When you think of sherry, what do you picture? I picture the inexpensive cooking ‘sherry’ one finds on the grocery store shelf, the same bottle tucked away in the back of the cupboard that comes out when making clams, or a melon salad. But the sherry of Andalusia is nothing like that back-of-the-cupboard cooking sherry.
There are nine styles of true sherry. Some are dry and aged biologically, like Fino and Manzanilla. They are light and delicate. Some are dry and aged oxidatively, like Oloroso. It is rich and round. Some are a little of both, like Amontillado, as in ‘The Cask of.’ There are also sweet sherries, dessert sherries such as Pedro Ximenez, a rich, dark sherry full of flavors of dried fruits and chocolate. It’s delicious on vanilla ice-cream or whipped into whipped cream and dolloped on bread pudding or sipped from a glass, a dessert all by itself.
All the styles of sherry whether dry or sweet, delicate or rich are fortified, that is, alcohol is added to the base wine. Sherry can be anywhere from 15% to 22% alcohol which is why one should always just sip it. A nip of sherry goes a long way.
By itself, a simple Fino sherry can seem a little dull. It has some crispness, some savoriness and a wee bit of nuttiness even a little saltiness. But alone, it doesn’t really come to life. When paired with garlic shrimp or fresh grilled fish covered in sauteed olives, tomatoes and onion, a glass of Fino will sing. It is perfect, rich and salty just like the food.
There are three foods that are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. Two of them are asparagus and artichokes which both contain a chemical called cynarine. Cynarine causes the wine, any wine, to taste sweet. It throws it out of balance. The third food is salad or more specifically, vinegar, because of the acetic acid. One wine that can pair well with all three of those foods is Fino sherry. Pasta with olive oil, garlic, asparagus and prosciutto is perfectly paired with a Fino or an Oloroso sherry, the latter being a bit richer and rounder.
A dry sherry can add elegance to a meal, especially if the meal contains seafood, salty meats and pasta. A sweet sherry is the perfect finish to any dessert, especially desserts made with nuts and chocolate.