The wonders of sherry enjoyed worldwide
A great opportunity to delve into the mysterious world of wines from the Jerez region of southern Spain. A category of wines which has seen its fortunes ebb and flow over the past few centuries, with popularity in the last 60 years showing a distinct decline. Yet there is hope for this most under-appreciated beverage, with moves around the world aiming at a revival in its status as a fabulous food pairing wine.
Some of the mystery surrounding sherry stems from a naturally occurring yeast called ‘Flor’ which grows on the top of the fermenting wine in wooden barrels (called butts). Flor only exists in very few parts of the world, the most prominent and prolific being in the Jerez de la Frontera region of southern Spain. Flor imparts a particular flavour to the resultant wine and hence the birth of sherry. During subsequent maturation, other changes occur with oxidation, but only with some of the butts, resulting in a range of different styles.
All this care and expertise of the producers in the sherry bodegas results in wines of great quality which are both undervalued and sadly, underappreciated.
Time then to open a bottle or two and see just what you have been missing. Sip them on their own, or more importantly, pair them with food as do the people of southern Spain. Alegria Manzanilla - £9.50 from The Wine Society – is a light, elegant, bone-dry style, made near the coast, which imparts a salty, refreshing tang. Enticing fresh-baked bread aromas leap from the glass. Pair with fresh anchovies, salt cod or smoked trout.
Tio Pepe is king of Fino sherry, the other dry style of sherry. Tio Pepe En Rama is perhaps the ultimate expression of this wine, being unfiltered and with minimum treatments, resulting in great intensity of flavour with yeasty, savoury notes and aromas, delicately herby with grilled pecan nut flavours. Designed to be enjoyed young. £16.50 from The Wine Society. Pair with meaty fish such as a Tuna steak or Wild seabass.
A style with deeper colour and flavour is Romate Maribel Amontillado. Amber coloured and medium dry with deep flavours and great complexity. Dried figs, dark caramel and hazelnuts. Astonishing value for this quality at £9.95 from The Wine Society. Try with farmhouse cheddar or Dundee cake – or both!
My own personal favourite sherry style (I like them all actually!) is Palo Cortado. Another enigma as it results from changes in certain maturing butts of sherry and nobody knows quite why. Gonzalez Byass, one of the most renowned sherry producers ever, has two prime examples of this sherry style. Leonor is aged 12 years, is dry with deep amber colour and deep, complex flavours of hazelnuts, almonds, dried apricots and sultanas. Bags of delicious flavour, yet still dry, this sherry can accompany game pie, iberico ham and even roast partridge with parsnips. £20.50 from Hennings Wine Merchants and other independents.
Another absolute gem from Gonzalez is their Apostoles VORS, which stands for Very Old Rare Sherry. A blend of mainly Palo Cortado with the addition of Pedro Ximenez – an intensely sweet sherry – both of which are over 30 years old, this is slightly sweet, liquefied Christmas Cake! Amazingly complex and long lasting on the palate, with rich and intense flavours of dried fruit, candied orange peel, figs, prunes and toffee. Sip on its own or pair with fruit cake, mature stilton or chocolate soufflé. Sheer nectar. £24.99 per half bottle from Waitrose.