Samui Wining & Dining
Sherry is Wine

… it may be fortified, but it’s still a wine.

 

27In my humble opinion, wine lovers should learn to view sherry as another wine, and not as some special aperitif or after-dinner drink. As such, sherry has its place like any other wine, both on its own and with food. When you are considering which bottle of wine to open with a typical Mediterranean dish, like grilled sardines, there is no reason why sherry should not be one of the potential choices. In Spain, people drink sherry throughout their meals. The different styles of sherry pair very well with a wide variety of foods, from seafood to beef, from salads to foie gras. And I highly recommend you consider it for any food/wine combinations you are contemplating in the future. After all, sherry, like most wines from the Old World, was always intended as an accompaniment to their cuisine. And I suspect that modern wine consumers would appreciate sherry much more if they drank it together with food. Also, the appreciation would be greater if more attention is paid, as with higher regarded wines, to the serving temperatures and glassware.

    Although the majority of sherry imported into countries like the U.S. and U.K. is sweet, overall, most sherry produced is actually dry. And it is the dry varieties that are drunk most often in Spain. Fino and manzanilla, both very dry, are extremely popular with the Spaniards. It’s curiou

 s how Americans and Brits have such sweet tooths, when it comes to sherry. Sweet wines are fine, of course, but too many people ignore all the pleasures of a dry sherry. These dryer styles make delicious wines, far more delicate than most people realize, and well worth drinking. When served chilled, they can be surprisingly refreshing in Samui’s warm climate. An added bonus is that most sherry is relatively inexpensive, and thus a very good value wine. As it’s still not very popular outside of Spain, the prices have generally remained reasonable. It is only the rarer sherries that are more costly. But even so, to buy a good bottle of fino or manzanilla, you won't have to empty your wallet.

 

      Authentic sherry, like Champagne, comes from only a single region in the world, though other places sometimes produce similar products, and still call them sherry. There has been much debate on that practice recently, and Australian winemakers have now decided they will no longer use the term 'sherry'. They have been slowly phasing in the use of the term 'apera'. Admittedly it takes some getting use to, but this term was chosen as it is meant to be a play on 'aperitif', and their sherry-style wines will be marketed as such. It’s part of a larger deal between Australia and the European Union to have Australia stop using numerous over-protected names, including Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Graves, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Sauternes and White Burgundy. In return, Australia will gain some commercial benefits, allowing them easier access to the European market. (Plus, Australia's own geographical indicators will be legally protected in Europe.) I have a distinct feeling this will play out well for Australia in the future. Particularly whenever sherry, or apera if you prefer, has a resurgence in popularity. If Australian winemakers manage to surpass expectations with their fortified wine products, in the same way they have already done with so many other style wines, its future will look very bright.

      However, the classic appeal and charming history of traditional sherry countries cannot be denied. The gorgeously sun-baked region, between the romantic-sounding cities of Cadiz and Seville, is almost a caricature of Spain. Here, the grapes are grown amongst the bull ranches, the caballeros, the castles on the skyline and the picturesque patios. Jerez de la Frontera, the town that gives sherry its name, lives and breathes sherry, as Beaune does Burgundy and Epernay Champagne. In fact, the comparison between sherry and Champagne can be carried a long way. Both are white wines with a distinction given them by chalk soil, both needing long traditional treatment to achieve their special characteristics. And sherry production is just as elaborate as Champagne. With its flor and solera system, the fermented grape juice is fortified with grape spirit, brandy, or both. Most styles are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. The varieties, range from the drier versions, that are pale amber in colour, to the sweeter, darker brown styles. The flor, a combination of yeasts that coats the surface of the sherry in the barrel, is a natural way to protect wine from oxidation. Plus, it contributes to the flavour of the wine. The solera system, with its multiple barrels and fractional blending, helps to contribute to a consistent sherry. Similar to Cognac production, sherry is enhanced by adding older and more complex samples of itself. The sherry barrels are usually stored in above-ground bodegas, old barn-like buildings with very high ceilings, reminding the more romantically inclined of cathedrals. (Most other wines are aged in barrels kept underground, in cellars.)

       Clearly sherry is a special wine that deserves to be taken seriously. I would go so far as to say that it’s very under-rated, especially by contemporary consumers. And compared to Champagne and Cognac, very under-priced too. But, I wonder for how long? Don’t forget, the more popular sherry becomes in the future, the more prices are sure to increase. So my advice is to enjoy it now, while the cost is still so deliciously reasonable.

 

Peter James


 


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