Last Thursday night I attended Sherry Bar Vancouver, a Spanish tapas wine and food pairing event / charity fundraiser put together by the wonderful folks at The Wine Umbrella in association with Wines of Spain and the regulatory bodies of Spain’s Jerez region, and learned these valuable life lessons:
- Sherry is not the sickly sweet confection favoured by your grandmother, her bridge club and the wayward vagabond who lives at the bus stop up the street.
- There are as many, if not more, different types and colours of Sherry as there are various ethnic communities living in Vancouver. All of which are delicious. (Sherry and Vancouverites.)
- Don’t refuse a glass of Sherry next time one is offered to you.
Standing in the tasting hall, the intense, sometimes piquant aromas of nuts and dried fruits wafting out of my glass, combined with sensational tapas by Gord Martin of Bin 941 / 942, instantly transported me straight into the dreamy idyll that I imagine is Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, where most Sherry is produced.
Having only tried Sherry twice prior to this educational event, I had forgotten how much I liked it. (Note: The Wine Umbrella’s events are always great learning experiences – the sommeliers hired to pour the wines tend to be of exceptional calibre. Be sure to check out one of their next tastings!)
Enjoying Sherry with food is a pretty romantic experience. Tasting the vibrant, heady, lively wines, accented by full-flavoured morsels of tapas, it’s not difficult to understand why Spanish culture is often regarded as passionate, colourful and fun.
Speaking of food, I won’t go into too much detail about the array of amazing treats prepared by Gord Martin just yet, but here’s a quick ode to my newfound addiction: Deep-fried anchovy-stuffed olives.
I truly regret not having a snapshot of Thursday night’s goodies for you to see; unfortunately, that’s the irony of why the best-enjoyed moments are never caught on camera – it’s hard to take snapshots when your hands are full.
Anyway, I digress.
The crispy shells of these panko-crusted babies (I’m pretty sure it was panko) cracked ever so gently between your teeth to make way for melt-in-your-mouth salty, savoury goodness that just begs for some Fino Sherry (Fino explained below) and a few handfuls more of those olives.
I should probably end my ode here, but I can’t resist mentioning that Georgia, the manager of both Bins, told me that she’d like these olives to be the Bins’ new Caesar cocktail garnishes(!!). If that comes true, you know where to find me during Happy Hour… Caesar in one hand, a plate of juicy, pan-seared scallops with Chilliwack corn dressing in the other (I know I didn’t mention it in this post, but that’s what Gord Martin created for ChefmeetsGrape 2009, which turned out to be that night’s most popular dish).
Getting back to the Sherry, below are my tasting notes of the different products I tried on Thursday. I’m mostly amazed (and partially ashamed to admit I’ve only realized this just now) that Sherry is so versatile and food-friendly, yet it rarely comes to mind when I’m seeking a wine pairing – I think it’s high time for us wine geeks to lift the Sherry category up from the mire of underappreciation and into the spotlight.
One of my 2010 new year’s resolutions will be to drink more Sherry and to tell other people to do the same. Will you join me?
Sherry Bar Vancouver – Tasting Notes
These wines are listed in the order in which I tasted them.
Tio Pepe Palomino Fino
Fino Sherry, in short, is Jerez wine that has been aged in barrel under a layer of naturally-forming yeast called flor, and made to taste relatively light and dry. Think dry vermouth as opposed to sweet vermouth.
