place in Chicago this Spring. Some of the wines mentioned here were received as partial trade for that commission.
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