José Andrés on Sherry
What happens when a renowned chef from the north of Spain marries a woman from the south of Spain?
He picks up a sherry habit.
Asturias, the mountainous region between Galicia and the Spanish Basque country where Andrés grew up, is not exactly wine country, though pioneering vintners are beginning to produce some excellent whites. And so the future chef grew up drinking the hard apple cider featured in cider houses and bars all over the region. He learned to drink wine in United States, where he arrived in 1991 as a young cook with $48 in his pocket and a few knives. He now has 26 restaurants, has been named “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation, and was awarded the National Humanities Medal.
Sherry didn’t grab Andrés' attention until he started spending summers in Andalucía on the Costa del Luz with his wife, Patricia, who is from Cadíz.
Of course, while there, Andrés spends some time in the magic triangle of sherry— El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez de la Frontera, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. In Sanlúcar, he always stops in at Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana. “It’s right in the middle of town and I love their sherries,” he explains. “No less important is Bodegas Barbadillo for their Solear manzanilla and La Arboledilla, one of the most beautiful of the cathedral-style sherry cellars.” He’s a big fan of the exquisite sherries from Equipo Navazos, too, which he cites for picking up some of the best barrels around.
Whenever he travels, Andrés finds his way to wine country, but for the Washington, D.C.-based chef, visiting a sherry bodega is special. “I don’t know if it’s the older barrels or the connection between the grapes and the land. Because of the solera system, with time the barrels and the sherry inside are connected one with each other. And this, to me, is very special.”
He’s not big on formal tastings or a long series of sherry pairings. “The way I enjoy sherry is standing up,” says Andrés. While he firmly believes sherry ranks with the best wines of the world, he still thinks sherry is best “sharing with others around a bar and snacking on tapas with friends—or people you don’t even know.”
That said, he does have some favorite sherry pairings. “Because of manzanilla’s proximity to the sea, it’s obvious that it goes with things that are slightly salty. If you’re in Sanlúcar and eating along the waterfront at Casa Bigote, no way you’re not having gambas blancas de Huelva or the local langostinos. They’re best simply boiled for a few minutes in seawater. Manzanilla also goes unbelievably well with jamón ibérico or with the oysters that we love so much in America. I’m thinking a great Olympia from the Pacific Northwest with a good manzanilla.”
With fino, raw tuna an ideal match. But with cooked tuna—maybe simply seared morillo (the most precious part of the neck)—he would pour a great amontillado. “Obviously, sherry can be paired with anything,” says Andrés. “Sometimes we try to be too purist, but I want to be more loose.”
He’ll even admit to enjoying rebujito, a refreshing spritzer made with fino and the Spanish lemon soda La Casera, on a very hot day. “It’s super popular in the south of Spain in summer,” says Andrés.