The colour of light straw/hay, with a sharp nose of dried figs, sweet golden raisins and molasses, this Fino Sherry is medium-bodied with medium acidity, tasting much thinner in flavour than its heady scent. Dry and a bit grassy with a nutty finish. Paired at Sherry Bar Vancouver with the aforementioned deep-fried anchovy-stuffed olives as well as BC sidestripe prawn atop a potato wedge and Romesco sauce. $22
Light gold/straw in colour. A cleaner, clearer nose than the previous, this one softly redolent of spice, nuts and Sultana raisins. A subtle dryness with woody undertones reveals delicious nutty and white raisin flavours. Seems a bit lighter-bodied and softer in acidity than the Tio Pepe, perhaps because of the slightly lower alcohol volume. The finish is slightly bitter and drying on the tongue. I’d wager a warmly spicy Moroccan couscous Tagine-cooked dish would be an excellent match. $18
Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa
Manzanilla Sherry is made in the seaside locale of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and provides Manzanilla wines with a type of barrel terroir in that its flor is reminiscent of the salty coast.
Smoked tea and bacon emerge on top of the familiar dried fruit Sherry nose. On the palate, nutty flavours preside over a smooth, creamy-textured wine with a medium finish. Price N/A.
Lustau Escuadrilla Amontillado
Amontillado is basically fortified Fino Sherry, where additional dry wine is added to kill off some of the flor. This type of Sherry is darker-coloured and richer in flavour than a Fino.
This light chestnut brown wine has a slightly briny but appealing nose. Flavours of roasted nuts, raisins, fried shallots and creamy wood marry deliciously on the palate with a medium to medium-long finish. Price N/A.
Oloroso Sherry ages oxidatively, that being through slow exposure to oxygen in barrel without the cap of flor yeast protecting it. It’s usually fortified up to 22% a.b.v. and is generally warmer in flavour with a smoother mouthfeel.
A waxy nose of petrol (Olorosos contain more glycerides than lighter, flor-affected Sherry) with underlying dried fruit tones turn up on the palate as candle wax, honeycomb and dried mango, apricot and prunes. Medium- to medium-full bodied with a nice, mouth-coating texture and a raisin finish. Price N/A.
Williams & Humbert Dos Cortados Palo Cortado Aged 20 Years
Palo Cortado is Fino or Amontillado Sherry where all the flor has been eaten away by the wine, and is then further aged oxidatively. Usually it is much darker and more viscous than Oloroso.
A heavily waxy nose of glycerin, spicy dried fruit and dairy cream in the background. Its smooth palate evokes salted caramel, nuts and a subtle fruit character. Sublimely matched at Sherry Bar Vancouver with fresh crostini topped wth Jamón de Serrano-wrapped baby arugula, shaved Manchego, heirloom tomato vinegar and Spanish olive oil, as well as Albacore tuna encrusted with roasted hazelnut salt, drizzled with an Oloroso reduction. Price N/A.
Williams & Humbert Drysack Sweet Old Oloroso Aged 15 Years
With a chocolaty nose of burnt caramel sort of blocked by glycerine (imagine sniffing a bar of chocolate and caramel-scented soap), this wine has a taste similar to Tawny Port, with a medium-bodied, creamy mouthfeel and sweet finish with hint of anise. Also fabulous with the hazelnut-covered tuna. Who knew sweet wine would taste terrific with rich, salty, meaty fish? Price N/A.
Lustau Don Nuño Dry Oloroso
The waxy, honeyed nose reminds me of honeycomb, and the palate fondly recalls mulled apple cider and other Christmassy aromas. Its alcohol content (20%) is a bit evident here, so enjoy this with a bit of food – I enjoyed this greatly with the Serrano ham /arugula crostini. Perhaps try this also with a small arugula/anchovy/pine nut/sun-dried tomato thin crust pizza? Price N/A.
Lustau East India Solera Sherry
The knowledgeable sommelier manning the blended Sherry booth told me a neat story about the East India label; namely, that it’s called East India because barrels of this wine were tied to colonial British ships headed for that very destination, acting as stabilizers.
