When Decanter magazine columnist Steven Spurrier was recently asked what he thought the next trend in wine would be, he said almost without hesitation: “Sherry. Or at least, it should be.”
That sounded to me a bit like wishful thinking from a distinguished British wine writer, given that the market, here in the United States at least, remains transfixed by petillant naturel, orange and natural wines. Or their opposite, spritzers. Sherry, the fortified wine of southwestern Spain, seems locked in a time capsule, unable to shake off the Old World image of a sweet tipple (most sherries are dry) favored by grandmothers and, well, Brits. So I asked Spurrier why he thinks sherry is due for a renaissance.
“Sherry offers an extraordinary variety of styles in an unlimited range of flavors,” he replied. That is indisputable, yet sherry remains an anachronism in wine. As much as I love it, I don’t drink it often. I tend to think of sherry around Lunar New Year (Jan. 25 this year), because of its affinity for Asian cuisines and its similarity to Chinese shaoxing wine. It’s nearly impossible to find a decent shaoxing in the United States, but it’s easy to find a delicious sherry. And maybe, slowly, it’s becoming even easier to find good ones.
Spurrier introduced me by email to Ben Howkins, author of “Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent!,” published by Spurrier’s imprint, Academie du Vin Library. Howkins stressed sherry’s uniqueness, with a variety of styles of well-aged wines available at a reasonable cost.
“There is no greater stash of fine wine in cask in the world, than in the bodegas of the sherry triangle,” Howkins said, referring to the region in southwestern Spain centered on the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria. “Dry sherries at 12, 15, 30 or more years [of average age] are the wine lover’s equivalent of fine white burgundy, but at a third of the price,” he added.
Dry sherries vary from crisp, saline fino and manzanilla to fruity amontillado and rich palo cortado and oloroso. All are made using the solera system, in which wines of various ages are blended to achieve consistency and render vintage irrelevant; their styles vary depending on the extent of their exposure to oxygen during the aging process. Medium and cream sherries are blends of dry and sweet wines.
And sherry is worth exploring from a meal’s first sip to its last. Manzanilla or fino makes an ideal start, while heartier amontillado, palo cortado or oloroso sherries meld seamlessly with umami-rich dishes, such as soups (ramen), stews and anything with mushrooms. Cap off the evening with an unctuous, sweet Pedro Ximénez, or PX, with a salty blue cheese or a fruit tart, and you might wonder why you don’t drink more dessert wines.
Chantal Tseng, a certified sherry educator and restaurant consultant based in Washington, D.C., said sherry’s “natural umami” makes it suitable to pair with a number of cuisines. “There’s a reason why chefs add it to food,” she said.
Tseng recently persuaded the owners of Thamee, a Burmese restaurant in Washington, to add sherry to their beverage program, including cocktails. “My favorite pairings are amontillado and duck and fino with fried chicken,” Tseng said.
“I love finos and manzanillas with seafood and whole fish dishes,” she added. “They don’t cower to sesame, fish sauce, spicy accents or pickled and fermented vegetables.
“Amontillados and their off-dry version, labeled medium, are perhaps the most versatile with Asian cuisines. But really, most pork dishes, soups from miso to ramen and even spicy tofu plates have an affinity for sherry. And let’s not forget dumplings.”
Tseng helped ignite a mini-trend for sherry as co-owner of Mockingbird Hill, a sherry bar in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. Since that closed, she has been holding what she calls “a sorta secret sherry bar” called Literary Cocktails on weekends in the Reading Room of Petworth Citizen.
“Sherry is a bridge from sommelier-style food pairing to the world of craft cocktails,” she explained, noting that sherry mixes well with spirits and other cocktail flavors.
“Of course, for those of us who love it, sherry is delicious any time of day, alone, as aperitif or digestif,” Tseng said.
– – –
McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. On Twitter: @dmwine.