“Which is the naughty sherry?” asks Gerry. I’m taking it he means the Pedro Ximenez, aka PX, which I’ve described as wickedly treacley - a sherry to be poured over vanilla ice cream scooped over a warm chocolate brownie. He tries it and a look of pure bliss comes over his face. “Ooooo, YES!” he groans.
Gerry is not a sherry drinker, nor are the others round the table but a guinea pig for an experiment I’ve embarked on to give a group of friends a taste for sherry. Most still think it’s the kind of drink granny used to keep in her cupboard and have no idea it could be dry, let alone served straight from the fridge.
The first sip of a bone dry Tio Pepe is a bit startling certainly. “Try it with the olives and ham” I suggest. “It’ll taste totally different” They nod. “It’s not nearly as dry is it? That’s because you wouldn’t drink it on its own without at least a few nuts.” We do better and sip it with Manchego cheese, tortilla, anchovies and spicy green peppers (pimientos de padron) which we quickly sear over a hot grillpan, an instant tapas feast. The big hit is a soft, spicy chorizo paté called sobrasada which we spread over little toasts. We move on to a dry amontillado with that and it’s perfect.
The next day we have a stab at cooking with sherry. We rustle up a batch of mushrooms with sherry (from this BBC Good Food recipe), add a slosh of fino to a bravas sauce and sherry vinegar (invaluable) to a salad.
The centrepiece though is a massive joint of sugar-pit ribs, a speciality of Northern Ireland butcher Peter Hannan of The Meat Merchant that tastes of maple-cured bacon. It’s great with the palo cortado. Sherry and bacon - who knew?!
Even granny’s sweet sherry goes down well, though this is fresh as a daisy, not left gathering dust in a cupboard for several months. We make short work of a couple of cakestands of authentic Spanish sweets from my local Bristol deli Viandas: turron, aniseed biscuits and some really lovely chocolates - again, no hard work in the kitchen required. It’s even perfect with a shop-bought cream caramel.
Sam, our cameraman, feels we ought to try a cocktail. Well, it would be rude not to. We experiment with a variant of sherry and tonic (known in the trade as She & T). He bashes up some basil with lemon and orange juice and a little sugar in a pestle and mortar and we add a dash to each drink. Magic - and absolutely delicious with marinated prawns. We frantically try and remember the exact proportions so we can recreate it.
And the conversion rate? Not everyone is grabbed by every sherry but all say they would try at least one style again. “You’ve converted me - I’m going to go and buy some now!” says one guest as she leaves.
A few days later I hear that that she’s been serving sherry to her friends. With tiramisu.