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The Fear of Sherry

UniFears take on many forms. They can come from negative experiences we’ve had in the past, or they can simply come from the unknown, an unfamiliar experience.

Several years ago, my fear of the unknown was severely challenged one late Saturday evening while waiting tables in an upscale sushi restaurant. As night turned the corner to early morning, a few tables scattered about with half-drunk customers waiting for yet another bottle of sake, a customer casually inquired if I had ever tried uni. I promptly replied that, no, I hadn’t and wasn’t looking forward to trying it anytime in the near future.

John, having been a regular customer of mine for over a few months, looked at me and brazenly said, “but you taught me to always try things even though I may not like it. You’re the reason why I’m eating sushi in the first place and now you tell me that you haven’t even tried it after suggesting it to me?!”

I was caught. No matter what lame excuse I came up with to get myself out of this situation would make me sound like a hypocrite, which I was, because the last thing I craved that night was to challenge my taste buds. I wanted him to challenge me to a martini contest, sake or rare Japanese teas, anything other than uni! “Okay, I’ll do it”, I said with a forced grin.

Walking away muttering incoherent frustrations, John’s voice rattled over my shoulder, “…and put a raw quail on it for both of us. I heard that it really enhances the flavor…wait, you told me that!” Yeah, I know I told you that, because I heard it from the sushi chef, but that didn’t mean I wanted to actually follow his advice.

Uni are the ovaries of a sea urchin placed on a bed of rice wrapped in seaweed. I had served them for well over a year now and couldn’t bring myself to try them. They’re orange, slimy and smell more putrid than you could ever imagine. I innately hated these things due to their aroma and appearance. The Japanese staff, however, swore by them, claiming that they would make my hair silkier and my skin glow. Albeit a nice image, it wasn’t one that I wasn’t to test.

Walking back to the table watching the Uni wiggle from side to side within their seaweed encasement, I placed the koi shaped porcelain plate down with a ‘plunk’. “There…your sushi sir.” John picked up his piece and smiled, “bottoms up!” “Yeah”, I responded, “bottoms up”. As I bit into the egg yolk of the raw quail egg, eventually breaking the skin of the sea urchin, a strange salty and creamy mixture began to circulate in my mouth. At first, I recoiled, thinking that I wanted to spit it out, but then something pleasant happened. The rice began to absorb the salty water from inside the uni, leaving only a savory flavor behind. What remained was creamy, exotic and delicious.

“Wow, I really like it!”

Although John couldn’t stomach it and made a bee line to the restroom, that night made a considerable impression on me. Appearance and preconceived notions of what you think something “will be” won’t nurture adventure. It will only nurture more hesitation and fear.

Cold Tio Pepe

The ridiculous logic I applied to Uni was exactly what I applied to Sherry over the years. Each time I tried it, I placed it in the “highly alcoholic and good for Ryan” category. I didn’t try to learn about it, nor did I experiment with it. I sipped it, smiled and thought it would be better as paint stripper than a civilized drink.

Was I scared of Sherry? Not in the same way that I was viscerally afraid of Uni, but I was hesitant and allowed myself to remain ignorant. I didn’t want to learn, because it not only took too much effort to understand the wide variety of flavors and styles sherry encompasses, but it also required me to let down my guard.

Allow me to preface this by saying that to live with Ryan one must try something new. From boiling cow tongues to fried pig’s ears, I’ve covered the gamut, but sherry is different. When tasting a flight of Sherries ranging from a 30 year old Pedro Ximenez to a fresh young Fino, is like comparing a bike to a jet. Yeah, they both move, but they have nothing in common. To taste Fino and be offered an Amontillado will not guarantee you the chance to either compare them to one another, nor to a style you’ve had in the past. You simply can’t fall back on hubris. They are so different, so unique and so completely of their own style, comparing them only made me yearn for something familiar.

Fear can be wonderful, guarding us from potential danger, but it can also keep us from exploring something new, different, interesting, pushing our boundaries to incorporate a fresh idea, flavor or smell. I understand that we want to come home on a Friday and pop open a bottle of Syrah, savoring in its warm familiarity, but if let ourselves be dazzled and excited by a new sensation, life gets interesting!

My suggestion to you is to go out to your favorite wine shop and request a bottle of fresh fino (less than year old after bottling), a bottle of amontillado and an oloroso. Go home and put all three bottles into the fridge, allowing them to chill to approximately 9 degrees Celcius. Then go pick up a pen and paper, sit down in a comfortable chair and ask yourself, “what are my assumptions about sherry?” This may seem a bit drastic of a practice, but we all hold prejudices. Every single one of us walks into a situation and makes assumptions of what we’ll experience. You may find yourself a bit amazed that you expect it to taste like port, be overly sweet, too oxidized, something reserved for old biddies who savor it would their bridge game. Notice what comes to mind before you open all three bottles. Then, after you pour each of sherry wine into a white wine glass, or sherry glass, take inventory again. Finally, take a sip. What were your preconceived notions of what sherry would taste like accurate or did you simply fear the unknown?

