Fortify yourself

Sherry is shedding its old image in favour of being the perfect tapas wine, year round

This column was first published in Your Weekend magazine in The Dominion Post, The Christchurch Press and The Waikato Times on Saturday 19 July 2014.

On the scale of top things to do this winter, drinking sherry probably rates somewhere between a 5am boot camp and a winter dip in the ocean.
If you are a gluten for punishment, it is par for the course. Otherwise, it is a no-go.
Sherry comes from Spain’s hottest wine area, Jerez, and two nearby cities, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria. The Oxford Companion to Wine cleverly points out that there is an inverse relationship between the climate in which sherry is made and the ideal climate in which to drink it. High alcohol wines are rarely the tipple of a summer’s day, but sherry suffers another ill fate too; its image. Harvey’s Bristol Cream and maiden aunts will forever be inextricably linked, but there is more to sherry than this.
Pale fino and manzanilla sherries are cool, crisp and refreshing on steamy days and darker styles suit chilly climates beautifully. Like all fortified wines, sherry originally had alcohol added to stop it from oxidising. The English were enthusiastic consumers of ‘sherris’ in the 1490s and the North Americans were by the late 1500s after Christopher Columbus discovered America. The addition of a neutral spirit stabilised sherry from bacterial spoilage, enabling it to travel long distances and remain fresh on arrival. It hit the spot with wine drinkers in those days. But what relevance do high alcohol wines have today?
If anything, their 15% to 22% alcohol content seems out of step with the current trend to low alcohol wines. Even the lightest sherries, fino and manzanilla, contain 15% ABV. The key is in the drinking. Sherry is not intended to be consumed in large quantities. The Spanish serve it in a copita; a small, slender glass with a narrow rim to ensure the drinker gets the full spectrum of aromas, without consuming vast amounts. Sherry gains its style in two ways. Amontillado, oloroso and PX are exposed to oxygen to encourage a walnut-brown colour and spicy taste. Fino and manzanilla are protected from oxygen under a thick layer of white waxy looking molecules called flor yeast. Flor feeds off the air above the wine and the nutrients below it, producing a salty tang. Flor reduces glycerol in the wine too, making it feel light in the mouth, even at 15% alcohol. Today’s sherry producers are bottling wines en rama (unfiltered) and with extra aging (VOS and VORS) to show they are shedding their old image in favour of a funky new one. Salud!

5 ways to enjoy sherry

  • In a copita or a small glass tapered towards the top;
  • With chocolate; PX sherry is sublime with all things chocolatey
  • Lightly chilled; 30 minutes in the fridge is ideal;
  • With green olives, calamari or any salty snack; break out the fino and manzanilla.
  • Year round; there is a sherry for every season.

Wines of the week

Shoestring sensation

2013 Wise Owl Ruffled Merlot $9.99 to $13.99
The first reds from 2013 are fleshy, exotic fruity creatures, such as this velvet smooth merlot. From New World supermarkets.

Del Duque Amontillado VORS $62 (375ml)
Bring on the almonds, sautéed in rock salt and spicy paprika; they taste divine with lightly chilled, complex, nutty amontillado; this VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum) is a blend of 20 to 30 year old sherries. From Regional Wines, Wellington; Vino Fino, Christchurch and Hamilton Wine Company.

Powerful palomino

Tio Pepe Palomino $44, (750ml)

This sherry’s dry, salty tang matches green olives and spicy chicken dishes. Widely available at specialist stores.

PX perfection

Lustau Pedro Ximenez San Emilio $34.99, (375ml)
If salted caramels are your thing, here is their perfect liquid partner. It’s treacly texture, brown sugar aromas and cinnamon flavours are also divine with warm gingerbread. From Glengarry’s and specialist wine stores.

Reaching for the stars

Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado $75 (500ml)
This high priced sherry style was made with grapes from Montilla Moriles; outside the sherry zone. It smells and tastes of fresh walnuts, golden syrup and vanilla, thanks to containing sun-dried grapes. From Regional Wines, Wellington; Decant, Christchurch and Hamilton Wine Company or St Vincent’s Cave, phone (09) 550 6908.