Did your mom have a bottle of “cooking sherry” at hand for special meals? Yes, mine too. Edgier and slightly boozier than just wine – since it is a wine “fortified” with a little grape brandy – but not as daring as brandy or other hard liquors, sherry seemed like the perfect, Goldilocks’ choice when cooking for company. It took her years to work through that bottle; I tasted it once, as a teen, and decided I would never have a college drinking problem.
But just like rosé – another victim of ‘80s and ‘90s moms and their questionable habits – there is a world of sherry beyond what our parents drank. And with International Sherry Week landing on November 2-8 in 35 cities around the world (including Washington, D.C.), there is no excuse not to explore the vast range of this fabulous Spanish fortified wine.
In fairness, once I realized there are nearly a dozen different sherry styles – all of which (by law) must originate in the Jerez de la Frontera region of Spain – I felt a little overwhelmed. So I turned to Chantal Tseng, a Consejo Regulador-certified sherry educator, Washington cocktail bar legend and U.S. Sherry Week Ambassador, and Julio Robledo, co-founder of specialty wine shop Grand Cata.
“The first time I tasted dry sherry, I didn’t like it,” Tseng confesses. “But think about how you came to like the things you do. In my early days, for example, I loved super fruity pinots. Now, I like my wines lighter and more mineral-driven.”
Robledo adds, “Fino and manzanilla are the driest wines on earth. There are no drier wines that you’ll find on the market.”
Here are few other things I learned from speaking with Robledo and Tseng:
- Drink sherry like you do wine. Skip the funny little “sherry glass,” give yourself a proper pour, and have it with dinner.
- Use it in cocktails. Don’t give up on a sherry you don’t enjoy straight – those sometimes make the best cocktails.
- Fino is the driest of the sherries: crisp, bright and savory. Serve it chilled and try pairing it with fattier dishes – tapas, Spanish ham or anything fried.
- Manzanilla is similar to fino, but with a touch of the sea and a slightly bitter finish. Try pairing it with sushi or any other seafood.
- Amontillado is aged longer than a fino. While still dry, this range of darker sherries will have flavor notes of nuts and caramel. Pair with chicken, or earthier flavors like mushrooms.
- Oloroso sherry undergoes a different aging process (Google “sherry flor” if you want to get technical), which results in just a touch of fragrant sweetness and a fuller-bodied beverage. Pour this with any kind of red meat, as well as pungent cheeses.
- Cream sherry has no dairy. It supposedly got its name after a taster compared it with dry sherry and declared, “If that is milk, then this is cream.” Dark, sweet and rich, this is the perfect dessert beverage. Pair with a cheese tray or pour over ice cream.
- With a little knowledge in hand, I think I’m ready to tackle International Sherry Week, which will be online this year but with lots of opportunities to engage locally. Tseng will host a virtual sherry cocktail master class on November 7, and participants can preorder all the necessary ingredients as a package from Grand Cata.
Check out her Agatha Christie + Sherry Club on November 8 in partnership with Silver Spring’s Loyalty Bookstore. Estadio will host a livestreamed, hour-long sherry pairing dinner. The three-course meal and paired sherries will be available for preorder to take away. And each day of Sherry Week will feature a virtual happy hour, so anyone can log on and raise a toast.
The upside to pandemic events is that you can join seminars and festivities hosted around the world: visit the International Sherry Week website to learn how you can party online to your heart’s content.
Now that you know what sherry can do, are you ready to make cocktails? Be inspired by summer partiers in Spain and drink rebujitos (one part fino sherry and two parts lemon-lime soda, garnished with a sprig of mint). Or recreate one of the earliest recorded cocktails, the Sherry Cobbler, immortalized by Charles Dickens in “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”
3 1/2 ounces amontillado sherry
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
Ice cubes (for shaker)
Crushed ice (for serving)
Lemon slices, berries + mint
Mix the orange juice + syrup in a cocktail shaker.
Add sherry + ice cubes, shake vigorously.
Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice.
Garnish with lemon slices, berries + mint.
Serve with a biodegradable straw.
Sherry Week runs from November 2-8. For a full list of events, go to www.sherry.wine/sherryweek and follow @sherrywinesjerez on Instagram. Learn more about Tseng’s Agatha Christe + Sherry Club event on November 8 at www.loyaltybookstores.com/christie17 and follow her on Instagram @shinobipaws. Check out Grand Cata at www.grandcata.com and @grandcata on Instagram.
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