Sherry can be glorious, seductive and great with food — it’s just its image that needs fortifying, says Jonathan Ray
I made a solemn resolution the other night. I was at Tate Britain, at a private view of the Barbara Hepworth retrospective, when it suddenly dawned on me: I don’t drink enough sherry.
It wasn’t that the sculpture had driven me to drink — on the contrary, I’m a huge fan of Hepworth and can easily spend an hour in her work’s company, stone cold sober. No, it’s just that every now and then the enlightened Tate Britain hosts a private view-cum-wine tasting followed by supper, and on this particular evening there were 40 or so sherries on show.
Hamish Anderson, the peerless head sommelier at Tate Britain’s gorgeously, bonkersly decorated Rex Whistler Restaurant (winner last year of the Imbibe/Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year), had invited half a dozen of the finest sherry producers to come and show their wares. As we browsed and sluiced, we all — including Hamish — asked ourselves the same question: why the heck don’t we drink more sherry?
After all, there is a sherry for every occasion. Bone-dry, salty, tangy Finos and Manzanillas make exquisite apéritifs. They are right up there alongside the martini, the G&T and the chilled glass of fizz in the pantheon of pre-prandials.
In fact I would go further and argue that there is no finer 11am reviver than a top-quality Manzanilla. Pair it with bite-sized slivers of jamón ibérico that you pick up in your fingers. Thanks to the acorns the pata negra pig eats, this ham is sweet, rich and nutty, with a seductive, creamy fat which melts on the tongue.
What’s more, given that Manzanilla is packed with vitamin B6 (ideal for breaking down alcohol in the liver) and jamón ibérico is low in salt and calories (only 190 in a plate of 100g of ham) and high in mono-unsaturated fat and oleic acid (which stimulate ‘good cholesterol’ and help reduce ‘bad cholesterol’), this is about as healthy a mid-morning snack as you’re likely to find.
Look too for the increasingly popular en rama sherry. This is a Fino straight from the cask without fining (clarifying the sherry) or filtration. Tio Pepe Fino is fantastic; Tio Pepe Fino en rama is even better, since fining strips a bit of flavour away. Expect a greater depth of saltiness and a smoked nut flavour.
Amontillado (effectively an aged Fino) is gold and nutty and great with all manner of tapas (natch), but especially with roasted almonds and cheeses. Oloroso is full and flavoursome and can go with rich meat dishes, while the coal-black, richly sweet, unctuous Pedro Ximénez (also known simply as PX) is wonderful on its own at the end of a meal or with rich puddings.
Majestic recently launched a new range of sherry and retailers as diverse as Waitrose and Berry Bros & Rudd now boast over 30 examples each. Sales are on the up, especially of the drier styles and the limited-edition top-priced examples which are now as prized by connoisseurs and collectors as fine vintage ports.
Spanish cuisine is also all the rage and Spanish restaurants and sherry bars are popping up all over. Visit sherry.org/gastronomy/sherry-spots to find one near you.
SIX OF THE BEST SHERRIES
The Society’s Fino, Sánchez Romate
£6.25; The Wine Society
Sánchez Romate is one of Spain’s oldest wineries and a celebrated producer of exemplary sherries. Its Fino is bang on: bone-dry with citrus freshness and a touch of nuts and herbs on the finish. Served well chilled, it’s vibrant enough to kick-start the most jaded of appetites. A perfect sherry at a perfect price and yet another reason to shop at the Wine Society.
Manzanilla de Sanlucar, Antonio Barbadillo
£11.26; Corney & Barrow
Nobody makes more Manzanilla than Bodegas Barbadillo, and many would argue nobody makes it better. The vineyards and bodegas sit around the estuary of the Guadalquivir river, dubbed the ‘Corner of the Sun’. Exuberant freshness is the key here, plus an enticing and appetising salty tang, gained — it’s said — thanks to the proximity of the sea.
Amontillado VORS 30 Years Old, Lustau
£55 per 50cl; Berry Bros & Rudd
An Amontillado starts life as a Fino but is allowed to oxidise slightly and develop a deeper colour and richer, nuttier flavour. This is about as fine an Amontillado as money can buy. Deeply copper-coloured, it’s richly flavoured but dry with hazelnuts, leather, spice, preserved fruits and truffles on both nose and palate and a long, powerful finish.
‘Noé’ Pedro Ximénez VORS, González Byass
£21.50 per 37.5cl; Fortnum & Mason
Oh my goodness, this is delicious! Made from 100 per cent Pedro Ximénez, Noé is a darkly, gloopily, treacly, decadently, lusciously sweet wine of some rarity, given that only 2,000 bottles are made each year. With raisins, figs, brown sugar and molasses on the palate and a thick velvety texture, it makes a wondrous, tongue-tingling digestif and is notoriously moreish when poured over vanilla or coffee ice cream.
La Bota de Palo Cortado 52, Hijos Rainera Pérez Marín, Equipo Navazos
£55; Berry Bros & Rudd
With its ‘La Bota’ series, Equipo Navazos has done much to bring top-quality sherry to a wider audience. This single vineyard, single vintage (2010) Palo Cortado is a wine of huge complexity
which combines the delicate bouquet of
an Amontillado with the body and weight of an Oloroso. It’s a beguiling mix of rich fruit in the mouth and a dry, savoury finish.
Oloroso Añada 1986, Bodegas Hidalgo
£88.55 per 50cl; The Drinks Shop
Family-owned Bodegas Hidalgo is probably best-known for its textbook Manzanilla, La Gitana, but it produces much else besides. This aged mahogany-hued Oloroso, though, is a wine apart. Made from fruit drawn from the family vineyards, it’s aged for twenty years in American oak and allowed slowly to oxidise thus developing an extraordinary depth and intensity of flavour. It’s rich and powerful in the mouth with a long, complex dry finish.