Sherry wine is increasingly appearing at top restaurants and hip, neighborhood bars. What’s driving sherry’s popularity? Younger wine drinkers, chefs and food enthusiasts, enamored with drier amontillado and fino styles that pair beautifully with food.
The latest sherries are the perfect counter to the sweet, syrupy cream style that grandma used to drink. And these new sherries are easy to love — they’re inexpensive, starting at $5 per bottle and come ready to serve, since they’re expertly barrel-aged by a cellar master before bottling.
Visiting the Sherry Triangle
Sherry is made in Andalucia, Spain, an area as rich and diverse as the sherry styles themselves. The region is the birthplace of quintessential Spanish cultural treasures like bullfighting and flamenco. To truly appreciate the wine, it’s worth a visit to the Sherry Triangle of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María.
Drinking sherry in its element is how the love affair with the wine starts: enjoying a glass with tapas at the beach of Puerto de Santa Maria at sunset, during an impromptu flamenco show at one of the many tavernas (taverns) in Jerez, or sampling the wine straight out of the barrel while touring the historical bodegas (wine production cellars) with their cathedral-like cellars are signature love-affair moments.
The Sherry Process
Produced in bodegas, sherry is aged in American Oak casks, which impart the aroma and complexity unique to sherry, using a criadera (nursery) technique. Barrels are stacked to the ceiling, with new wine added to the top casks and methodically blended with the older sherry in the lower barrels before being drawn off the bottom-most solera (rack).
The wine barrels age in a bodega’s large, high-ceilinged rooms. The wine is enhanced by the cellar’s fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The process is natural, with the room’s environment only mildly controlled by watering the decomposed granite flooring to lower temperature or closing and opening the windows that allow the ocean breezes to ventilate the room.
Depending on human, environmental or as cellar masters often say — divine intervention — the barrel-aged wine develops into a style. The sherry styles are:
The driest of sherries, pale in color and unique due to the flor, or yeast bloom, that develops at the top of the barrel.
Fino harvested in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a riverside, coastal town that imparts ocean aromas and tangy, salty notes to the wine.
A fino allowed a small amount of oxidation, giving it a darker color and a mellow, rich hazelnut flavor.
The rebel sherry that is a mystery during the aging process to even the cellar master. The name is derived from the X, or palo cortado in Spanish, the cellar master marks the barrel with, not knowing what the wine will develop into. Unpredictable but striking, it’s neither amontillado or oloroso.
No yeast bloom and dark in color. RIch, aromatic and depending on the blend, sweet or dry.
PX or cream
Sweet sherries made from sun-dried grapes. Often molasses-like in consistency and color.
The New Sherry Pioneers
All of the sherry varieties are a perfect meal accompaniment. Here are thoughts from some of the top restauranteurs on their favorite sherries and how they serve them:
Ryan Stetins, General Manager of Parallel 37 at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco and Level 2 Sommelier
“My favorite type of sherry is fino and manzanilla. We often start guests with Manzanilla because it’s salty, piquant and crisp with great acidity – it’s an amuse by itself and cleanses the palate to welcome savory flavors.
While Manzanilla is great at the start of a meal, sherry can span the entire menu from savory to sweet – it is very diverse and can stand alone or be a perfect accompaniment to many dishes.”
Liz Mendez, Sommelier and Proprietor of Vera Restaurant and Wine Bar Chicago
“We pair sherry with every course: fino as an aperitif or Champagne, amontillado as white wine, oloroso as red wine and the dessert styles of Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.
My go-to sherry is Valdespino Tio Diego amontillado. It’s our most popular because it’s versatile in its pairing with tough dishes like artichokes to classics like grilled octopus and paella.”
Alex Alan, wine director at Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
“Even though I’ve worked with sherry for the last 11 years, my first trip there was only two years ago and completely changed my view on sherry. It’s one of the world’s greatest wines.”
“Gutierrez Colosia ‘Sangre y Trabajadero’ oloroso served with a board of a trio of single origin chocolates and paired condiments. Salty and sweet always do magical things.
Barbadillo Manzanilla en Rama ‘Saca de Invierno’ 2013 served with our seafood and oyster platter called ‘The Delmano’. Both are salty and briny and make mouth music together.”
Ryan Ibsen, Wine Director at Bestia Restaurant, Los Angeles
“I have a long-time affection for the great traditional wines of Jerez. They’re some of the least understood wines of the modern era while being the most complex and labor-intensive.
I’m currently pouring Valdespino palo Cortado Viejo Calle Ponce. At Bestia we use it in a way that is quite decadent. After customers finish our roasted bone marrow with spinach gnocchetti, we do what we call a “Bone Luge”. We pour some of this gorgeous Valdespino through the left-over bones right into our eager customers mouths. I would be hard pressed to think of a more memorable (and immediate) introduction to one of the world’s great wines.”