BACK IN FAVOUR

Sherry swings into hip­ster ter­ri­tory.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Sherry swings into hip­ster ter­ri­tory.

At Bodega Del­gado Zuleta in San­lu­car de Bar­rameda, Spain, mas­ter sherry maker Pe­layo Gar­cia takes sam­ples of liq­uid from wooden bar­rels with a ve­nen­cia – a small cup on a long stick. He pours the golden liq­uid into glasses, and we drink. There are de­li­cious hints of nuts and cit­rus on the nose, and it’s dry, but soft on the palate, with an el­e­gant salin­ity and com­plex­ity. It’s a young Man­zanilla that will even­tu­ally, af­ter at least 30 years of nur­tur­ing, ma­ture into Del­gado Zuleta’s spe­cial­ity, the Quo Vadis? Amon­til­lado.

The bodega’s Quo Vadis? and other re­fined sher­ries, such as its flag­ship La Goya and its ground­break­ing or­ganic Man­zanilla, called En­tu­si­as­tico, are help­ing to el­e­vate the sta­tus of Spain’s unique for­ti­fied wines around the world. In re­cent decades, sherry has been un­fairly sad­dled with the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing one of those sweet, syrupy drinks grand­moth­ers bring forth from rarely ac­cessed liquor cab­i­nets on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. But there are ac­tu­ally 10 types of sherry: five dry and five sweet. Fino, Man­zanilla, Oloroso, Amon­til­lado, and Palo Cor­tado are dry, while Pe­dro Ximenez, Mosca­tel, Pale Cream, Medium Cream, and Cream (the lat­ter three be­ing blends) are sweet.

The thirst for premium va­ri­eties of sherry, es­pe­cially drier ones, but also par­tic­u­larly Pe­dro Ximenez, is grow­ing.

“Global sherry sales may be down, with su­per­mar­ket sales de­clin­ing, but we’ve seen im­pres­sive de­mand for our premium sher­ries,” says Gar­cia. “The sherry re­vival in the ul­tra-premium cat­e­gory started tak­ing off about six years ago.”

Del­gado Zuleta, which dates back to 1744 and claims to be Spain’s old­est sherry bodega, isn’t the only sherry pro­ducer see­ing in­ter­est spark­ing in high-qual­ity sher­ries. GLOBAL RE­VIVAL “We’re be­yond the ‘granny’ image within our grow­ing tar­get mar­ket of wine cognoscenti,” says Tim Holt of Bode­gas Bar­badillo, an in­no­va­tive bodega that is about to re­lease a Man­zanilla-based ver­mouth. It is also known for its cen­te­nary sin­gle cask Amon­til­lado, Ver­sos 1891 – of which only 100 bot­tles were pro­duced, priced at about GPB8,000 each. “There’s a grow­ing trend in hip­ster quar­ters in Lon­don and New York to drink sherry and use it in cock­tails.”

Lon­don’s Drakes Ta­banco is one such venue. Along with a care­fully se­lected list of bot­tled sher­ries, the bar also brings in sherry di­rectly from Bode­gas Rey Fer­nando de Castilla in Jerez. The sherry, nur­tured for up to 30 years at the bodega, is put into spe­cially made an­tique wooden bar­rels at the ta­banco ( bar or tav­ern). Served un­fil­tered, straight from the bar­rel, along­side slices of Spain’s beloved ja­mon de bel­lota (ham from free-range pigs that eat only acorns), tast­ing sherry here is as close to the ex­pe­ri­ence of ac­tu­ally be­ing at a bodega as you are likely to find out­side of Spain.

But it’s not only Eu­rope and Amer­ica that are show­ing a grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for sherry. Sales in China, es­pe­cially in Shang­hai, are show­ing growth too, just as they are in Hong Kong. Ja­pan is also boom­ing: “It’s where we sell the most sherry

in Asia, again very much premium and above all Man­zanilla, such as our Solear Man­zanilla,” says Holt.

Sin­ga­pore has its own fledg­ling sherry cul­ture. D. Be­spoke at Bukit Pa­soh Road, for ex­am­ple, has been qui­etly bring­ing the sherry re­vival home since 2014. The Ginza-style bar’s note­wor­thy col­lec­tion in­cludes a 30-year-old Bar­badillo Amon­til­lado, and Valde­spino Mosca­tel Tone­les, prob­a­bly the old­est Mosca­tel on the mar­ket at 80 to 100 years old. Only 100 bot­tles of the Mosca­tel are ex­tracted each year from a sin­gle cask.

Daiki Kane­taka, who is a cer­ti­fied ve­nen­ci­ador – some­one skilled at tak­ing sam­ples of sherry from a cask with a ve­nen­cia – heads the bar and says in­ter­est in sherry is in­creas­ing.

“When we in­ter­act with our cus­tomers and pro­pose sherry rec­om­men­da­tions now, the drinkers are def­i­nitely more savvy com­pared to when we opened,” he says. TRICKLE-DOWN EF­FECT What drives those work­ing in the bar and restau­rant busi­ness to be so pas­sion­ate about sherry is its his­tory, unique­ness and va­ri­ety.

