We tend to be homebodies on December 31st. We watch some basketball and some football -- and then settle in to making a big ol’ feed to pair with wines we haven't tried before. This year, we decided we'd try some sherries.
Sherry -- the name evokes images of deep shag carpet, wide lapels, ruffled blouses, and key parties. The quintessential 70's drink, every household was required by law to have at least one bottle of cream sherry on hand for highballs and nightcaps. Alternatively, there's usually a bottle of cooking sherry in any well stocked pantry. After our pleasant sojourns with Spanish wine, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try the native Iberian drink.
What is sherry, anyway?
|Preventing Fortunado from|
driving drunk on New Years.
Sherry is fascinating because of the method of production. Most winemakers do everything they can to keep their wine from air while fermenting. Sherry is an oxidized wine -- the winemakers fill the casks only halfway -- and then put the bung (translation: "big ass stopper which closes a cask") in loosely, so air can circulate during fermentation. While in the barrel, as much as 5% of the wine evaporates. As any veteran of a distillery tour can tell you, this is what's called "The Angel's Share." (which also happens to be a Ted Leo song title)
There's also what they call the "Solera System" of aging, by which an aged cask may be drained of as much of a third of its contents, and then young wine, made in the same style, is added to refill the cask, thus "refreshing the mother wine."
There are five basic types of sherry: Fino and Manzanilla are dry. Amontillado is aged for eight years and is dry to medium dry. Oloroso is also a medium dry sherry. Cream sherry is sweet. Fino and Manzanilla are made to be served well chilled. The others can be chilled slightly. (Also, Cream sherry is often poured over vanilla ice cream.)
Truth be told, it was the Amontillado that gave birth to this idea. As a recovering English major, Edgar Allan Poe, The Bard of Baltimore, was a favorite of mine. One of his signature short stories was "The Cask of Amontillado." (If you'd like to read it, go here for the full text. You can get through it in 10 minutes or less.)
Sherry is traditionally served in
We were…shall we say…surprised at what we found.
The first bottle we tried was Osborne Pale Dry Fino. The label doesn't lie -- this is a very light-colored wine. This sherry actually had a very nice nose -- a nice scent of almond oil. The taste was very neutral and dry. There wasn't a lot of flavor to it -- just a neutral alcohol taste that wasn't too strong. I realized why dry sherry and tapas go together so well. This type of sherry would be an excellent palate cleanser. It cut right through the oil of the salmon, and if it could do that, it would do the same with just about anything else. You could easily switch from food to food without a problem. In addition, the high alcohol content would make for a good start to any evening. This was, by far, the most drinkable of the sherries that we had. I could actually see pouring a glass of this with food. A bottle goes for about $10.
We bowled up the chowder and poured the Savory & James Deluxe Pale Dry Manzanilla.
Again, the sherry was very pale in color. The taste and bouquet were somewhat similar to the Fino, although it seemed slightly "wetter." It reminded me a bit of sake. If you like sake, I would imagine that you could pair this up with a plateful of sushi and you'd be OK. Otherwise, well…not so much. We did a side by side with the Fino, and the Fino was markedly more tasty. However, the chowder lacked something after a few bites, so I poured in a few splashes of the Manzanilla. What a difference! The soup took on a new, tastier character with a little Manzanilla added. However, for my $10, I could buy three bottles of cooking sherry.
We read that the Amontillado was better served with slightly heavier foods, so we had it with the semi-chetta. After being a little disappointed with the first two sherries, I was ready for an upswing. I wanted to know why poor Fortunado was tempted to his death by a cask of the stuff. We poured some Pedro Romero Amontillado. This wine was much darker than the other two. Since both Amontillado and Oloroso are aged longer, the tannins in the barrels impart a darker color. There was also a more pronounced bouquet -- reminding me very much of
From what I've read, Amontillado is supposed to be "darker and softer" than fino. I guess that's true -- in the same way that death by billy club is softer and darker than a strike through the heart with a rapier. This was about a $12 bottle. In the spirit of full disclosure, most wines that I don't care for end up as cooking wine. The number of bottles I’ve dumped can be counted on one hand. This Amontillado made the list. Perhaps I don't have the correct palate for it, but this was simply horrid.
I admit -- I'm a Sherry newbie. I don't know "good" sherry from "bad" -- and if any of you out there can give me better ideas, I'm open to suggestion. I don't know if I made poor choices or if I just don't know how to properly appreciate the stuff. However, with so much delicious Spanish tempranillo, albarino, and the like -- I don't see putting more money into the Sherry region anytime soon.
Oh, and don't worry about us going dry on New Year’s. Since the Sherry Experiment didn't work out -- we pulled some tasty selections from the cellar to more properly celebrate.
And no one got shackled to a wall.
Auld Lang Syne!