How sherry came back from the dead, and why it isn’t going away anytime soon

image credit: Kara Newman

Sherry and jamon pairing at Mockingbird Hill (Washington, DC)

A few weeks back, while in Washington DC, I had the good fortune to spend an evening at Mockingbird Hill, a shiny-new, sherry-centric bar. In the company of owner, bartender and sherry-phile Derek Brown, I enjoyed jamon and jerez pairings, and we chatted about why bartenders are having a particularly torrid love affair with sherry these days. Sherry’s not exactly the new kid on the block, I noted, so why is it having a revival now?

“There’s been no good reason to know about sherry until now,” Brown admitted. But during a trip to Spain, he fell hard for the fortified wine. “I just fell in love with it,” he continued. “It’s like the song that gets stuck in your head, and you can’t forget it.”

Sherry has been very much on my mind right now, in part because I interviewed bartenders about sherry for a Wine Enthusiast article on the topic (my WE colleague Mike Schachner wrote the feature, I wrote the sidebars about cocktail usage).

But again – why the revival now? Schach makes this keen observation:

As long as I’ve been covering Sherry, the message out of Andalucía has been that Sherry is being rediscovered en masse. Or, that Sherry producers, believing that their wines are about to take off, are mounting yet another global marketing campaign. Or, simply, that Sherry is the most underappreciated, yet perfect wine to pair with food.

But according to tastemakers—i.e., the sommeliers who sell Sherry daily—there’s something different this time around, adding traction to the latest movement.

Here’s what’s different:  this time, the bartenders are firmly on board, not just the somms.

This wave of the revival has much to do with cocktails. When I talked with  Dan Greenbaum, co-owner and bar manager at The Beagle here in NY (another sherry-enthusiastic outpost), he astutely noted that “historically, Sherry has had a huge place in the evolution of cocktails.”  Indeed, sherry first entered my radar screen as a cocktail ingredient, when I had a sherry cobbler at Bellocq in New Orleans, almost two years ago.

Greenbaum praised sherry’s versatility –  a refrain I’ve now heard from many other bartenders as well. It’s not a one-sherry-fits-all situation. Rather, it seems like there’s a sherry for every mood, from the briny, delicate acidity of fino and manzanilla, to the nuttier, more oxidized notes of amontillado and oloroso, to the sweet, raisin-like richness of Pedro Ximenez. It folds into a wide range of cocktails.

But this isn’t purely a bartender story. They may have beat the drums most loudly, but sommeliers have re-discovered how well sherry pairs with a wide range of foods (as I learned at Mockingbird), from savory to sweet. It’s the confluence of both bars and restaurants, cocktail and food culture, that has reinvigorated sherry as a category, elevates it beyond mere trend, and will give sherry some staying power going forward.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s a shortlist of some of the sherry bottlings that bars and restaurants are loving right now – and there are some big guns on this list. For more about sherry, go read the Wine Enthusiast article for an informative overview and bottle recommendations (from Schach) and cocktail recipes that feature sherry (from me).

La Ina Fino: At The Beagle in New York, co-owner and bar manager Dan Greenbaum frequently mixes La Ina into cocktails – young, bone-dry and crisp, it stands up to vermouth, amaros and other spirits, he says. It’s also a fine sipper alongside light nibbles such as Marcona almonds.

La Guita Manzanilla: Spanish resto Manzanilla in New York (recently named to Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants list) showcases the mouthwatering saline and bright apple notes of this sherry in its signature Manzanilla Martini.

Pedro Romero Amontillado:  Crowned with fruit and plenty of crushed ice, this is Bellocq’s pick for their signature sherry cobbler. Off-dry and featuring notes of hazelnut and spice, it’s a natural companion to cheeses and savory appetizers, too.

Toro Albala ‘Don PX’ Pedro Ximenez: “PX,” as Pedro Ximenez is often shorthanded, is noted as the sweeter side of the sherry spectrum. This bottling is served by the glass at  Vera, a tapas restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop area, usually as a dessert pairing – but on the savory side, keep an eye out for the PX syrup drizzled over Vera’s cocoa-dusted foie gras, too.

Lustau East India Solera: With its tawny hue and appealing mix of rich fig, raisin and cocoa, consider pairing this bottling with a traditional Spanish flan. Yountville, CA’s famous French Laundry includes this bottling on its extensive wine list.

One thought on “How sherry came back from the dead, and why it isn’t going away anytime soon

  1. Pingback: 10 cocktail and spirits trends for 2014 | Tipple Sheet

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