With holiday thoughts looming, this week James Viner praises Spanish Sherry.
Sherry is a fortified wine originating from the region around the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, in southwestern Spain – a region of drought and scorching heat. It’s a drink for all seasons, running the gamut from dry to sweet, and one of the best gourmet wines on the planet.
It starts out as a light wine but is then fortified with the addition of a neutral grape alcohol of around 15-17%. The wines are aged in the famous “solera” system, a fractional blending system using a network of tiered barrels to mature and blend simultaneously, maintaining both consistency and excellence.
This summer, awaken your senses with four stunning, custom-designed gourmet bottles to quench your thirst on sweltering days. These very dry sherries are made from the Palomino Fino grape, supposedly named after one of King Alfonso X’s knights. Remember the old Andalusian adage: fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies and oloroso if it works. Buy the freshest, youngest bottlings of low-acid, mostly non-fruity, summery, dry fino and manzanilla and serve them chilled in a regular stemmed white wine glass with a generous bowl (not in thimbles !).
If it’s a real scorcher, follow the insiders and unwind with a Rebujito, the classic Andalusian aperitif and darling of Spanish open-air festivals (ferias). I make mine with one part fino/manzanilla to one part lemonade/sparkling water, with lots of ice and a garnish of lemon/lime wheels, plus a sprig of mint. Or you can just try these classics…
1) A very delicate and very dry sherry from a historic company in the humid Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the Spanish capital of gastronomy for 2022, at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir
Hidalgo-La Gitana Manzanilla NV Sherry (£8, Tesco & Sainsbury’s, 50cl; 15%)
Pleasantly cheap, crisp, salty, tangy, elegant, marine, heady, floral manzanilla (the Spanish word for “chamomile”) with a hint of hazelnut, yeast, brine, iodine and almond skin on the lingering finish. Swap it happily for white wine at the table. An exquisite invigorating aperitif. Hello salted almonds, smoked salmon, mackerel, sushi, sashimi, raw oysters, pasta alle vongole, olives and tapas. I will be serving it with grilled sea bass from Sankey’s with saffron aioli later this 26e National BBQ Week. Serve chilled at around 7-9°C. Very dry stuff (residual sugar is only 0.03 g/l!). No wonder manzanilla is the most consumed style of sherry in Spain. Opened bottles don’t last more than a day or two.
2) Wonderful fino from a single vineyard that spent about 10 years under a layer of yeast called flor
Valdespino Fino Inocente NV Sherry (£15.50, Lea & Sandeman, 75cl; £8.95, The Wine Society, 37.5cl; 15%)
This magnificent fino (Macharnudo) from a single vineyard, dry, complex and rich in umami comes from wines fermented in American oak barrels of 600 liters and aged for approximately 10 years. The flavors are an Aladdin’s cave of endless delights; sea salt, green apples, toasted yeast and almonds and herbs bouncing on top of each other. It has tremendous finesse, line, length and balance. Every inch of it looks classic. A fine dry wine partner at the table, it effortlessly passes the test of the second glass! Enjoy it with Marcona almonds, fish and chips, Pan con Tomate with garlic, tortilla, young Manchego, Mojama and Iberian ham. Swap the dry vermouth for this fino in your next Martini! Like most white wines, try to drink an open bottle within two to three days.
3) A cult, highly sought-after raw and lively fino, bottled March 23 from a selection of 96 casks with minimal filtration
González Byass, Tio Pepe ‘En Rama’ Fino NV Sherry, 2022 bottling (£15.50, The Wine Society & Lea & Sandeman, 75cl; 15%)
This is the 13th annual issue of the cult limited release ‘en rama’ (‘from the branch’) Tio Pepe fino produced from ‘biologically’ aged wine pulled from the cask when the oxygen-loving ‘flor’ film – the eerie white foamy protective bread-like carpet of Jerez, which insulates the sherry from the air – is most abundant. One for aficionados who crave a palate-cleansing, savory, low-filtered fino that tastes more natural, pure, salty, fresh and as close to that of the producer’s cask in the spring. Think apple skin, hay, toasted almonds, fresh sourdough, yeast, salt and lemon zest, plus a hint of Marmite. Try it with Esqueixada, Gazpacho/Salmorejo or a bowl of green olives. Serve chilled (10°C) rather than chilled. Huge character.
4) An aromatically refined, rich yet dry, rare and full-bodied treat for the connoisseur
Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado NV Sherry (£28.95-£40.90, NDJohn, NobleGreen, WoodWinters, Hedonism, 50cl; 20%)
Palo cortado is a fairly rare kind of sherry that started life in the cellar as a fino, but at some point gave up its flower prematurely to age oxidatively. It combines the finesse and delicacy of an Amontillado with the richness and body of an Oloroso (and aged “oxidatively”, without flower). Indulge yourself with this delicious refined, aged, concentrated, amber colored and satiny example with its endless layers of smoky dried fruits, spices, creme brulee, orange marmalade, toasted hazelnuts, burnt toast and mandarin zest. Its length and finish are truly exceptional. Quite ridiculously priced for a sherry of this age – it is over thirty years old on average. Aged Manchego, meaty curries, Iberian charcuterie and Dukkah are unmissable. Serve around 12-14°C. It will keep well for four weeks once opened, so enjoy it as a gloom lifter on a cloudy summer day.