Remembering sherry

Earlier this month I went on a trip to Andalucía, in the very south of Spain, in order to immerse myself in all things sherry. It had been some time since my last visit to Jerez (8 years, to be precise) though a little less time since I last properly engaged in sherry appreciation (three years ago I got married in Andalucía and Manzanilla sherry was one of the wines I chose to serve at my wedding). 

This recent visit made me think: why don't I drink more sherry? Why doesn't everyone drink more sherry? It is oh so trendy at the moment (at least here in the UK, I am not sure whether the message has got to the Czech Republic) and sherry bars are cropping up everywhere so there is no excuse. But yet you still hear the same story - the main barrier is sherry's reputation as something sweet that you may find in your grandma's cupboard. Oh come on. Those days are gone. The sweeter styles are still popular, even the lusciously sweet and Christmas cake-like Pedro Ximénez. But it is the dry wines that are really capturing the attention and imagination of the younger, more hip drinkers. 

I certainly got the taste for the dry stuff while I was down there recently. My favourite styles are the bone-dry, yeasty Finos and Manzanillas. These styles are referred to as biologically aged sherries as they are aged under a fine layer of 'flor' or yeast, which gives them a distinct yeast, salty flavour.

My favourite has always been Manzanilla, I like its delicacy, camomile perfume and intense 'sea breeze' character. It's a great aperitif wine but also a good match to finely-sliced bellota ham and salted almonds. Dry, pale sherries are also excellent accompaniments to Japanese food.

Now that we are moving into autumn, it is time to look at the more warming, oxidative styles of sherry like the twice-aged Amontillado (it starts life as Fino/Manzanilla but after a few years is fortified with spirit and aged oxidatively in another solera), the not-so-accidental-anymore Palo Cortado (Fino, which did not quite possess the required delicacy, was fortified after up to a year under flor and aged oxidatively) and the 100% oxidatively aged Oloroso. 

I am used to drinking wine with food, so what do you do with sherry? The producers would have you believe that sherry goes with any kind of dishes and can accompany a whole meal. One producer tried to persuade me that Oloroso is a great match with roast beef. I was a little sceptical and offered that you need a bit of tannin with your beef and as such red wine works best. What does in fact work with an Oloroso is chestnut soup. What a great seasonal pairing and one I intend to try soon. 

Salty, nutty (I always get a hint of macadamia nuts here) Amontillado can be a surprisingly good match with fleshy fish cooked in a heavy creamy sauce, especially the lighter, fresher styles from Sanlúcar. Try pouring a few spoonfuls of Amontillado into the sauce for an extra flavour kick.

Palo Cortado is one to enjoy on its own. Being such an enigma, it is a wine worth meditating over. You will hear several different explanations about what a Palo Cortado actually is and it is fun trying to think of the story whilst you have a glass in front of you. 

And what about Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez? Well, perhaps I will wait until Christmas here, and for that rich, spicy cake full of candied fruit. 

My intention is to drink more sherry this autumn and you should also give it a try. 

Some of my favourite producers include:

Lustau – look out for their Almacenista range, wines made by small producers who don't make enough wine to ship and sell it themselves. These are very individual sherries, full of character. My favourites are the Manzanilla Pasada and Amontillado de Sanlúcar from Cuevas Jurado. 

Fernando de Castilla - They release a quintet of Antique sherries in a wooden box. These are great evening sippers.

Equipo Navazos - very trendy in the London on-trade, they are famous for their La Bota series of small batch sherries.

El Maestro Sierra - if you like your sherries a little more on the 'dirtier' side.