“Sherry is a unique style of wine in the way that it’s aged,” says Kane­taka. “The flavours that the sol­era process cre­ates are as var­ied as they are unique, and they can match with most meals or be sim­ply en­joyed on their own. How this va­ri­ety can come from just a few grape va­ri­eties is amaz­ing to me.”

The 10 types of sherry are all made from three va­ri­eties of white grape: Palomino Fino for dry sher­ries, and Pe­dro Ximenez and Mosca­tel for sweet ver­sions. Like Palomino Fino, Pe­dro Ximenez and Mosca­tel grapes are sour when picked, but they are sun-dried to con­cen­trate the sug­ars, then dry-pressed.

To make sherry, the must – freshly crushed grape juices – is first fer­mented. Musts of Palomino grapes fer­ment un­til nearly all the sug­ars are turned into al­co­hol, while Pe­dro Ximenez and Mosca­tel musts are cut off early in the process to re­tain sug­ars. At the end of fer­men­ta­tion, a layer of flor – nat­u­ral yeast – forms on top of th­ese base wines.

The finest, most del­i­cate base wines then go for bi­o­log­i­cal age­ing – that is, nat­u­rally un­der the layer of flor, with­out con­tact with oxy­gen. They make the dri­est sher­ries, Fino or

Man­zanilla. The rest will be for­ti­fied to about 17 per cent al­co­hol vol­ume to kill the flor, leav­ing the wine to ox­i­dise – ma­ture in con­tact with air – like reg­u­lar wines. Nat­u­rally sweet wines are al­ways for­ti­fied to a higher al­co­hol con­tent to re­move the flor.

The base wines are then clas­si­fied again and put into a sol­era sys­tem – a stack of casks with the youngest wines at the top grad­u­ally re­plac­ing the older, more ma­ture wines in the bot­tom row of casks. As older wine is taken out, younger wine is added; some sol­era sys­tems there­fore have traces of sherry that are as much as 100 years old. Sherry must, by Span­ish law, be aged at least two years to de­velop the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of each type. A TASTE OF GE­OG­RA­PHY All wine la­belled as ‘sherry’ must also come from the Sherry Tri­an­gle, an area in the prov­ince of Cadiz in An­dalu­sia be­tween Jerez de la Fron­tera, San­lu­car de Bar­rameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The word ‘sherry’ is an an­gli­ci­sa­tion of Xeres (Jerez).

Sher­ries are clas­si­fied as JerezXeres- Sherry DO, the DO stand­ing for Denom­i­na­cion de Ori­gen which, sim­i­lar to the French ‘ap­pel­la­tion’, is a Span­ish clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem to reg­u­late qual­ity and geo­graph­i­cal ori­gin. Man­zanilla, which is es­sen­tially a Fino but made in San­lu­car de Bar­rameda, ac­tu­ally has its own cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, DO Man­zanil­laSan­lu­car de Bar­rameda, but is com­monly re­ferred to as a sherry.

As with wine, ter­roir is cru­cial to sherry. This part of Spain is unique in its ge­og­ra­phy, cli­mate and en­vi­ron­ment. Jerez is hot and dry in sum­mer, and as no ir­ri­gation is per­mit­ted in the DO of Jerez-XeresSherry, the soils need to soak up and re­tain the win­ter rain to nur­ture the vine through the grow­ing sea­son.

There are three types of soil in or near Jerez, all good at re­tain­ing wa­ter. Around 90 per cent of all sherry vine­yards are on chalky al­bariza, which is sim­i­lar to the soils of Ch­ablis and Cham­pagne; then there are bar­ros and are­nas, which are more of­ten used to grow grapes for sweet wines.

The Tri­an­gle’s cli­mate and lo­ca­tion close to the coast also has an im­pact on the sherry dur­ing the pro­duc­tion stages. The salty sea breezes, es­pe­cially notable in coastal San­lu­car, draw hot air out from the big, high-ceilinged ware­houses in which the casks are stored, bring­ing hu­mid­ity up from the ground, cre­at­ing good con­di­tions for age­ing the sherry.

All th­ese el­e­ments – the grape, the soil, the cli­mate, the bar­rel – have to be ideal to pro­duce a great sherry. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, it’s the sherry mas­ter who guides the process, con­tin­u­ally tast­ing and as­sess­ing, and de­cid­ing how to best ex­press the wine’s na­ture. Mak­ing sherry is as much art as sci­ence and na­ture.

Sher­ries in their best ren­di­tion de­serve not only a place in granny’s liquor cab­i­net, but also their space on the menus of the world’s finest bars and restau­rants. And if the pas­sion for this unique taste of Spain con­tin­ues to boom, that’s ex­actly where you will soon find them.

BE­FORE YOU DISS IT The qual­ity of Bodega Del­gado Zuleta’s re­fined sher­ries, such as the QuoVadis?, has added pres­tige to the drink.

01 A BAR NEAR YOU Sin­ga­pore’s D. Be­spoke has a col­lec­tion of rare sher­ries.

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