Spain’s fab­u­lous sher­ries gain in pop­u­lar­ity

The China Post - - ARTS -

Is it pos­si­ble that sherry, a Span­ish wine steeped in cen­turies of tra­di­tion, is turn­ing trendy? Given its di­verse range of col­ors, and a per­son­al­ity that oc­cu­pies ev­ery sec­tion of the dry to sweet spec­trum, it has tended to come across as rather com­pli­cated, when in fact its pro­duc­tion is quite straight­for­ward. Sherry is ba­si­cally made in two styles: the pale, bonedry Fino ( mean­ing “Re­fined”), and the richer, ini­tially dry, Oloroso (mean­ing “Scented”).

Fino is made us­ing the free-run juice of the best-qual­ity grapes, and the rest es­sen­tially be­comes Oloroso. The prin­ci­pal grape is Palomino, with some Mosca­tel and Pe­dro Ximenez. The lat­ter is usu­ally re­ferred to as PX, given the easy po­ten­tial to mis­pro­nounce it. Palomino is low in acid­ity and sugar which makes it suit­able for sherry but not very at­trac­tive as a ta­ble wine.

Sherry is dis­tinc­tive for its in­ven­tion of the Sol­era sys­tem. This is a dy­namic sys­tem which gives uni­for­mity and con­ti­nu­ity to the wine in which re­cent vin­tages are grad­u­ally com­bined with older vin­tages. This can take up to 30 years, the re­sult be­ing wines of deep com­plex­ity.

To help un­der­stand how this works, the Sol­era might be seen as a so­phis­ti­cated ver­sion of the blend­ing process in the Cham­pagne re­gion. Here, for the pro­duc­tion of non-vintage cham­pagne, base wines from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent years are skill­fully blended to achieve the same con­sis­tent house style.

Sherry is also dis­tinc­tive be­cause of flor, an in­dige­nous yeast present in the air in the An­dalu­cia re­gion of south­ern Spain. It forms on top of sherry wines al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter fer­men­ta­tion and pro­tects wine from air con­tact. Ivory in color and some­what wrin­kled, flor can be up to two cen­time­ters thick.

In sherry speak, flor ba­si­cally di­vides the wines from the Jeres-Xeres-Sherry DO into two main cat­e­gories: the bi­o­log­i­cally aged sher­ries which de­velop un­der the flor (Man­zanilla and Fino, with their highly in­di­vid­ual aroma pro­files); and ox­ida­tive sher­ries which ma­ture ei­ther par­tially with­out, or en­tirely with­out, flor (Amon­til­lado, Oloroso and Pe­dro Ximenez). Flor will only de­velop if the al­co­hol con­tent of the wine in the bar­rel is less than 16 per­cent. Thus wine in­tended to be­come Fino is for­ti­fied to 15 or 15.5 per­cent, while wine des­tined to be­come Oloroso is for­ti­fied to 17 or 18 per­cent. This higher per­cent­age de­stroys the flor cap.

While oe­nol­o­gists are con­tin­u­ally re­search­ing and re­fin­ing pro­duc­tion meth­ods, par­tic­u­larly as more is dis­cov­ered about the na­ture of flor, wine mak­ing has re­mained es­sen­tially the same for cen­turies. So why might sherry be emerg­ing as fash­ion­able?

The global pro­lif­er­a­tion of ta­pas bars and es­tab­lish­ments spe­cial­iz­ing in so­called “Small Plates” — gen­er­ally fash­ioned so as to ap­peal to a younger au­di­ence — can cer­tainly take some credit. In­ter­est­ingly, leg­end has it that ta­pas were cre­ated in the sherry bar: A slice of bread placed on top of a glass pre­vented flies from land­ing in the am­ber liq­uid. On top of that bread was placed per­haps a green olive, a sliver of Ser­rano ham, a slice of Manchego cheese. And so a new din­ing con­cept emerged from dimly lit base­ments.

Sherry is, in any event, highly food­friendly, and not only with ta­pas. Even the quite del­i­cate aper­i­tif-style Man­zanilla, with ar­rest­ing flo­ral aro­mas, most par­tic­u­larly camomile, gains com­plex­ity with food. This sherry is ma­tured in the city of San­lu­car de Bar­rameda, where it is fanned by ocean breezes, and it is fan­tas­tic with fish and seafood — most par­tic­u­larly sushi and sashimi.

The sharper, more herbal Fino is sim­i­larly fish friendly, but can also com­ple­ment more in­tense fla­vors and tex­tures. Oloroso, a warm and pow­er­ful wine which fin­ishes dry but has a glyc­er­ine mouth-feel which means it is won­der­ful drunk alone, but pairs well with rich meat dishes. PX, which is made with sun-dried grapes for sugar con­cen­tra­tion, can serve as a dessert all by it­self, but in com­mon with other dessert wines should be matched with some­thing less sweet than it­self: dark cho­co­late, for ex­am­ple; or it can be poured over ice cream. It is also great with blue cheese.

The highly com­plex Amon­til­lado, a won­der­ful wine which can show nu­ances of del­i­cate petals and rich caramel at the same time, is one of the most ver­sa­tile sher­ries at the ta­ble. It can even part­ner with ar­ti­chokes and as­para­gus, two veg­eta­bles no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to match with wine. It can also pair well with spicy dishes, even cur­ries.

Given that the most en­thu­si­as­tic of sherry drinkers are prob­a­bly wine lovers, the re­newed in­ter­est, par­tic­u­larly for Fino styles among younger drinkers, may also re­flect the di­rec­tion that wine­mak­ing in gen­eral is tak­ing. Del­i­cacy and min­eral qual­i­ties are in­creas­ingly fa­vored over overt oak and fruit. Mean­while, the boom in nat­u­ral wines has also cre­ated re­newed in­ter­est in ox­ida­tive styles, and the no­tion that wine does not just come in one of three nar­rowly de­fined (red, white or pink) col­ors. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of publi­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Aus­tralia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books. Annabel Jack­son has worked in the wine in­dus­try for more than 20 years, and has writ­ten eight books about wine and food. She is an Ad­vanced Am­bas­sador of the Academy of Wines of Por­tu­gal, and teaches wine mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Brighton in the United King­dom.

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