Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sherry Baby; or, When You Want That Taste of Honey...

Special weekend update-- get thee to Premier wines on Delaware, snap up a few bottles of the huge inventory of perfectly good wines they are selling for a pittance to thin out their stock.

You may know already, and if not, I'm sorry to shock you with it: Premier is moving in May, further in to Tonawanda. They've been my main wine store since I moved into the neighborhood, and it's sad to watch them go.

 But before that, they're almost giving away the store. And that is an opportunity!

 Yours truly just got home from a standout event there, a sherry tasting class featuring pours of nine different styles of sherry, from Pedro Romero Bodegas. It was too good to keep to myself, so I raced home to tell you about it.

 Our presenter was Tom George, the enthusiastic voice of Frontier Wine Imports, a well regarded importer of Spanish and other European wines. He was generous with the details of how and why sherries are made the way they are, sold the way they are, taste as they do, and also touched on why America still has an imperfect picture of sherry's flavor profile and uses. Premier was generous in giving us 9 different tastes of this excellent fortified wine.

 I kept notes about the various flavors and aromas, and I want to tell you, you should be hauling ass to Premier right now to get some of these wonderful bottles at their outrageously reduced prices.

We tasted all the way from ultra perfumed dry to liquid raisin sweet. My favorite, I confess, remains the dry Fino. Refreshing, with unexpected crispness, it's perfect for sipping with a pre-dinner nosh of cheese, dried fruit, nuts and olives, or maybe alongside a grilled pizza with goat cheese and red pepper. And honestly, any of these would be good that way, though some of the sweeter sherries beg for pairing with a rich, dried fruit tart or chocolate cake. More on that later.

The Fino was bone dry, with a full fragrance of crisp fruit and light caramel; at first taste it showed more brightness than expected, but after I moved to the brighter acidity of the Manzanilla and then back, the edge of the Fino seemed softer, with hints of fig, maple and fresh dates.

The Manzanilla, just as dry or drier, but thinner and more delicate, is considered the better choice of the two; but to my palate, needed food to show its stuff clearly. Either of these would be good with a pan of roasted veg, I believe; they have enough acid to cut through the oil and carbs, and I have a suspicion that the lighter and more floral Manzanilla would indeed shine alongside the smokiness of soybacon. The nose on this Sherry was a wash of citrus, moss, and light prune. I could see drinking it with a smoked eggplant soup, and hope to try that sometime in future.

From there we drank two Amontillados, a medium dry, and a dry rich. Again, I preferred the first, but wouldn't kick the rich dry out of my glass, either. The medium dry came on with a lush nose of leathery dried pear and light brown sugar, and tasted most of browned caramel, with nutty hints of buttered popcorn. There was long, slightly raisiny finish. This is a big food wine, and could stand up to both acidic and rich foods-- I had to wonder what it would taste like alongside a curried carrot soup. Alone or with food, it would be a delicious reward for struggling through our modern lives.

 The dry rich Amontillado showed heavier caramel yet, brightened with strong citrus notes and, I thought, a ghost of dried apricot along with its primary toasted hazelnut or almond flavors.

 Then things started to get serious. Back-to-back Olorosos, dry and full rich, showed themselves as deep dinner wines, not to be taken for a mere aperitif. It's a shame more people here don't serve sherries with meals. We're missing so much: a wide spectrum of food wines pared down to the dessert genre, or slubbed off as an esoteric salon refreshment of priests, B-movie villians, and great-grandmothers.

 Our 'teacher' told us an anecdote about trying to sell an Oloroso, and how the would-be buyers brushed him off until they tasted it with a steak. For us, I'd have to say, I can perfectly picture myself happy slurping the full rich with a meal of portobello steaks or duxelles over mashed potatoes and green beans. Sweet potato hash, with or without soybacon, would be luscious too, and this sherry could take the spice of some hot red pepper thrown in, easily. When you sample a bevy of sherries, you begin to understand the genius of paprika as a seasoning. The flavors here were a meld of prune plum, toasted almond and syrupy lime coming off a heady perfumed bouquet of rich brown sugar and green moss with a whiff of citrusy cilantro.

 We'd been tasting in pairs, and this was the first time that I, and my tasting partner and bandmate J., preferred the second choice of a pairing. It was a knockout, although the dry Oloroso had beautiful acidity, and filled our mouths and noses with big, bright, crisp sour apple, cut grape, and minor blonde roast coffee notes. I'd try it with a mixed veg stew, or even a red sauce dish-- it has enough acid to match, and meld its fruitier quality into the mix for a neat complement.

 You might be thinking at this point, when did she go all wine critic on us? Truth is, I've always loved wine. It was my cocktail of choice even as a teen, (Sangria!) and as school age kids, my sister and I were given a singular holiday treat in the form of a tiny pink cordial Depression glassful of whatever red was being served with the feast. 

 As for sherry, I had an after work ritual for maybe a year and a half, two years, while living in Indianapolis. Take off shoes. Wash hands. Chop and start cooking for dinner, then sit with my feet up and read, drinking a small glass of Fino or Amontillado, nibbling on a tiny wedge of parmesan or romano cheese, some nuts or olives, raisins or dried apricots, and maybe a cracker. A good way to reclaim my adult brain at the end of a day spent with energetic young children. So I've been into sherry for over a decade now.

 Of course, in Spain, they serve sherry with food all the time, but here, unless it's a self-conscious tapas party raining down manchego and sardines, it doesn't happen. Part of this can be blamed directly on Harvey's Bristol Cream. Luckily, the cream sherry we tried next was not in the same class as good ol' Harvey's. Nor was it as complex and layered an experience as the wines that had gone before; but it was a sherry I could see myself enjoying in small amounts. With aromas of candied peach and peach pit, it was sweet but not cloying, showing plenty of sugary berry and fatty nut flavors.

 The last two sherries were the high sweet end of sherry-- a dark rich Moscatel that came on with a deep, deep hit of prune and light brown sugar, and the syrupy Ximenez extra rich. The last is definitely a treaty dessert wine, standardly recommended to be chilled and dripped over vanilla ice cream or paired with a dark mousse cake. I'd amend that to a pistachio or maple walnut ice cream (or burnt almond if you can find it anywhere anymore) alongside a thin slice of pear or apple tart, or for more contrast, a not-too-tart cranberry dessert.

 This was purely luscious. A sweet plummy bouquet gave way to concentrated honeyed fig. As I swirled it over my tongue, a so-light note of buttered wheat toast led to layer upon layer of deep, dark caramel, dried prune and date, toffee-washed tobacco and back to fresh fig. Honestly, more than the taste poured for us at Premier would be too much for me without an accompanying dessert, but it was ambrosial while it lasted. I can't recommend this brand of sherry highly enough, for its complexity and smoothness, and rich flavors, not to mention it's reasonable everyday cost.

If reading this hasn't moved you, maybe the fact that many of these finely crafted sherries are waiting to come home with you for a mere $11.99/bottle can. I know I'm excited to try sherry as a wine to be drunk with meals again, and not just my pre-dinner snack. It has been way too long.

 Drink something good tonight! Peace,


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