If you’re the average wine drinker, what do you do when you receive a bottle you’re unfamiliar with? I would imagine that if you’re reading Catavino right now, you most likely peruse the Internet to get the most current and accurate information possible, but I fear you’re in the minority.
Let’s pose an example of what your average wine drinker might do with an unfamiliar bottle or style of wine. Let’s assume that your cousin was just given a bottle of sherry for the holidays, and being your everyday wine guy, he looks at it quizzically and assumes it to be a bottle of liquor. As he’s about to put it alongside his bottle of whiskey in the liquor cabinet, his wife pulls out her favorite wine and food resource guide, “1995 Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion: Comprehensive definitions of over 4,000 food, wine and culinary terms”, and reads the following:
A fortified wine originally made in and around the town of Jerez in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. It’s now also made in the United States and other parts of the world such as Australia and South Africa. As with many wines, sherries range from connoisseur quality to inexpensive mass-produced versions. The Spanish are the acknowledged experts, using he solera system of topping off older wines with the more recently made sherry. Thus there are no vintage sherries and the quality is consistent year after year. Sherries range in color, flavor and sweetness. Fino are dry and light, while Manzanillas are very dry, delicate finos with a hint of saltiness. Considered a medium sherry, the nutty-flavored Amontillados are sweeter, softer and darker in color than finos. They’re sometimes labeled milk sherry. The sweet olorosos are fuller flavored and darker than dry or medium sherries. They are usually aged longer and are also more expensive. Olorosos are often labeled cream or golden sherries. Sherries can be drunk as an aperitif or after dinner. Dry sherries are usually drunk chilled, sweet sherries at room temperature.
“Well”, he says eyeing the bottle, “It’s from Jerez, huh. I wonder where that is? It says it’s a Fino, making it a lighter wine than an Amontillado – whatever that is. Well honey, let’s save it for Christmas and drink it before dinner! Maybe we can have it with your artichoke dip or coleslaw and carrot dish.”
Yipes! If this is the norm, and the majority of people obtain their info from outdated wine/food books, get prepared to be greeted at your cousin’s house with a warm glass of Fino well past its prime served in a cocktail glass. This is not what Catavino wants you to experience!
So, let’s start with the obvious mistake in Barron’s definition: sherry is ONLY made in Jerez and its surrounding areas. Sherry like wines are made in other parts of the world, but they are not sherry. It’s a matter of branding my friend. Champagne is champagne, port is port and sherry is sherry, one can’t take the name and use it internationally. Additionally, although vintage sherries are not the norm, they do exist, as we have recently tasted the Anada 1990 Oloroso from Lustau.
So where else have we found grand errors in serving Sherry Wine?
Top Five Mistakes in Serving Sherry
1. Sherry Should Only be Served in a Traditional Sherry Glass
Please don’t do this! This traditional glass is used all over Spain, and it does absolutely nothing for the wine. Not only is the circumference of the rim too small allow your nose inside the glass, but it does absolutely nothing for the bouquet. Do yourself a favor and either use a simple tulip shaped white wine glass or go all out and purchase a Reidel sherry glass. From our experience, simplicity is key. So don’t think you need to strike the Spanish guitar music, practice your flamenco or drink from a traditional sherry glass. Although a fun experience, remember that you’re drinking a glass of wine, not an ancient Spanish potion.
2. Sherry Should be Served as An Aperitif or an After Dinner Dessert Wine
Sherry can be drunk for breakfast, lunch, on a picnic, in bed, over strawberries, in a soup, with or without food, and wherever else your imagination takes you. Sherry is versatile and can be served a thousand different ways; however depending on the style, I would suggest you pair food accordingly.
For example, try a fresh glass of Fino or Manzanilla with olives, salted nuts, cured hams or cheeses, gazpacho or seafood. They are also particularly good with salads such as a Greek, Mixed or a pasta salad with a touch of olive oil and vinegar. Push the boundaries even further and pair them with traditionally difficult foods such as artichokes and asparagus.
