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In favor of sherry


I don’t drink a lot of sherry these days because I don’t have the time, and I regret that. Earlier this week, I drank — not tasted, but actually drank and thoroughly enjoyed — a sherry, and I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but first, some thoughts on why sherry isn’t very popular in the U.S., and why it should be. (I mean real sherry from Spain’s Jerez region.)

Back in the 1980s, when I was in grad school and had the opportunity to drink pretty much whatever I wanted, I drank a lot of sherry. I don’t remember why, because even then sherry was pretty obscure and unpopular. I think it was probably because the wine experts I was reading — Broadbent, Hugh Johnson, Alexis Lichine and others — loved it, so I figured it was something I should know about. I’d pay $6, $7 for finos and amontillados and manzanillas, the drier styles. At first I was puzzled by the strange, exotically oxidized taste that flor yeast gave to the wines. I remember a place in downtown San Francisco that used to serve sherry by the glass and I’d go there and have little tapas — salty Serrano ham, almonds, smoked salmon, ceviche, prawns. And it didn’t take me long to fall in love. The dryness, the way the acidity was so ultra-clean, that yeasty sourness that was so utterly unlike anything else I’d ever had. But then I turned into a hard-working wine writer, and sherry became, alas, a lesser part of my life.

A few weeks ago I had a Palmina Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino #15, at RN74, and even though the meal had its problems, the wine was so good, I had two glasses. I wondered why more Americans don’t love dry sherry. I guess the taste is too weird for them; it does take some sophistication to appreciate; you have to make yourself learn to like it, and, when it comes to wine, Americans don’t want to make themselves do anything. They want the wine to come to them — flatter them, seduce them while they lay back and let it go to work on them. (I’m not getting too explicit here, am I?) Sherry doesn’t seduce anybody. It’s aloof, austere, proud, like a drag queen on stilettos. Sherry says, “Hey, I don’t care if you love me or hate me. Whatever.” Sherry is an acquired taste. But if you get a hankering for sherry, it turns into an addiction.

That’s why more people should fall in love with sherry. The wine bloggers in particular are in a good place to suggest it to their readers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends. There are plenty of inexpensive supermarket sherries from the likes of Hartley & Gibson, Lustau and the famous Tio Pepe that are well under $17, and are terrific. From that price range, you can work your way up. And by the way, the sherry process, including the magical solera system, is fascinating in itself, and is a basic part of any wine education.

The sherry I had recently was during a dinner at our Wine Enthusiast editorial meetings. The bottle was being passed around, and I more or less saw “sherry” on the label and poured myself a glass, being very thirsty that warm night. The first thing I noticed was how dark it was, an amber brown. I thought it might be sweet, but it wasn’t. It was bone dry and exquisite. It was Lustau’s non-vintage Almacenista Palo Cortado de Jerez, and the retail price was $42 last year, when my colleague, Mike Schachner, reviewed it in Wine Enthusiast. He gave it 94 points, and wrote:

A beautiful style of elevated Sherry that’s worth every cent if fine Sherry is to your liking. The nose is pure toffee, roasted nuts, apricot and mellow quince, while the key flavor is dried orange and the nuances hinted at by the aromas all reappear. Muscular but in perfect shape, with a finish as smooth as glass

Nice description. I especially like that “if fine Sherry is to your liking,” which tells me Mike understands these wines are not for everybody. I can’t exaggerate the beauty and thrill of this wine. I would have given it an even higher score than Mike, but maybe that’s because I drank it right after my go-cart race on the indoor track at Grand Prix New York, and I was sweaty and filled with adrenaline. That wine, with its 19% alcohol, was just the brace I needed.

If there’s one wine I wish I could drink more of, it’s sherry, especially a thriller like the Lustau.

  1. I LOVE sherry! It’s a shame it’s not more widely appreciated in America, but at the same time, that keeps the prices super low. A nice oloroso… mmmmm.

  2. Funny, recently when in Walla Walla at the Wine Bloggers Conf., one of the few tasting tables I actually had time to visit was the one where the Secret Sherry Society was pouring.

    And after tasting a couple of the sherries, I was thinking “why the f–k don’t I drink more of this stuff?”

    Totally agree it’s poised for a comeback (though we need to consider another term because to have a comeback you need to have actually had success first, which I’m not sure sherry EVER had in the U.S.!).

  3. Dude, I don’t think sherry ever was “here,” so it can’t come back from nowhere. Maybe “discovery” is the word.

  4. kelkeagy says:

    I used to drink some sherry back in my Allied Domecq days. I had a hard time getting past the rancidio taste on the finish until I tried it with some salty tapas type foods. Still… not sure I ever really learned to love it. I will have to give it another try.