Facing your fears, your assumptions and your prejudices takes courage, a lot of courage. I encourage you to not let you preconceived notions stop you from experiencing a new sensation. And remember, your tastes change. Even if you tried sherry years ago, disliking the experience for one reason or another, don’t let that stop you from trying again and again.

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

  • Jeff Cleveland

    Beautiful writing. I'm a fan of Sherry but your writing was so compelling, I want some right NOW!!!

  • Gabriella

    Jeff, I double dog dare you to go get some and tell us about it…actually, I TRIPLE dog dare you!

  • Jeff Cleveland

    Beautiful writing. I’m a fan of Sherry but your writing was so compelling, I want some right NOW!!!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Jeff, I double dog dare you to go get some and tell us about it…actually, I TRIPLE dog dare you!

  • Jeff Cleveland

    I cannot back down from the TRIPLE dog dare!!! It might be one or two days, but mark my words…you WILL get my tasting note!!!!!

  • Jack

    Very good article, Gabriella! Two things: Perhaps you can tell me how to identity a bottle that is fresh, less than 9 months old…? (Yeah, this is the problem…particularly on the West Coast, where many wines take an extra 4-6 months to get here (i.e., East Coast gets it in April, West Coast gets it in October). Fear of Food is Such a Big Thing in the U.S. It's funny how the food that people should fear is the food most of them eat regularly. Wait, I meant sad, not funny.

  • Jeff Cleveland

    Jack, Here's some info on how to decipher freshness from Winecast.net: To decode the bottling date, look on the back label for a code which starts with “L” and has a series of numbers. There are a couple of variations with either the bottling date and year in 2 digits at the end or the year in one digit at the beginning followed by the bottling date. Here are a couple examples: * Osborne: L18406 = bottled in 2006 on the 184th day, or July 3rd. * Emilio Lustau: L5165 = bottled in 2005 on the 165th day, or June 14th.

  • http://www.ForkandBottle.com Jack

    Very good article, Gabriella!

    Two things: Perhaps you can tell me how to identity a bottle that is fresh, less than 9 months old…? (Yeah, this is the problem…particularly on the West Coast, where many wines take an extra 4-6 months to get here (i.e., East Coast gets it in April, West Coast gets it in October).

    Fear of Food is Such a Big Thing in the U.S.
    It’s funny how the food that people should fear is the food most of them eat regularly.
    Wait, I meant sad, not funny.

  • Jeff Cleveland

    Jack,

    Here’s some info on how to decipher freshness from Winecast.net:

    To decode the bottling date, look on the back label for a code which starts with “L” and has a series of numbers. There are a couple of variations with either the bottling date and year in 2 digits at the end or the year in one digit at the beginning followed by the bottling date.

    Here are a couple examples:

    * Osborne: L18406 = bottled in 2006 on the 184th day, or July 3rd.
    * Emilio Lustau: L5165 = bottled in 2005 on the 165th day, or June 14th.

  • Tommy

    Great uni story. I actually just back from a camping trip along the North California coast with a bunch of friends. We did a lot of diving for abalone and uni, since I was the "new to uni guy" I got volunteered to clean the little urchins. Very messy job indeed but I have a new found respect for those tasty little buggers. I actually brought a bottle of Aurora Manzanilla from Pedro Romero with me, a perfect pair for uni fresh out of the sea. I wonder if you could use sherry or sherry vinegar as a substitute for rice wine vinegar when making your sushi rice and use that for your sushi. Now that sounds like it could be very cool. I'll let you guys know if it works.

  • Gabriella

    Thanks Jack for the compliment. And as to your comment, let's give a round of applause to Jeff. He is absolutely correct in his assessment of the bottling date. The DO is currently pushing wineries to put the bottling date on all bottles, but it appears as if many prefer expiration date, which is not only backwards but shooting yourself in the foot. If they put the bottling date on the bottle, both the customer and the retailer have more authority to determine if the bottle is still good. But if you put an expiration date on the bottle, like milk, people feel the need to avoid anything past that date. And according the EU, the expiration date only signifies that a particular characteristic inherent in the wine is lost, NOT necessarily that it is a bad bottle. However, IF the regulation does finally go through to place the bottling date on the bottle, dear god, put it in a straight forward fashion so that I don't need a secret decoder ring to read it! AND if you really want to effect your sales, make your distributor send information with the wine so that retailers know generally what the product is beyond "sherry" and how to sell it.

