Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Fortify yourselves for Sherry

If I say Sherry, what comes to mind? Something sweet, dark and strong? If so, read on as your pre-conceptions are going to take a battering.

Some Sherry styles are sweet, for sure, but there are many dry options. The sweeter styles do make a great end to a meal, but the drier ones can make fine food matches with savoury dishes. In Jerez, Andalucia, whence Sherry hails, there is a saying: “If it swims, serve a Fino; if it flies, serve an Amontillado; if it runs, serve an Oloroso.”

Sherry styles
Manzanilla – the lightest and driest style of Sherry. This pale, almost water white wine is a perfect aperitif – a real palate sharpener. Serve with olives (anchovy stuffed for me).

Fino – still very light and dry, with a little more oomph than Manzanilla. Perfect for party nibbles and tapas style browsing.

Fino and tapas

Amontillado – deeper colour and more nutty, savoury flavours. It all starts life dry, but can be dry, medium or sweet, thanks to the addition of some concentrated grape juice or sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes.  Dry Amontillado is wonderful with roast salted almonds; I like to keep a bottle of medium dry Amontillado in the house in the winter months – a little glass of it is as good as a log fire for keeping off the winter chill.

The rich amber colour of Amontillado

Oloroso – the darkest, deepest-flavoured sherries are Christmas in a bottle. There is dried citrus fruit, nuts, spice and caramel aplenty. Most of what we see in the UK is sweet (and this is not a problem for me) and would happily stand up to Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolate – you name it. Dry Oloroso is great for game (especially furred game, if the Andalucians have it right).

Palo Cortado – a sort of hybrid style that usually smells like an Amontillado, but tastes like Oloroso.

Recommended sherries
Supermarket own labels are the ones to seek out – they offer fantastic quality and value for money. Waitrose’s Solera Jerezana range is particularly good. If you’d like a “name”, then look no further than Tio Pepe Fino (widely available for around £10) and Matusalem Oloroso (£19 for a half bottle from Waitrose) to make Christmas go with a swing.

Tio Pepe - a classic Fino

Other fortified wines
If Sherry suffers from a bad reputation, then Madeira doesn’t have one at all. Don’t save it just for cooking; the sweeter ones have the rich spice and caramel style of Sherry, but with great freshening acidity. Blandy’s are the biggest name in Madeira – but also look out for Barbeito (their Single Harvest is £18.99 from Waitrose), Henriques & Henriques and Justino’s.

French Vin Doux Naturel
An odd misnomer this – Vin Doux Naturel means natural sweet wine, but refers to wines whose fermentation has been halted by adding grape spirit (in the same way as Port). No matter, France is home to a rich hoard of these sweet, fortified treasures. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is probably the best known, but I am particularly fond of the VDNs of Maury and Rivesaltes.

Mas Amiel is the name to look for in Maury – their deepest purple Vintage Rouge 2013, made from Grenache Noir (£23.50 from Caves de Pyrène in Guildford) is a wonderful match for rich, dark chocolatey things.

Parcé Frères Rivesaltes 1996 (£13.50 a bottle from The Wine Society) is a beautiful amber coloured wine with sweet layers of spice, nuts and preserved fruit and a hint of the medicinal tang the French call rancio (trust me, this is a good thing). Have it with Christmas pudding or try it with the cheese board.