For decades now, sherry has been seen as a throwback to an earlier time -- that dusty bottle consumed in British drawing rooms, or by your quirky grandmother. But it's long past time that these excellent Spanish wines came back into style. Restaurants, bars, and drinkers across the country are learning that sherry is one of the most exciting, diverse wine categories out there.
Just take a look at the rainbow of sherries above: There are incredible variations in the wines of Jerez. A young, snappy Fino can be lighter and drier than a vinho verde, best sipped ice-cold; amontillado takes on a bit more weight, while oloroso is heavier still, often nutty and savory, whether on the still-dry side or the slightly sweeter. And Pedro Ximenez are the most intense of them all, sweet, complex, and nuanced.
While sherries are fortified wines -- meaning that they're fortified with a spirit, in this case grape brandy, to increase their alcohol content -- they are first and foremost wines. And as such, they're an incredible pair with food. The range of flavors inherent in sherry, from sweet to nutty to intensely savory, means that they can complement a huge variety of foods; a light, dry fino with shellfish, a complex amontillado with umami-rich mushrooms, a weighty oloroso with a rich pork dish. Sweet Pedro Ximenez is among the best wines in the food to drink with fine cheeses.
Whereas sherries were once rarely seen on wine lists outside a few Spanish restaurants, they are now appearing more and more often -- whether at tapas bars like New York's Donostia or Huertas, or American fine dining restaurants such as Dovetail and modern spots like Fung Tu.
But while sherry is a perfect wine to accompany a meal, it has also found a place in the cocktail community. Sherry cocktails actually date back to the advent of cocktails themselves -- English sailors, when they ran low on stores of beer and wine, would devise drinks of citrus, spirits, and the fortified wine they had on-hand. Sherry has the flavor intensity and complexity of a spirit, with less than half the alcohol -- which endears it to present-day bartenders. While cocktails have never been more popular, it's not possible for most of us to have several stiff drinks in a row (at least, not without consequences!); sherry allows bartenders to create sophisticated cocktails that contain quite a bit less booze.
At Flinders Lane in New York's East Village, the Sherry Negroni lightens up the traditional gin-Campari-sweet vermouth triad with fino sherry; the House of Tully at The Eddy goes a savory route, with Tullamore Dew, pickling liquid, and absinthe joined by manzanilla. And Maison Premiere not only serves an incredible classic sherry cobbler, with four different sherries all combined, but also in more unusual drinks like the "Wall and Crown": La Favorite rhum agricole, manzanilla and oloroso sherries, raspberry, and lemon.
[Photo: Carey Jones]