How Sherry Became Hip (And How To Drink It)
Left: Fino. Photograph courtesy of XECO. Centre: Dry Oloroso, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Photograph courtesy of Berry Bros & Rudd. Right: Amontillado Napoleón. Photograph courtesy of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana
Why you should be sipping sherry this season, plus three recipes to try.
In drinking, as in life, I am a man of broad tastes. But if I had to choose one kind of booze for the rest of my days, it would definitely be sherry.
Sherry does most of the things that you want wine to do. It warms, it revives, it loosens conversation and it goes wonderfully with food. A glass of chilled manzanilla is an excellent match for seafood. But I will raise you a nutty glass of amontillado with a juicy pink steak; or a slick of Pedro Ximenez with a slab of single-estate chocolate.
Equally, sherry, does most of the things you want spirits to do. See my recipes, below, if you don’t believe me.
Wine geeks have been banging on for years about how complex and versatile and hip sherry is. But secretly, most of us are quite pleased that it has remained unfashionable – sales have been falling since 1979 and halved in the UK between 2005 and 2015 – because it remains cheap. Improbably cheap for something so complex. Tio Pepe Fino, the most common style of fino – fresh, pert, bone-dry – is rarely more than £10 and it’s really good. And if you’re willing to shell out what you might spend on disappointing champagne or an indifferent burgundy, you can buy a truly spectacular 30-year-old gem from a tiny family bodega in the “Sherry Triangle”, ie, the area near Cadiz bordered by Jerez, Sanlucar and Puerto de Santa Maria.
Sherry, I have it on reliable authority, is about to become hip. Mr Mauricio González-Gordon, head of Gonzalez Byass (a leading sherry producer in Spain), recently declared that the era of pushing “volume” was over and the future of sherry lay in small, rare, premium producers: “We feel that consumers’ attitudes are changing,” he declared. Premium sherry is predicted by industry body IWSR to grow 18 per cent between 2016 and 2021.
“It is a fact of life that sales of sherry have been in decline,” says Mr Ben Howkin, sherry expert and advocate of new brand XECO (ie, dry), which is made by a family bodega in Jerez that’s been there since 1876. “It is also a fact of life that today, the largest, finest stocks of quality wines in Europe, if not the world, are to be found in bodegas in Jerez, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar.” On a recent visit, he noted a “dynamic upswing” in confidence among the bodegas, too.
If you’re doubtful, I’d head straight for a dry amontillado. You’ll be rewarded with something rich and hazelnutty, with further notes of leather, tobacco, dried fruit, vanilla and oak. I like it with a couple of ice cubes. Oloroso is similar in style and equally good with food, especially pork and cheese; Berry Bros & Rudd, the oldest wine merchant in the world, make particularly fine house examples of both. Look out, too, for Amontillado Seco Napoleon Hidalgo (stocked by Majestic) which has an almost bourbon-like richness.
The “hipsters”, meanwhile, are wild for the drier en rama styles: fino and the saltier manzanilla, which are fresher, lower in alcohol (about 15 per cent) and best kept in the fridge and/or served over tons of ice. Fino is excellent with a splash of tonic. XECO’s fino is grassy and floral, with some of that yeasty, biscuity quality you find in champagne.
Then there are the sweet sherries: Pedro Ximenez is thick and viscose, like liquid Christmas pudding.
If you’re mixing, you can use sherry in place of pretty much any cocktail with vermouth in it. But it also works well as a substitute for whatever base spirit you’re using – try a dry amontillado in place of dark spirits like whiskey and fino in place of light spirits like gin. At 15 to 25 per cent ABV, sherry has all the flavour of a spirit without knocking you out so effectively.
50ml gin 25ml fino sherry 1 dash orange bitters
In a mixing vessel, stir the gin and sherry with lots and lots of ice for about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, garnish with a nice fat green olive, and serve with a little plate of boquerones (marinated anchovies).
Sherry old fashioned
50ml oloroso sherry 10ml sugar syrup 1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir all the ingredients patiently together in a large tumbler filled with large cubes of ice. Garnish with an orange-zest twist.
“Without doubt the most popular beverage in the country, with ladies as well as with gentlemen,” wrote Mr Harry Johnson in his Bartender’s Manual Of 1882. This simple combination of sherry, fruit and ice helped popularise the straw and drove the development of the ice trade. It’s all but disappeared from the popular cocktailing imagination and yet it’s still a delightful sip.
50ml amontillado sherry 1 squeeze lemon 10ml sugar syrup Seasonal fruits and herbs
Muddle all the fruits and herbs in the bottom of a highball glass. At this time of year, use figs, pomegranates and oranges. Then add the other ingredients and churn with ice. Garnish with lots of fruit and a sprig of mint.