  • Gabriella

    Tommy that is hand's down one of the better stories I've heard in awhile! I see no reason why Fino or Manzanilla wouldn't taste equally fantastic with your sushi rice. The only difference being that Sushi vinegar has higher levels of both acidity and sugar, whereby creating a unique flavor, but that wouldn't stop me from trying! Please let us know how it turns out!

  • Ryan

    Some wineries have moved the the bottled on model but not in all markets. Tio Pepe here is now labeled with a bottled on date, but I would love to hear if it's made it to the states. Lustau does a similar code to the others: L6345 would be bottled on 2006, on the 345 day…so Since they are one of the biggest producers to export to the US, it's good to know this.

  • Tommy

    Great uni story. I actually just back from a camping trip along the North California coast with a bunch of friends. We did a lot of diving for abalone and uni, since I was the “new to uni guy” I got volunteered to clean the little urchins. Very messy job indeed but I have a new found respect for those tasty little buggers. I actually brought a bottle of Aurora Manzanilla from Pedro Romero with me, a perfect pair for uni fresh out of the sea. I wonder if you could use sherry or sherry vinegar as a substitute for rice wine vinegar when making your sushi rice and use that for your sushi. Now that sounds like it could be very cool. I’ll let you guys know if it works.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Thanks Jack for the compliment. And as to your comment, let’s give a round of applause to Jeff. He is absolutely correct in his assessment of the bottling date. The DO is currently pushing wineries to put the bottling date on all bottles, but it appears as if many prefer expiration date, which is not only backwards but shooting yourself in the foot. If they put the bottling date on the bottle, both the customer and the retailer have more authority to determine if the bottle is still good. But if you put an expiration date on the bottle, like milk, people feel the need to avoid anything past that date. And according the EU, the expiration date only signifies that a particular characteristic inherent in the wine is lost, NOT necessarily that it is a bad bottle.

    However, IF the regulation does finally go through to place the bottling date on the bottle, dear god, put it in a straight forward fashion so that I don’t need a secret decoder ring to read it! AND if you really want to effect your sales, make your distributor send information with the wine so that retailers know generally what the product is beyond “sherry” and how to sell it.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Tommy that is hand’s down one of the better stories I’ve heard in awhile! I see no reason why Fino or Manzanilla wouldn’t taste equally fantastic with your sushi rice. The only difference being that Sushi vinegar has higher levels of both acidity and sugar, whereby creating a unique flavor, but that wouldn’t stop me from trying! Please let us know how it turns out!

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Some wineries have moved the the bottled on model but not in all markets. Tio Pepe here is now labeled with a bottled on date, but I would love to hear if it’s made it to the states. Lustau does a similar code to the others: L6345 would be bottled on 2006, on the 345 day…so Since they are one of the biggest producers to export to the US, it’s good to know this.

  • RichardA

    Thanks Gabriella for an interesting, informative and well written post. I do recall seeing an actual bottling date on some Sherry bottles in the U.S., a month and year, though I do not recall the actual producer though it could be Tio Pepe. I will look again when I go to the local wine stores.

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    Thanks Gabriella for an interesting, informative and well written post. I do recall seeing an actual bottling date on some Sherry bottles in the U.S., a month and year, though I do not recall the actual producer though it could be Tio Pepe. I will look again when I go to the local wine stores.

  • RichardA

    I bought the Nov/Dec issue of Imbibe magazine yesterday as it had an article on Sherry called "Sherry on Top." It talks about the different types of Sherries and the market for sherries. There are tasting notes for 6 Sherries. Craig Camp of the Wine Camp blog is quoted a few times. One of the most interesting parts is that Sherry can be used to make cocktails, and they offer three examples. There was even a Sherries of Spain Cocktail Contest. Ever heard of that? Have you ever had sherry in a cocktail?

  • Gabriella

    Hey Richard, First, I wanted to thank you for your compliment. I enjoyed writing this article and it's nice when it shows through. As for your question on sherry as a cocktail, YES, we DO know about this. As a matter of fact, we were served Fino with 7up with a twist of lime on our last dinner with the DO. Not particularly my favorite combination, but interesting all the same. There was competition last Tuesday in Jerez for the best cocktail made with sherry. A few culinary and wine teachers from Denmark were in our class, and were hosting a competition with the DO for their culinary students to see which student could create the best sherry cocktail. I'll be sure to email them today to see if we can't get the results! Any of the examples given int he Imbibe article stand out to you?

  • RichardA

    The 2005 winner was the La Perla, which uses tequila reposado, manzanilla sherry and pear liquer. There was also the Bamboo, combining fino shery with dry vermouth and dash of orange bitters. And the Tuxedo, a martini with gin, fino sherry and dash of orange bitters. Personally, I might be more interested to see if vodka would mix well with sherry,

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    I bought the Nov/Dec issue of Imbibe magazine yesterday as it had an article on Sherry called “Sherry on Top.” It talks about the different types of Sherries and the market for sherries. There are tasting notes for 6 Sherries. Craig Camp of the Wine Camp blog is quoted a few times.

