On March 24, 2011, I attended a dinner called, “A Night of Sherry” organized by the Spanish Wine Society and held at Earth Restaurant in Toronto. The special guest speaker was César Saldaña, the Director General of the Consejo Regulador (the regulating council) of Jerez and Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Sherry has long been misunderstood as the sticky brown drink found on our grandmother’s sideboard and typically poured as an aperitif before some special occasion. In fact, the cream Sherries we are most familiar with are generally not found in Spain’s restaurants. They’re mostly reserved for the export market. There are many different styles of Sherry, from light, refreshing and bone-dry, all the way to sweet, thick, and syrupy. People outside of Spain are finally beginning to realize what the Spaniards have always known – that Sherry is a diverse wine that pairs beautifully with a number of dishes. Until “A Night of Sherry”, I had never experienced Sherry paired with an entire dinner. The dinner was excellent, and it really opened my eyes as to the types of food that can be served with Sherry. See the Tasting Menu below. For more information on Spanish wines go to Wines from Spain.
Sherry comes in a range of styles and a range of sweetness levels. Some Sherry is completely dry as a result of the must being fermented completely dry before the wine is fortified. The difference in each type of Sherry has to do with the ageing process they undergo in a solera system.
Dry Styles: Made from Palomino grapes
Fino: Dry, light, and refreshing with a very pale colour. These wines are aged under a veil of flor (yeast) and are fortified to 15 to 16% alcohol. It is said they are aged biologically because the yeast protects the wine from oxygen. Aromas and flavours of almonds, minerals, fresh bread, and brine are usually evident.
Manzanilla: A Fino wine made in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the veil of flor is thicker.
Amontillado: Starts out as a Fino Sherry but loses its flor, either naturally or by being fortified to a higher level thereby killing the yeast, and then is aged oxidatively because there is no yeast to protect the wine from oxygen. The wine turns amber in colour due to exposure to the air. True Amontillados are dry wines and have delicately pungent aromas of hazelnuts, aromatic herbs, and tobacco.
Palo Cortado: Wines that were originally pre-selected to become Fino or Amantillado Sherries but never developed the flor and ending up ageing completely oxidatively in an Oloroso style. Palo Cortados are the rarest kinds of Sherry and have the elegance of an Amontillado with the power and body of an Oloroso. It has the aromas of an Amontillado with the taste profile of an Oloroso.
Oloroso: This wine is aged completely without flor in an oxidative environment. The colour can range from dark amber to a deep mahogany colour. It has a distinct aromas of walnuts, tobacco, leather, spice, dried leaves, and a balsamic note, with a fuller body and an elegant finish. Oloroso can be dry or it can have a degree of sweetness.
Dry wines are occasionally blended with sweet wines to produce Sherries with varying degrees of sweetness.
Cream: This style was created for the sweet-toothed British market by Harvey’s and Harvey’s Bristol Cream has become the most successful Sherry brand in the world. This is a sweet wine made from Oloroso with naturally sweet wine added. Aromas of dried fruit, nugat, caramel, and toast are evident.
Sweet Natural Wines: Made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes.
After the grapes are picked they are spread out and left to raisin in the sun. As water is evaporated, the sugar content and concentration in the grapes increases. After 7 to 14 days, the grapes are pressed and fermentation takes place very slowly due to the very high sugar levels in the must. Fermentation does not finish. The resulting sweet wine is then fortified to about 15-17%.
Pedro Ximenez: A very dark ebony colour. The wine is sticky and dense with aromas of sweet dried fruit (figs, raisins, dates), coffee, dark chocolate, and cocoa.
Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria): these grapes are bigger so the sun tends to dry them out a bit less. The resulting wine is very sweet with floral (jasmine, orange blossom, honeysuckle) and citrus aromas with a bitter finish.
Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia Fino
Toasted Marcona Almond Soup and Acadian Sturgeon Caviar
(*An excellent pairing – the saltiness of the caviar worked amazingly with the Fino.)
Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana
Nova Scotia Diver Scallop, Shaved Fennel, and Local Saffron Emulsion
Bodegas Sanchez Romate Amontillado NPU
Cured Eversprings farm Duck Ham, Niagara Black Walnuts, Cherry Mostarda
(*The smoked duck went very well with the Amontillado – smoke can be difficult to pair with wines but it goes really well with Sherry.)
Bodegas Tradicion Palo Cortado VORS
Lake Huron Whitefish, Lobster and Smoked Tomato broth, Monforte Toscano Crostini
(*Again, the smoked broth marries the wine and food together. Amazing!)
Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Alfonso
Seared Albacore Tuna, Blonde Frisee, Bacon Lardons, Meyer Lemon Oil
Williams and Humbert Medium Dry Sack
2nd Wind Farms Elk Carpaccio with Thunder Oak Gouda Mousse
Sandeman, Cream Sandeman Armada
Maple Cured Foie Gras Torchon, Compressed Pear, and Black Pepper Brioche
Lustau Pedro Ximenez
Ontario Stilton Blue Cheese, Red Fife Crisp, Lambs Lettuce
Williams and Humbert PX VOS Don Guido
Smoked Coco Nib Ice Cream, Espelette Pepper, and Dark Chocolate Ganache
Other foods that can go well with Sherry: asparagus, artichoke, vinaigrette salads (Fino), mushroom or beef based soups (Amontillado).