Let’s be brutally honest: Sherry is much more talked about than consumed. To fix that would be frustratingly simple: no one buys a bottle of Sherry in a restaurant nor should they be expected to do so. Sherry is the sort of wine that needs to be served by the glass. While every wine that has yet to be discovered should be poured by the glass (adventure is easier in small doses), Sherry particularly needs the attention and approval demonstrated by conspicuous placement on the glass wine list. The nutty intensity of an Amontillado, the salty tang of a Manzanilla, the outrageous lushness of an old Oloroso, none of these are likely to be enjoyed all the way through a meal. But each of them can be utterly satisfying with certain foods.
As usual, I'm blaming the restaurateurs who show insufficient pluck and imagination. Indeed, I can't think of a single important restaurant chain that features Sherry on the by-the-glass list, Sherry of any stripe. Until that changes, Sherry will not likely retake its position as one of the great, classic wines.
Yet, as usual, there are heroes here and there. A recent visit to San Francisco’s Dirty Habit was a breath of fresh, salty, Andalusian air. With nearly four-dozen Sherries by the glass, the cocktails I had planned to imbibe would have to wait. My friend Neyah White walked by; great bartender that he is, it must have disappointed him. He was too polite to say.
Me? I was in heaven. My first course was Chef Justin Koenig's Tuna Ceviche, rhubarb, herbs of palm and coconut milk. I had a glass of Gutiérrez Colosia Fino en Rama; its freshness and brine echoing and amplifying the tuna’s own; but the fish fat stood out all the more. Just to see more than one en Rama was shock enough; I chose a safe pairing for the first course.
My next appetizer (I generally lose interest in main courses) was Crispy Pork Belly with boquerones, olives and cashews. Let’s admit it. I cheated on this one; no imagination was required to match it with Sherry. It’s like the dish was waggling its tongue at me, daring me to order something other than Sherry. I’ve been married for decades; I’ve learned how to follow instructions. So I did. But then I did a little dodge and weave – I ordered Manzanilla La Gitana, a mainstay for much of my working life. Yes, of course, it’s delicate as hell, or heaven, perhaps more appropriately. But the wonder of Sherry is that it is delicate at 15% alcohol; that octane and sea character were enough to subdue gooey/crunchy pork belly. The collection of flavors sat on an unmentioned bed of red pepper tapenade; that too seemed to share some genetic material with the Manzanilla. It’s still a mystery to me.
I finished with my vegetables, cuz that’s how I like to roll, especially in summer. Grilled Brentwood Corn had a light glistening of miso butter and a full complement of togarashi (chilis, ginger, the works): earthy and sweet but mostly earthy. Guess what just sang with it? Maestro Sierra 12 year old Amontillado; it wasn't only the usual almond and pecan notes; there was pineapple, roasted apples and mild white mushrooms. To create food and wine marriages that sing, I’ve never thought it made sense to match the flavors. Why would I drink the same flavors that are already on my plate? I need something that provides contrast or, at a minimum, context. Indeed, this Amontillado had as much to say about the dish as it did about itself and its origins.
But that’s Sherry’s modest complexity. Aside from the bombast and noise of the big dessert Sherries and similar old fogeys, intensely sweet, ancient and concentrated, Sherry seems content to accompany food, help it along, assist a moment, an afternoon, whatever you have. It’s a nice habit.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of El Consejo Regulador.
03 August 2016