Once seen as the drink of choice for older generations, Sherry is enjoying a rebirth thanks to its new-found popularity among younger drinkers. So, we decided to ask our resident Sherry enthusiast and JB co-owner, Ben Wright, what all the fuss is about.
How has the perception of Sherry changed?
The changing fortunes of Sherry are linked to the fact that there are two styles; dry and sweet and these are polar opposites. Dry sherries (fino, Manzilla etc) are as bone dry as the chalky soils of southwestern Spain where it is made. These fresh, vibrant and dry Fino’s are gaining popularity with younger wine drinkers. In contrast, sweet Sherries like Pedro Ximénez and Nanna’s fave ‘cream’ Sherries are raisin and syrupy… and also a delight to drink.
Why has there been a resurgence in popularity? Why is it appealing?
Mainly because it’s the best drink in the world. But also, because it’s one of the best value wines available (a decreasing global market combined with over-production has kept costs low for a long time).
Fresh, vibrant and dry Fino’s are gaining popularity with younger wine drinkers unencumbered by the biases of their parents and grandparents. A chilled glass – always drink sherry cold – of zesty, invigorating Manzanilla (a type of Fino made in coastal Sanlúcar de Barrameda) makes a brilliant aperitif. It does the magic of awakening the palate without bludgeoning the brain and taste buds like a cocktail. Dry sherry is also naturally lower in sugar and alcohol than most cocktails.
I generally try to encourage staff at the restaurants to think of sherry as a wine and not a spirit – it’s only slightly stronger than regular wine and you don’t tend to drink as much anyway.
As our tastes in wine evolve away from the dull, predictable, chemically-adjusted supermarket stuff, and we open our minds to more interesting – organic, natural – wine styles and an awareness of good wine production techniques, I think we’ll find sherry getting some renewed attention – after all, it’s been banging this drum for centuries. Anyone interested in ‘natural’ wine, with its unconventional, funky, sometimes yeasty characteristics will find delicious parallels in a bottle of sherry (and a pleasant amount of change from a twenty).
What can sherry be paired with?
Top tip #1 for food and wine pairing is to match the wine of a region with its food. Wine styles evolved over the centuries to complement the food eaten in the local area – think pasta and chianti, confit duck and Bordeaux, Albarino and seafood; just a handful of matches made not in heaven, but by a simple evolution of complementary style. This logic gets you to tapas and sherry.
Dry sherries go with savoury dishes; save sweeter styles for dessert or cheese.
Tasted on its own, the flavour of dry sherry can seem challenging at first, but only in the same way you might have found with your first sip of red wine or beer. Try it with a thin slice of Jamon, a salty almond or a big juicy olive and it’ll start to harmonise – the fattiness of the ham tempering the bitterness of the sherry – these combinations are what food and drink are all about. I’m drooling on the keyboard. You can keep your ‘fine dining’.
When it comes to sweet sherry styles, you can think of them like dessert wines. Their flavour profiles tend to be more raisiny and they go really well with cheeses – try a glass with a wedge of blue cheese and a piece of fruitcake; we’ve had this combination on the menu at Joseph Benjamin for years. It is also totally acceptable to drizzle dark, figgy, caramelly Pedro Ximenez over ice cream.
What is the most popular sherry on your menu?
They all sell well for different reasons – we try to offer little tasters to anyone showing an interest! But most popular is probably a manzanilla called ‘La Gitana’ (the gypsy), made by Hidalgo, one of the oldest sherry producers. I was lucky enough to meet the inspirational owner, Javier Hidalgo a few years ago and spending time drinking his wines and talking about sherry production really opened my eyes.
How does Sherry go down in JB?
As a company, we are one of the biggest sellers of Sherry by volume in the UK! We don’t keep a massive range – keeping it limited to four or five styles – because I don’t think it’s logical to tie up that much cash in stock, but we do make sure people know about it. At Porta we don’t have a spirit’s shelf – just a couple of gins and a brandy – so that helps encourage people to experiment with other drinks! It’s fun to – gently and informatively – guide people out of their comfort zones!
Pop down to JB to find out more and sample our Sherry selection. Book here.