    One of the most interesting parts is that Sherry can be used to make cocktails, and they offer three examples. There was even a Sherries of Spain Cocktail Contest. Ever heard of that? Have you ever had sherry in a cocktail?

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Hey Richard,

    First, I wanted to thank you for your compliment. I enjoyed writing this article and it’s nice when it shows through.

    As for your question on sherry as a cocktail, YES, we DO know about this. As a matter of fact, we were served Fino with 7up with a twist of lime on our last dinner with the DO. Not particularly my favorite combination, but interesting all the same. There was competition last Tuesday in Jerez for the best cocktail made with sherry. A few culinary and wine teachers from Denmark were in our class, and were hosting a competition with the DO for their culinary students to see which student could create the best sherry cocktail. I’ll be sure to email them today to see if we can’t get the results!

    Any of the examples given int he Imbibe article stand out to you?

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    The 2005 winner was the La Perla, which uses tequila reposado, manzanilla sherry and pear liquer.

    There was also the Bamboo, combining fino shery with dry vermouth and dash of orange bitters. And the Tuxedo, a martini with gin, fino sherry and dash of orange bitters.

    Personally, I might be more interested to see if vodka would mix well with sherry,

  • Bill

    I had to mention that the latest issue (December) of Fine Cooking also had an article on Sherry, called "Discover Sherry". Maybe the blogosphere is getting the mainstream to jump on the bandwagon. How about Amontillado, cognac and cointreau with a spritz of lemon and seltzer? Ok, I just made that up. You've have to charge a lot for one of those!

  • Bill

    I had to mention that the latest issue (December) of Fine Cooking also had an article on Sherry, called “Discover Sherry”. Maybe the blogosphere is getting the mainstream to jump on the bandwagon.

    How about Amontillado, cognac and cointreau with a spritz of lemon and seltzer? Ok, I just made that up. You’ve have to charge a lot for one of those!

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  • Gene

    Just stumbled upon your website through this "Fear of Sherry" article. Great site, great article! Having only been introduced to Sherry recently, I'm enjoying this new journey. The last time I was in the Chicago area, we ate at a small New Orleans style cafe on 7th Street. The turtle soup was sherry based and when they served it, they splashed a little sherry on top. Now I know why the name of the cafe was Heaven on Seven. It was fabulous! I have a bottle of 1971 PX Gran Reserva I cant wait to open around the holidays. I've heard great things about it. Any secrets, suggestions, or cautions from you would be more than welcome. Thanks again for your web site, I'm sure I'll be back often.

  • Gene

    Just stumbled upon your website through this “Fear of Sherry” article. Great site, great article! Having only been introduced to Sherry recently, I’m enjoying this new journey.
    The last time I was in the Chicago area, we ate at a small New Orleans style cafe on 7th Street. The turtle soup was sherry based and when they served it, they splashed a little sherry on top. Now I know why the name of the cafe was Heaven on Seven. It was fabulous!
    I have a bottle of 1971 PX Gran Reserva I cant wait to open around the holidays. I’ve heard great things about it. Any secrets, suggestions, or cautions from you would be more than welcome.
    Thanks again for your web site, I’m sure I’ll be back often.

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  • Gabriella

    Gene, It's great to have you aboard! Welcome. Being from Chicago myself, I'm of course, elated that we have a sherry explorer from my old stomping grounds. As for suggestions, cautions or secrets with your PX Gran Reserva, enjoy it. One great lesson we learned while drinking sherry is that old sherries, like the one you have in hand, are unique and beautiful creatures. Their complexity and range of flavors are so ethereal that I might suggest you keep a log over the course of you drinking the bottle of every experience you come across. Why? Because it's fun, and a great way for you to unravel this beverage. I also highly suggest you experiment with food. Maybe put a touch in a reduction sauce, over a dessert, or just drink it alone with a range of different foods to see what your experience is like~! Overall, just enjoy :-) Oh, and tell us all about it!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Gene,

    It’s great to have you aboard! Welcome. Being from Chicago myself, I’m of course, elated that we have a sherry explorer from my old stomping grounds. As for suggestions, cautions or secrets with your PX Gran Reserva, enjoy it. One great lesson we learned while drinking sherry is that old sherries, like the one you have in hand, are unique and beautiful creatures. Their complexity and range of flavors are so ethereal that I might suggest you keep a log over the course of you drinking the bottle of every experience you come across. Why? Because it’s fun, and a great way for you to unravel this beverage. I also highly suggest you experiment with food. Maybe put a touch in a reduction sauce, over a dessert, or just drink it alone with a range of different foods to see what your experience is like~! Overall, just enjoy :-) Oh, and tell us all about it!!!!!!!!

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