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.