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Michael Weiss on Sharing Sherry - A Somm's Standpoint

Having served as judge at the U.S. national and international Copa Jerez, the Sherry and food pairing competition in Spain, Michael Weiss knows Sherry. As Professor and Co-Chair of Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York, he's shared his passion for the wines of Jerez with countless students, and now he shares it with you.

How did you first find Sherry, or how did Sherry first find you?

I worked as a sommelier in Florida and Louisiana in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was difficult to get fresh Fino or Manzanilla wines but easy to procure Harvey’s Bristol Cream, which was often served as a cocktail with soda. Of course, I was able to find loads of incredible Sherry on my vacation trips to Spain.  Then as chef sommelier of the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, I did Sherry and Port promotions in the mid 1980’s but back then it was a lot easier to sell Port than Sherry.

How does Sherry inspire you when pairing with food?

I began teaching wines class at the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park campus in 1987 and have since done hundreds of wine and food pairings in class and restaurant tastings for our students.  Some pairings could be considered to be classic examples of utilizing complementary or contrasting flavors and/or balancing the weight of the wine (body) with the delicacy or richness of the dish it is served with. Often the Sherry pairings with food were the most surprising and satisfying because they resulted in a synergistic response with new flavors created between the foods and the wines.

In class tastings of dry Sherries with a variety of cheeses, nuts, olives, marinated anchovies, and cured meats, I have found the Fino and Manzanilla styles and sparkling wines to be the most versatile and exciting wines for pairing.

One of the highlights of the course tastings is when the students try Pedro Ximenez with a flourless chocolate cake and vanilla or fig ice cream or gelato. First they try the chocolate cake and most of them appreciate the balance of wine and food and complementary flavors. Then I have the students pour some of the PX on to the ice cream, eat the ice cream first and then try the wine . It is a true epiphany for them! The richness of the ice cream and the cold temperature reduce the heat of the alcohol and tannins in the wine and there is a great extension of flavors. Although this is a wonderful pairing I remember having the same Pedro Ximenez with a dish made by Michelle Bernstein of challah French toast with bone marrow and a drizzle of PX. Delicious!

What are the greatest food & Sherry pairings you’ve discovered?

My wife Jenny and I were married at New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties, New York, and chef/owner Ric Orlando has some an amazing array of global dishes on the regular menu and as specials. I have had many, many wonderful pairings of his foods with Sherries. At home, I often sip Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, or Palo Cortado when I am cooking for us and then pair that wine alongside a still or sparkling wine with our dinners. We like fermented foods and the acidity in Sherry can handle sauerkraut or dishes with aged Sherry vinegar better than most other wines.

What is the most surprising Sherry match you’ve come across?

On the award ceremony evening for Copa Jerez was a splendid event when I got a chance to try Beluga and Osetra caviars with a variety of Fino and Manzanilla wines, some of them “En Rama”. We used a wooden spoon to lay a trail of caviar on top of our hand and then licked the caviar and tried the Sherries. The salinity, weight, and acidity of those dry Sherries was a memorable marriage with caviar for me.

What makes Sherry special for a Somm?

Sherry is truly undervalued. The quality of the wines is usually very high and the prices are usually low. Even the high end complex VOS and VORS wines can rival still wines at double their price.

How would you convince somebody new to the drink to try Sherry?

I think that sommeliers and consumers new to Sherry have to try it with food. For beginners it is may be so different from other wines they could be overwhelmed or confused by the array of flavors. However, when the right Sherry is paired with the appropriate food it can be magical and convert people to be Sherry lovers.

In my previous role as a sommelier and as a professor today, I often include Sherry in a fixed wine and food pairing menu.  I serve it next to a traditional wine for comparison and the response I most often get from the people dining is that the Sherry was more exciting than the traditional still wine served with the dish. Caveat emptor-buyer beware! Just make sure the store or source of the Sherry you are buying from has fresh product for the Fino and Manzanilla styles, and that the wines were stored correctly.

Any final thoughts or suggestions?

Sherry is a unique wine to be enjoyed with friends, foods, and if possible, flamenco music.

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Sherry Wines U.S.
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Sherry Wines U.S. @SherryWinesUS
17 May 2017
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