Dark mahogany in colour – assisted by the addition of vino de color – this wine oozes funk, fungus, tar, cigar tobacco and sweet licorice on the nose. On the palate, brine and dried figs and prunes emerge amid medium acidity. It finishes nicely with notes of raisin and dried prunes. $37
Williams & Humbert Drysack Medium Dry
This blended Sherry has spent a minimum of 5 years in oak and is a blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes. A slightly alcoholic nose reveals notes of sweet spices, oak and cayenne on the tongue, with a finish of orange peel and ginger. Medium- to medium-full bodied. $18
Gonzalez Byass Nutty Solera Oloroso
Deep amber in colour. This also has a slightly alcoholic nose of spice and cinnamon, and tastes of marzipan, dried fruit and raisins. Butter tarts, anyone? $17
Harvey’s Bristol Cream
Yes, this is the one Sherry that precludes most people’s thoughts of delving further into the wide world that is Sherry. Strictly stereotypically speaking, elderly folk the world over have been giving this brand of Sherry and the entire genre itself a bad reputation for years, but I invite you to try it for yourself. It really is creamy; so much so, in fact, that it was the best blended Sherry to pair with Bin’s risotto ball filled with Sherry Chanterelle mushrooms topped with black truffle aioli. Talk about high-low culture clash!
The nose is a funny but pleasant mixture of wax, honey and sweet cheese (kind of like Cantenaar). Medium-bodied with a sweet dried fruit palate and a sweet finish. $19
Williams & Humbert Walnut Brown
Walnut Brown was one of the only Sherry wines I’d ever tried until Sherry Bar Vancouver; but it, like the date during which I first sipped it, ended up being filed in one of the deeper, darker crevices of my memory, long-forgotten, only to resurface in my mental Inbox and my wine glass on Thursday as a pleasant memento of good times shared.
Compared to the other Sherry wines being poured at this tasting, Walnut Brown stood out with its uniquely floral, lychee-infused citrus nose, almost Gewurztraminer-like in character but more intense and headier. Fresh fruit flavours on the palate and medium acidity give way to a pleasing, medium-long finish. This was great with Bin’s appy of Kurobuta pork meatball-topped truffle honey and caramelized apple baklava. (Sound like a mouthful? Try eating one.) Incredible value – grab a bottle on your next shopping trip. $17
Pedro Ximenez El Candado
The Pedro Ximenez (or PX for short) subcategory of Sherry consists of wines made with dried grapes of the same name, producing thicker, richer and fuller-bodied liquid. Thursday night marked my first experience of Pedro Ximenez, and it was marvellous. This and the other two PX Sherry wines below were paired with homemade Madagascan vanilla ice cream and shortbread cookies to great effect and squeals of delight from across the room. For a sinfully delicious treat, pour some PX over vanilla ice cream – you can thank me later.
A deep copper / rust colour. Gobs of sticky toffee pudding, figs, molasses and dried hawthorn* leap out of the glass into the somewhat waxy nose. A medium-bodied joy to savour with its tasty licorice finish. Price N/A.
Pedro Ximenez Néctar
Dried longan, goji berries and hawthorn tickle the nose within a heady, figgy aroma that yields to an interesting, briny palate of anchovy, molasses, maple syrup and Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa.* It sounds like a horrible combination, but trust me, it’s not – this Sherry is decadent. Sip slowly and enjoy the long finish on this treacly treat. Price N/A.
* Longan, goji berries (wolfberries), hawthorn and Nin Jim Pei Pa Koa (medicinal loquat and herb syrup) are ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine and can be found at your local Chinese herb shop or Chinatown.
Williams & Humbert Pedro Ximenez VOS Don Guido Aged 20 Years
VOS stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum, or Very Old Sherry, and is given to wines 20 years old or more, where the production house, or bodega, carries at least 20 litres of wine of that age.
My friend Cyndy, the sommelier pouring this Sherry, described the wine’s appearance best in two words: Crude oil. A mildly intense nose of petroleum, wax and rubber bands leads into flavours of burnt toffee, salt, anchovy and soy sauce on the tongue. Syrupy in texture. Again, odd flavours to imagine together, but delicious in the mouth. Price N/A.