  5. It is great to see people recommending sherry as I agree it has much to offer wine lovers. Next week, I am posting on my blog a 5 part series on the history of sherry. Through my researches, I found plenty of fascinating facts about sherry. In short, it is a very resilient drink, which has seen many highs and lows over the centuries. Though it is at a low currently, it stands poised to rebound.

    The US is the fourth largest importer of sherry, with Great Britian, Holland and Germany occupying the top three spots. 67% of the sherry imported into the US is cream sherry, showing a preference for sweeter sherry. Sherry imports to the U.S, in the first quarter of 2009, were up 50% over the similar period in 2008. That is a very significant increase.

    I agree that the word about sherry needs to be spread by others, such as bloggers as well as the wine print media. Sherry has much to offer and people just need to give it a chance.

  6. RichardA, nice to hear you’re promoting sherry. Please keep us informed.

  7. Carlos Toledo says:

    Steve, the world is so full with great and vast different options, types of beverages, from so many places that there is not enough time in one life time to enjoy, know, appreciate everything out there. How many people know how to enjoy a great malt whisky? Beer? Vodka? Sake? Akvit?….

    Sherry is one of those things that to me are so nice to drink IN España and not everywhere else. That could be the case. … or who’s up to creating demand for sherry (we all know how hard task it is)? This person must be some stubborn hero.


  8. Ciao, Carlos, it is always good to hear from you. Enjoy your sherry under the Spanish sky!

  9. With all the high alcohol whites around today, it is refreshing to have a bone dry, briny, and crisp Monzanillla Fina at 14.5% with seafood. Did so just the other day at a local restaurant, and paid $26 for the bottle.

    Fell hard for that wine in the mid-1970’s after a morning of barrel tasting at a bodega of Lustau in Sanlucar de Barrameda. We asked where to have lunch and they directed us to a beach. We walked in the sand, suit and tie in dress shoes filling with sand to a little beach restaurant where we sat under a big orange tree while a waiter in a shabby tuxedo served us with considerable grace. After a couple bottles of Manzanilla, boiled camaron and grilled sole, and more, we asked about dessert. The waiter explained that it was late in the day and they had nothing. My friend looked in the tree and asked about the oranges. The waiter smiled, nodded, picked some oranges and asked us how we would like them. Juiced, my friend replied. So there we sat, bellies full of great wine and seafood, a short walk from where Columbus set sail on his fourth voyage, sipping on a blood red glass of freshly squeezed juice. It really doesn’t get any better.

  10. Great story, Morton.

  11. Carlos Toledo says:

    Steve, in spite of my spanish name i’m from italian family (i’ll take your ciao then) and i live in Brazil…. (did you forget?) but yes, i’ve been to Spain quite a few times and i love drinking sherry there more than here or somewhere else.

    Ever tried a great gazpacho in Cali? It’s not the same, is it?

    In and out wouldn’t taste as good here as it is in California or Arizona… Have a great weekend!

  12. Jeff V. says:

    I recently had an amazing Fino Sherry from California. Yes, really!
    This wine really needs more attention. Please do yourselves a favor and seek out the Palomino Fino Sherry from Quady Winery. To my knowledge, it is also the first Fino Sherry to use 100% Biodynamically grown Palomino grapes.

    I had this with some fresh asparagus that I grilled. The nutty finish of the sherry really lifted the asparagus. A great pairing.

    I agree that we should all incorporate more sherry into our tasting repertoire. It is a new wine for me and most enjoyable. As for it being “the next big thing”…I’m not too bullish on that.

  13. Jeff, I’ve liked Quady’s sweet red wines over the years, but never had a sherry from them. The best California sherries I’ve reviewed (and there haven’t been too many of them) have been sweeties from Galleano and Rotta.

  14. Andy Quady is kind of a quiet superstar. Not only does he make Port-styled wines (see Starboard, which despite its whimsical name, is a serious wine) and now a Sherry, but he also makes the best Vermouth, both sweet red and dry white for Manhattans and Martinis one can find from an American producer.

  15. I am a complete sherry nut, especially manzanilla. The range of availability is incredibly frustrating. I find myself having to make the long trek down to The Spanish Table in Mill Valley for something that doesn’t resemble nail polish remover. Ahh well, it keeps the price down I guess.

  16. Downtown Napa is blessed with many fine eateries of late, but the one this post brings to mind is ZuZu on Main St. Tapas-style small plates (wonderful) and lotsa different sherries on a very interesting wine list. Chilled manzanilla and keep it coming…

  17. David, love ZuZu. Been there a bunch of times. Perfect with sherry.

  18. As a big fan of Sherry, especially Amontillado Sherry, it is great to see more people writing about it. Thank you…

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