Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cool down, drink sherry!

A duff housewife's drink. Bought in jugs and consumed by the barrel. Cheap, nasty and utterly uncool. Yes, the Spanish region of Jerez (Sherry in English) did a good job in ruining its own image. Just like German Riesling and Port, Sherry flooded the market with cheap, vile plonk. And when the housewifes lost interest (perhaps shifting to cheap sweet rosé wines), the Sherry region had a problem. Nobody wanted their product, even though there were plenty quality-oriented producers, making some very good wines.

It took some time, but Sherry is working on a comeback. Since a number of years it is impossible to visit a trade tasting and not stumble across a stand of the Sherry Promotion Board, where you will be invited to taste the different varieties, and see how well they combine with food. Sherry wants to position itself as a quality product, a serious wine, more than just an aperitive: good company to food. And it's working. More and more we see sommeliers in quality restaurants suggest a glass of sherry with a certain dish. In the consumer market, it proves to be more difficult to get rid of the bad image, but we think it's just a matter of time before people will embrace this special drink once again.

There are many styles of Sherry, but for now we focus on Fino, the type that is most commonly found. Some short background: Sherry is grown in the Spanish region Andalucia, around three towns, of which Jerez de la Frontèra is the best known. Fino Sherry is made from the grape variety Palomino, and brandy is added after the fermentation to reach an alcohol level of approximately 15,5%. It is always bone dry. A Fino can only be a Fino if a curious natural incident takes place: the forming of a layer of yeast cells on top of the ageing wine. This is called Flor del Vino. The layer of Flor protects the wine from oxidation and gives a special aroma to the wine. After a minimal ageing period of three years the wine can be sold.

In order to create constant quality throughout the years, a special ageing method has been developed, called solera (we mentioned this earlier here). The wines are stored in oak casks, that are stacked in pyramid shapes. The bottom layer consists of the oldest wine, and the top of the youngest. If the company wishes to bottle an amount of sherry, they take this from the bottom layer of casks. The amount that is taken out (never more than one third of the cask), is refilled with the content of the second layer, et cetera.

The two most common brands of Fino Sherry available to us are and Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe (OUA) and Lustau Puerto Solera Reserva (African & Eastern). Both are around 7.000 - 7.500 OMR. Tio Pepe is the world's largest sherry brand, and it is admirable that they manage to keep it of constant, high quality year after year. It is light and delicate, with a distinctive scent of almonds, slightly silty with some fresh apples and a racy, dry finish. The Lustau Puerto Solera is a bit fuller in comparison, though still quite delicate. Also showing plenty of typical nuttiness, combined with silty aromas, some cookie dough, straw and green apples. Very well balanced.

Both Sherries are lovely, and are great as aperitive with some green olives or smoked almonds. But you can also enjoy them with seafood or tapas. One thing is for sure. They are very refreshing, and are a great way to cool down until the temperatures finally come down in about a month's time. Drink them chilled, and feel cool.

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