Can Sherry be the “Next Big Thing” in wine? I know what you are thinking. Sherry? C’mon! That’ll never catch fire in a big way. And you may be right, but give me a chance to make my case before you close the door on the Sherry cabinet.
One of the things that Sue and I wanted to do during our recent visit to Spain was learn more about Sherry. But the itinerary seemed to work against that. No time to jet south to Jerez de la Frontera in Andaluca, Sherry’s home. We would have to piece together our education in other wine regions. With a little luck and some helpful friends, we managed quite well.
Stumbling on Sherry in Madrid
Madrid is a long way from Jerez, but we found Sherry all around us, suggesting just how much it is a part of Spanish culture. Walking the aisles of the historic San Miguel market near the Plaza Mayor, for example, we stumbled upon a market stall called The Sherry Corner where dozens of different wines were offered by the glass at bargain prices. We had fun trying new Sherry wines and revisiting old favorites.
The Sherry Corner offers a fun self-guided audio tour of Sherry wines. For €30 you get six glasses of different Sherries in a special carrier, coupons for six matching tapas from various market stalls, and an audio program available in six languages. It is quite a bargain when you do the math and it lets you both get to know the wines, experiment with pairings, and take advantage of the amazing tapas on offer at the market.
We found a completely different experience at the restaurant Zahara de Osborne in the Plaza Santa Ana, which was close by our hotel. The restaurant is owned by the Osborne wine group that is famous for its Sherry wines (you can see the Osborne bull staring down from hilltops all around Spain).
The idea of the restaurant was to bring the food and culture of Andaluca to Madrid. We challenged our waiter to create that experience for us and he did a great job choosing the dishes and helping us with pairings. Gosh, the Fino was delicious with a delicately fried whole fish!
Indigenous Sherry Culture
Not that Madrid does not have its own indigenous Sherry culture. There are Sherry bars in several parts of the city. Friends guided us to one called La Venencia, where the Sherry is served en rama, fresh and unfiltered, right from the barrel, which is a style I like a lot. My university colleague Harry uses La Venencia as his office when he is in Madrid (which is a lot) and he made introductions to José and Gabriel who worked the bar that day.
La Venencia has as much depth and character as the wines that are served there. If you have any pre-conceptions, you must check them at the door and accept the bar for what it is, which is true of Sherry wines, too. And then, well, it is a complete pleasure. Sherry really isn’t like anything else you will ever drink and La Venencia is just the same.
I have seldom been anywhere that was so totally itself and I will always associate that strong impression with the dry Manzanilla Sherry wines we enjoyed at La Venecia.
A Little Help from our Friends
We got a little help from friends at Osborne and Gonzalez Byass wineries in our quest to learn more about Sherry. Santiago Salinas arranged for a tasting of Rare Old Sherries when we visited Osborne’s Montecilla winery in Rioja. These were wines for philosophers and poets. It is stunning to discover what great Sherries can become with time. We were inspired by Santiago’s passion for the wines and, of course, by the wines themselves.
Our visit to Finca Constancia near Toledo was organized around a rather extravagant seminar and tasting of Gonzalez Byass wines ranging from their signature Fino, Tio Pepe, on to a special Tio Pepe en rama bottling, and then carefully and thoroughly all the way through the line-up to the sweet, concentrated Pedro Xeménez.
Marina Garcia, our guide on this Sherry tour, was not afraid to draw out the complexities of the wines, which is great. As I told my audience at the General Assembly, sometimes complicated things need to be understood in complicated ways. Our favorite? We discovered the Palo Cortado Sherry style and it made us think. I love it when a wine does that.
Sherry doesn’t have to complicated … or sweet either, for that matter, although many people put the wines in that category. A chilled bottle of very dry fino or Manzanilla is pretty pure pleasure and will change many minds. But you’ve got to try it yourself to be persuaded and that’s a challenge.
If you look at the fundamentals, it is easy to conclude that this could be Sherry’s moment. The wines are great and well-priced. They come in a range of styles that variously make great aperitifs, pair well with food, or help unleash that inner poet. Apparently Sherry works really well as a cocktail base, too. Gotta check that out.
Tourism in Spain is on the rise and Spain’s tapas culture cuisine, which matches up so well with dry Sherry, is increasingly popular. Sherry, as much as any wine I know, is a product of time and place, and wears its authenticity proudly. Authentic, affordable, food-friendly. Aren’t these the things that wine drinkers are looking for today?
Sherry’s burden is its reputation as that sweet old wine that grandma drinks. There is so much more to Sherry for those who pull the cork. If enough curious wine drinkers pull enough corks, perhaps Sherry’s “Next Big Thing” potential can be realized!
Is Sherry going to be the next big thing? Probably not. But it doesn’t have to be. It is a timeless wine waiting to be re-discovered by a new generation of wine drinkers.
Thanks to everyone who helped us with our Sherry research. Special thanks to Susana, Mauricio, Marina, Santiago, George, Cesar, Greg, Harry, Jensen, Gabriel, and José. Thanks to Sue for these photos of the big Tio Pepe sign in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, the menu at The Sherry Corner, the rare old Osborne Sherries, and the many hues of the Gonzalez Byass Sherry wines.
In the years of the Lost Generation, Hemingway had made Sherry…Fino’s popular to Americans. Tio Pepe is the easiest of the good ones to find in the U.S. (wonder what Brexit will do to prices in the U.K.), and it is around $12 a bottle. I discovered PX (Pedro Ximenez), in Burgos, where the owners son and I discussed wine and he opened a bottle of 1998 PX and poured it for me for free in a restaurant across the plaza from the cathedral! The Spaniards pour it over vanilla ice cream by the way! Note the prices on the wine list and remember that is in Madrid! In Salamanca, where I was introduced to Rueda’s by a friendly barman, it and the other wines were just 1-1/5 euros. Compare and contrast to the U.S. where they would be about $8!
I have traveled throughout Spain except one area: Jerez de la frontera, which is out of the way unfortunately. Take Mike’s advice and give sherry a try…make sure it is chilled…not cold but chilled, you might be surprised and you will definitely be amazed if you dare to move up and try a PX!
Thanks for bringing back fond memories, Mike!
Could not agree more with your enthusiasm for Palo Cortado, while I’d probably include drier Amontillados right next to it… with jamon!
Manzanilla on the other hand is easier to see as a resurgent potential winner, being the perfect refreshment while nibbling over pintxos, during a summer evening, on a terrace with a sea view and hopefully the accompanying breeze.
I just opened my first bottle of sherry late last week, so your post seemed (almost eerily) perfectly timed. Sort of like when you posted about Sarah Lohman’s book the day after I finished reading it. I’m not sure how long I’ve been following your posts — and I don’t always catch them — but I wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read. Many of your brief discussions lead me to some deeper question or reaffirm that some question I’ve been working at in my research may have merit to someone. And sometimes they’re just pure fun. So thanks!
We include a great tutorial about sherry in our documentary film, A Cocktail Orange, http://www.acocktailorange.com. You can watch it for free on Amazon Prime Video at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071CWJNP3/