Sherry Underrated

Sherry is one of the world’s under-sung wines.

Although lighter, refreshing sherries like manzanilla and fino contain just 15% alcohol, they suffer from the same decline as all sherry, a decline largely based on fashion, but also on perception that they are fortified wines, and therefore high alcohol, and that high-alcohol wines get you drunk faster and are unhealthy. The answer is not to stop drinking them, but to drink them more sparingly than table wines.

Tony Keys’ The Key Report recently reported that Spain’s sherry vineyard area had shrunk from 22,000 hectares in the 1970s to 7,000 hectares in 2014. Tragic.

I recently attended a sherry enthusiasts’ dinner tasting at Fix St James restaurant in Sydney where some stunning sherries were enjoyed with a specially designed menu. The first two wines were from Equipo Navazos – Manzanilla La Bota 42, and Fino La Bota 35. The former was just great: paler hued with a seabreezey aroma; tangy, dry and intense, while the Fino was richer and more weighty with a touch of cheesiness and more evidence of age (it averages 10 years). With school prawns and aioli: heavenly. A seemingly younger and fresher Fino was then served, with cep and gruyere soufflé: El Maestro Sierra – partnered by a ring-in: a Jura Vin Jaune, 2006 Domaine de l’Octavin Cherubin. This was about as clean, fresh and delicate a Vin Jaune as I’ve ever tasted. Superb. (It was chosen here of course as it’s a similar wine to a fino: aged in barrels under a film of surface yeast for years to develop nuttiness.)

I won’t describe the entire meal, but three other wines really rang my bells. Fernando de Castilla Palo Cortado Antique VORS was very complex with great aged rancio but also some flor character, great finesse and balance on the palate. Great with pork, duck and pistachio terrine.

Hidalgo Amontillado Viejo VORS also showed great depth of aged rancio complexity, combined with finesse and precision balance. And Gonzalez-Byass (tastings) Finest Dry Oloroso 1969 was sheer magic: tremendously complex and searingly powerful, it expanded in the glass to be arguably the wine of the night. It was served with beef fillet and mushroom jus.

Total 13 wines, and I went home sober and woke up with a clear head the next day. The secret: small pours, plenty of food and a well-paced evening.

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