Maybe we stick to our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs because of its tried and true familiarity, or maybe when we hear “sherry” our minds immediately go to cream sherry once popular long ago — but regardless of the reason, for the common eater sherry wine tends to fly far under the radar. To our palate’s delight, however, the NYC food scene is giving sherry some spotlight and putting it on the menu.
Sherry comes in a range of varieties and is born from a very unique form of production (attention food and wine nerds: the following is really cool). It is made though a special production system called a Solera where vinters first make a dry wine, fortify it with grape spirits, and then place it in barrels to ferment. These new barrels are then tossed on top the pile — so to speak — and are connected through a series of hoses so that each year’s wine gets to mingle with the others.
In theory, wine molecules from the very first year of production coalesce with the new vintages creating a singular wine. It is for this reason that vintage dates on the bottles are either excluded or dated for when the Solera was first created. Four times a year the producer is only allowed to draw 1/3 of the bottom barrel in order to maintain the taste and integrity of the Solera system year to year.
Here is a quick break down of some of the styles:
Fino: Fino sherry is usually dry with around 15% alcohol. Fino also packs a tangy punch due to a special yeast called a flor that can only present itself in Jerez’s specific climate — just another fact that makes Sherry so genuinely interesting. The flor protects the wine keeping the color pale and the flavor bright and fresh. This is an ideal tapas wine pairing well with foods like cured meats, oysters, nuts, and olives.
Manzanilla: A style in the Fino family, Manzanilla sherries are very similar to regular Finos, but are lighter and have a saline quality as they are produced in an area closer to the ocean. Also a great tapas wine, Manzanilla pairs well with seafood.
Amontillado: Another Fino, Amontillado is medium body wine that was oxidized because the flor was unsuccessful (intentional or unintentionally). Amontillados are darker and richer than the other Fino styles and are higher in alcohol content. This wine pairs with heavier fare such as bolder cheeses and meats like chorizo or pâté.
Oloroso: Oloroso sherry begins to oxidize immediately and is therefore darker, heavier and richer than Amontallado. In fact, Oloroso means “fragrant” and that oxidative quality will give a touch of sweetness to these dry wines. Pair Olorosos with red meat or rich cheeses; this is a wonderful option for an after-dinner drink.
Pedro Ximenez: Affectionately called PX, Pedro Ximenez is a dessert wine made from the eponymous grape. The grapes are slightly desiccated having been picked when mature and dried out by the sun thus evaporating the water content and concentrating the grape sugars. This wine is intensely, but beautifully sweet, and has layers of complexity with tasting notes of coffee, spice, and even chocolate.
There is, of course, so much more to be said on where and how Sherries are produced and their tasting profiles — check out sherry notes or Janis Robinson for more in depth information — but most importantly, sherries are social drinks: they are meant to be drunk with food and friends. NYC bars and restaurants alike are now prepared to pop your sherry cherry the right way.
For the traditional Spanish route, Pata Negra was voted one of the best Sherry Bars in the Nation by Wine Enthusiast and is equipped with a very extensive selection of Sherry. Newly opened Spanish restaurant Amada in Brookfield Place also has a worthy selection. The Fino “La Panesa” is delightfully fresh and full of tang and pairs especially well with its Ensalada de Jamón featuring Serrano ham, figs, and crunchy almonds.
Taking a step away from traditional Spanish ways of enjoying sherry, sommelier Jason Wagner has been touted for his ability to pair sherry with the Asian American fusion at Fung Tu. Pro tip: Go for the tasting menu with the wine pairings. The tasting menu offers some interesting off-brand food pairings with sherry and portion and beverage ratio to your dollar is noteworthy.
Other restaurants such as Lucky Bee and Navy have options to taste and other LES favorite Wassail offers their “Stone Fence” — a shot of Amontillado Sherry plus a shorty of French beer Drouin Poiré.
Sherry is also gaining some serious traction in the world of cocktails. Attaboy bartender Dan Greenbaun came up with a deliciously refreshing summer drink named Second Serve which is a simple concoction of Fino, Montenegro, simple syrup and lime juice.
Dante is throwing it back to the early 20th century with its sherry cobbler that includes both Fino and Amontillado sherry, as well as dry curaçao, marmalade, Peychaud’s bitters, and lemon. The Bamboo is also worth your while and contains Amontillado, orange bitters, Agnostara bitters, and vermouth. West Village’s Wallflower has the “Ambrosia #2“ that combines Cardinal Mendoza Brandy, PX Sherry, Oloroso Sherry, Verjus, Luxardo, Maraschino, Champagne, and orange bitters.
For those who just want a taste of what you are missing, Tribeca Terroir offers awesome happy hour specials offering Fino, Manzanilla and Oloroso sherry for only $5 or $6 dollars a glass. Owner and master sommelier Paul Greico is committed to upping the awareness of Sherries saying that its mission at Tribeca Terroir is to increase sherry knowledge and consumption by ten-fold over the next 19 months. “We do our best to put it in front of people,” says Greico. “A glass of sherry costs you five dollars so you could have a glass of sherry and five oysters for $10 and walk out of the joint... and if you sit there and experience the two hand in hand, I think you are going to have an epiphany.”
Who is to say if sherry will actually have a headliner moment within the city’s food scene, or if even its larger presence on menus will be long-lasting, but there is no doubt the flavor profiles and pairing versatility is allowing sommeliers and mixologists alike to have some fun, and all for our benefit.
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