Amontillado is a great wine with soups, oily fish and semi-cured cheeses like Manchego or even Irish Cheddar. Serve it with an omelette, pate or even a creamy mushroom dip.
The deep pungent aromas and flavors of an oloroso is fantastic with ribs, game, red meat, well aged cheeses or even foie gras. Take a bottle of PX and pour it lovingly over a big bowl vanilla ice cream or drink it alone as its own dessert. Cream sherry is best for pastries, melon and fresh homemade pie.
3. Sherry Should Only be Served at an Exact Temperature
Although the Denominacion de Origen of Jerez suggests that you drink each style at a particular temperature (as exemplified below), this should not be the deal breaker. If you can get close to that range, fantastic, but if you simply chill it down to a temperature you enjoy, that’s equally good. What is most important, is your understanding that the bouquet and flavor of the wine is dramatically affected by temperature, even by a few degrees. Our suggestion, therefore, is to experiment with the temperature to find what works best for you. What I would suggest, especially for Fino and Manzanilla, is to keep an ice bucket close at hand while serving it.
Fino/Manzanilla: 7-9 ÂºC
Pale Cream: 9 ÂºC
Medium: 10 ÂºC
Cream: 12 ÂºC or on the rocks
Dry Amontillado/ Oloroso: 13 ÂºC
Pedro Ximenez: 13 – 14 ÂºC
4. You Can’t Tell if a Bottle of Sherry is Fresh
I will agree with you that it can be difficult to determine whether it is a fresh bottle, but for a handful of sherry wines, there is a method to the madness. Always look for the Lot code on the back label, telling you when the sherry was bottled. Although several Bodegas have their own individualized system, there is a standard system you can follow: L1364 = ‘L’ signifies the lot code. The first number stands for the year, and the last three letters stand for the day. Hence L1264 is December, 31st 2001. If this doesn’t work, find a reputable wine retailer who is familiar with sherry. This is a enormous benefit to you, as a knowledgeable retailer will not only stock fresh sherry, but will also obtain it from a reputable distributor who will get it through his warehouse as quickly as possible.
Remember that freshness is key for sherry. Drinking an old Fino or Manzanilla will not enhance your experience, but quite frankly, ruin it. And although we realize that it is difficult to determine the age of the wine, we ask that you generally try to hit the times provided below.
- Fino/Manzanilla: Consumed no more than 12-18 months after bottle date and no more than 1 week after opening.
- Amontillado/medium: Consumed no more than 18-36 months after bottle date and no more than 2-3 weeks after opened.
- Oloroso/Cream: Consumed no more than 24-36 months after bottle date and 4-6 weeks after opened.
- Pedro Ximenez: Consumed no more than 24-48 months after bottle date and 1-2 months after opened.
5. Sherry Should be Stored Lying Down
Granted, although we have been hounding you that Sherry is a wine, it should not be stored on its side. Because it is a higher alcohol wine, the alcohol tends to break down the cork, whereby increasing the area of wine surface exposed to oxidation.
Sherry Should Only be Drunk with my Grandmother
As much as we highly suggest you pouring your dear grandmother a glass of sherry tonight, while chatting over old times, we also suggest you serving it with a group of friends that will experiment with you. Find those friends that love to chat about wine, pair it with food, or simply enjoy new experiences.
For the sake of experiences, here is a fun recipe you can try with your next sherry tasting!
Recipe: Melon Cocktail
1 ripe melon
1 glass brady de jerez
2 glasses sweet oloroso
5-6 teaspoons sugar
400 gr moscatel grapes
Cut the melon into balls with a special scoop or spoon and place in a dish. Reserve the melon juice, sieving it to get rid of any pips. Peel the grapes and add them to the dish. Add the sugar (adjusting the quantity according to taste). Sprinkle the brady de Jerez, oloroso sherry and melon juice over the top, cover the dish and chill in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours. Serve very cold, either in the same dish or in individual glasses. A handful of sultanas and chopped walnuts make a good addition.