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Sherry …. my grandfathers weekend getaway … or something else?

17 Jul

“Pity about your liver, sir. Unusually fine Solera ’51, I believe” (James Bond)

“There is no year for Sherry, 007.” (M)

(Diamonds Are Forever, Ian Fleming)

Sherry seems to get a mixed reception, especially amongst the British. The cheap, sweet blends at Christmas such as QC or the stuff my grandad liked served by the gallon from a plastic barrel at the Off Licence. I grew up in the ’70s … the days of Cherry B, Babycham, and Snowball for family occasions. A bottle of QC sherry for my gran and my grandad forever happy with his gallon of Amarillo brand sherry from the plastic barrel. 

My impression of sherry from an American perspective comes from the comedy series Frasier. There, Frasier Crane and his just as snobby brother Niles seemed to treat sherry as something quite sophisticated and upper class. Sherry featured throughout the series as their favourite aperitif or nightcap. In one episode the hapless-in-love Frasier thought he met the woman of his dreams at an airport bar when she ordered a chilled sherry. In one episode they used the fact there was no more more sherry in his apartment as a euphemism that everything as they knew it was over and it was time to move on. I learned from a fellow blogger (http://worldofbooze.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/what-kind-of-sherry-did-frazier-drink/) that the Cranes drank Harveys Bristol Cream … actually a sherry I would associate with Christmas at my grandparents rather than a sophisticated tipple. 

On to this sherry stuff and why I woke feeling the urge to blog about it. The British have a long association with with the drink going back hundreds of years. The city of Jerez in Spain and the immediate area produces the world supply of Sherry as we know it. Sometime in the 1990’s the name got protected under EU laws although other countries, I believe, do produce something similar. Britain is by far the biggest export market for sherry producers and there is reputed to be an air of the British country elite mixed into the Spanish blood of the producers. Also, I do like the stuff and like to keep a few bottles chilling in the fridge for a glass or two in the evenings or with some tapas. There’s also a few Spanish dishes that just would not be the same without a splash of the stuff. The last recipe I posted, Almejas a la marinera, has a flavoursome broth that gets it’s richness from the addition of Manzanilla sherry. 

In the play Henry IV, William Shakespeare wrote “A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.” Thank you Will, I could not have said it better. 

I haven’t been to Jerez and the towns around it that produce my favourite tipple but it is planned in March next year as part of my 50th birthday grand tour of Andalucia. We’ll see then whether a vast infusion of the nectar improves my wit. 

At 17% alcohol content the outside world views sherry as an aperitif (or a tipple at funerals & Christmas especially for Miss Marple). However, in Spain it is a white wine and seen as a good match for fish or tapas of any sort. It is normally drunk from a copita, a tulip shaped glass, and well chilled. Fino, a type typified by the world famours “Tio Pepe” brand is the lightest & driest sherry. It has a pale straw colour. Quite similar to Fino but more fragrant & aromatic is the Manzanilla. Manzanilla mean camomile. It has a tang that is reminiscent of the sea and that’s because of where it’s produced and matured in the town of Saluncar de Barremeda which is by the sea. Oloroso sherries are nuttier and more robust. They can be sweet or dry but I think the ones we got used to in the UK were sweet and more like a Port. I remember having a wonderful Oloroso style drink from a winery in New South Wales, Australia. It was on the dry side, nutty, robust, and a great late night tipple served chilled to acompany a cheese-board. I was really disappointed when I got back to the UK and tried an Oloroso that was just too sweet. 

I tend to have Fino’s and Manzanilla’s in at home in Spain and the photo shows my current stock. I must make a point of sourcing an Oloroso that matches my preferred palate. 

Other types include Amontillado which is matured until is it a dark tawny colour, Palo Cortado which is a sweet sherry and then the British funeral drink, the Cream Sherry. 

A couple of features of sherry production are (a) the Solera method of making sherry and (b) the addition of brandy to fortify the sherry. Solera refers to a tier of barrels where the bottom barrels are tapped and the upper barrels are made up with younger wine. The wine makers bottle from the lower barrels but constantly top them up with the upper barrel wine and this is supposed to ensure consistency of product from year to year. So, just as M noted to 007 there is no vintage to sherry. However, what seems to be important is the age of the Solera itself and the barrels can be used for up to a century or more. The sherry is fortified with brandy and then exposed to air. This produces a yeast flor which grows on the surface to protect it. The darker the sherry, the more oxidised it has been in the production. 

There, that seems to have satisfied my urge to be geeky, and in good time to. It’s lunch time now. Whilst I’d like to say I’m off to cook something wonderful and Spanish I’m actually going to grill up a couple of British made Cumberland sausages served up on crusty bread with caramelised onions. The saving grace is that I use Sherry Vinegar in caramelising the onions. Image