In praise of sherrySuper-chilled Fino in Jerez
I'll admit that had you asked me 10 years ago, I would never have considered this even a remote possibility. Memories of my grandmother drinking Harvey's Bristol Cream at Christmas may have had something to do with it. What I am sure has more to do with it however, is the hideous contempt that British bars, pubs and restaurants seem to have for this delightful drink.
In Jerez, in the very south of Spain, you'll find people of all ages enjoying fresh and super-chilled Fino or Manzanilla but ask for even the most famous brand, such as Tio Pepe, in a bar in the UK and you'll find them dusting off a half open bottle, most likely sitting on a warm shelf, perhaps with the added element of a bright light shining directly onto it. This is NOT the way to enjoy sherry. Many people think that because sherry is a fortified wine that it will last forever. As if somehow the hard liquor with which they fortify it means it will never go off. (Even a single malt whisky ought to be drunk within a few months. Alcohol evaporates and flavours will diffuse.).
All wines are not created equal, and not all are meant to improve with bottle age. The very specific type of cork you'll find in your bottle of sherry is a clue to the fact that it's meant to be enjoyed young and fresh. Although you can keep a bottle open in the fridge for up to a week, after that it will lose freshness and vibrancy. So that dusty bottle on your local bar's shelf? Avoid like the plague.
But DO go ahead and taste some sherry.
For the Wine of the Week this week, I selected Solear Manzanilla because it comes in an easy 50cl screw top format, and can easiliy be polished off as an aperitif for 4 (or 2 very thirsty drinkers) in one night, allowing you to enjoy it at its best. I hope that some of you purchased it at around £5.89 from Waitrose and gave it a go.
So what's this Solear actually like?
Just be careful of ordering a Manzanilla in northern Spain where they're less likely to pour you a glass of sherry and more likely to serve you a herbal tea!
Tell me more about sherry...Tio Pepe (Fino), Alfonso Dry Oloroso, Croft Original Pale Cream Sherry, Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce as sampled at the Bodega Tio Pepe in Jerez, September 2012
My personal favourite is probably the Fino style. I'll drink it instead of a glass of champagne as an aperitif before a meal in a fancy restaurant (there's a chance they may be storing it correctly and turning enough over for it to be fresh). In common with champagne, it has very dry with biscuity flavours. Of course, it's not fizzy, but instead you'll find it at least half the price of the fizz, crisp and yeasty with a freshness that belies the fact it's a blend of wines from a solera system and a minimum of 3 years old. Manzanilla is an even more delicate version, while Amontillado and Oloroso are types of richer, darker sherry with more oxidative flavours of toffee and caramel, despite also being dry. Sweeter styles of these wines are also available, made by adding some PX. If you like tawny port, you'll probably like these.
And, you'll still find Croft Original and Harvey's Bristol Cream out there. If you like a sweet wine, then why not? These are Fino style sherries which have been sweetened with a kind of concentrated grape juice.
So raise a copita, and drink to your expanding knowledge and tastes! Cheers!