Everyone knows wine and food pairing is an art; that wine, from its very origins, is meant to be consumed alongside the food that is daily shared with family and friends. But the lucky Spanish have another option, another world of exciting flavours, when it comes to delicious alcoholic beverages that pair perfectly with food: Sherry.
Not just for nanna
Stop – I know what you're thinking! Sherry is that sickly stuff your grandmother used to drink out of a very small wine glass after a hard day. That sticky, sweet brown liquid that smelled like off wine and potpourri and may well have provided your first, illicit drinking experience.
Like Vermouth and Brandy, Sherry is one of those drinks that Australians have been treating with a shameful lack of understanding and respect for far too long. While the 'cream' Sherry still sold by the flagon in supermarket bottle shops is, admittedly, very much to be suspected, the assumption that it is representative of Sherry in general is about as accurate as thinking that wine is the stuff sold by the cask and tastes like vinegar.
On for young and old
Sherry is in fact the Anglicised version of Jerez, the name of the region in Spain that produces this versatile and wildly underappreciated beverage. Sherry is produced by fortifying dry, low-acid white wine (usually made from Palomino grapes) with spirit and then maturing it in what is known as a 'solera' system, which blends younger and older wines together as they age. There are a variety of Sherry styles, ranging from the pale coloured, bone-dry Fino to the dark, rich, syrupy-sweet Pedro Ximénez. The differences between these varieties are a result of the method and length of the maturation process.
Scott Wasley, the founder of one of Australia's premier Spanish wine importers, the Melbourne-based Spanish Acquisition, recalls an early introduction to Sherry similar to that of many Australians:
"My granny used to drink it! Seriously... My grandparents used to go to an annual Sherry Party in the Mount Pleasant (SA country) town hall. It was a big deal and tweaked my curiosity as a child and I was determined to get into it when I was old enough to drink ... now I import most of the Sherry consumed here!"
For beginners, Wasley offers a handy guide explaining the different major types of Sherry and what they are suited to in terms of food pairings, so that you can try them out at home:
(And Manzanilla, a regional variety of Fino.)
Pale in colour and bone-dry, Fino is aged covered with a layer of yeast, known as 'flor,' so that it does not oxidise. It is crisp and delicate, with a clean, savoury finish, often exhibiting mild bread, nut, floral, citrus, and even saline flavours.
Serve cold and consume as soon as possible after opening. Fino is ideally paired with seafood of all kinds, particularly salty, smoked or oily fish, nuts, olives, hard cheeses such as Manchego, grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce, chorizo and other preserved meats.
Scott's favourite pairing: Cold Fino and winter oysters (Rocks or Pacifics)
Amontillado is produced by adding more spirit to Fino sherry, to kill off the yeast 'flor' and allow some oxidation. For this reason, it is amber in colour and higher in alcohol (around 18%), still dry and savoury, but with a deeper, nuttier flavour.
Serve cool or at room temperature with Jamon Iberico, duck or chicken-liver paté, smoked meats, roasted root vegetables.
Scott's favourite pairing: Palo Cortado (which is actually a rarer variety of Sherry, somewhere between an Amontillado and an Oloroso) served cool-to-cold with Jamon and other charcuterie (preferably pickles on the side).
Oloroso Sherries are aged without a yeast 'flor' and are therefore highly oxidated, resulting in a deep brown colouring and velvety, full-bodied texture. Oloroso ranges from dry to sweeter (Sherries labelled 'cream' are Oloroso with sugar added before bottling). Dry Oloroso offers intense walnut, coffee, and gamey flavours.
Ideally served at room temperature with rich, wintery foods such as aged cheeses, porcini mushrooms, roast duck or other game birds, rich consommés, game pies, black pudding, and even middle-eastern flavours.
Scott's favourite pairing: Oloroso served cool with piping hot oxtail consommé.
Made from a different grape variety, which is sun-dried before fermentation, Pedro Ximénez (or PX) Sherry is full-bodied, syrupy, dark brown and intensely sweet, with flavours of fig, prune and raisin. Perfect as an after-dinner drink PX (served at room temperature) complements chocolate desserts, fruit cakes and blue or other intensely flavoured cheeses.
Scott's favourite pairing: PX drizzled over green tea ice cream, affogato-style
Book a tasting
According to Scott, 'all the top restaurants are now matching sherry expertly with interesting bits of their menus.'
If you are keen to learn more, Scott suggests that MoVida Aqui in Melbourne and Balcon by Tapavino in Sydney as ideal places to start.
'They are keen educators, match Sherry well and serve a wide range of styles, in appropriate glassware and at the right temperatures. Their food is also delicious.'
Are you ahead of the Sherry train? Share your favourite combination in the comments section below.