Put away notions of sherry as a sickly sweet pick-me-up – a young fino makes a fine summer drink, writes JOHN WILSON
PICTURE YOURSELF SEATED in a bar on the square in Jerez, late on a balmy summer’s evening, with a few plates of tapas, including jamon, croquettas, Manchego cheese, or whatever is being served. To accompany these nibbles, the only thing you could possibly drink is a glass of refreshing chilled fino sherry.
Or imagine you are in one of the many restaurants that face the beach in the nearby coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Here, you watch the sun go down with a manzanilla, the lighter, salty version of fino, and a perfect accompaniment to the amazing range of fish and seafood that forms the core of local cuisine.
Fino and its little brother manzanilla are among the finest wines known to man – and there is no better place to try them than in the picturesque city of Jerez.
The city centre, with its Arabic gardens, tree-lined cobbled streets and wonderful old buildings, has real character. The ancient warehouses attest to the historical business of Jerez – making wine.
At times you can smell it in the air. Nowadays many of the bodegas are open to the public – some even offering lunch – and a visit is an ideal way to gain an understanding of the complex winemaking practices that make sherry so unique.
There is much to see besides wine though. Horse-lovers will head straight to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art to view spectacular displays of horsemanship. Foodies should not miss the fish market. If you tire of the city, there is always the Costa de la Luz, a series of westward-facing beaches traditionally favoured by the Spanish, and the natural park of Doñana.
I didn’t make it to Jerez this year. Instead I holidayed at home, which allowed me to pack a nice range of wines to drink over two weeks. Naturally I included a bottle (actually two plus a few halves) of fino sherry. Before dinner each evening, I enjoyed a glass with whatever nibbles were to hand, and transported myself mentally at least, to Andalusia.
Clew Bay to Jerez may be a long way, but a sherry or two helps bridge the gap.
To some, sherry is an older person’s drink. However, there has been an increasing interest from younger wine drinkers in recent years, driven by high-quality dry wines that bear little resemblance to the sweet stuff your grandmother used to drink.
London now has several bars devoted exclusively to sherry, as well as a host of tapas bars that offer an extensive range by the glass. Several restaurants and wine bars in Ireland have been trying the same thing for a number of years, with some success. The next time you fancy an aperitif before dinner, why not try a sherry?
The key to good fino sherry is freshness. Once bottled, the wine should be consumed within a year. It can be difficult to work out the bottling date of the sherry in your local shop. I would recommend trying to find a retailer that has a decent turnover, usually one who has an interest in the subject.
Sherry comes in many guises; I am not suggesting you ignore the wonderful amontillados, olorosos and other delights. These are darker, richer wines, possibly more difficult to start off with, and better in the winter or with food.
Fino and manzanilla make great summer drinks. They should always be served chilled and preferably from a freshly opened bottle.
They make a great aperitif, but are so much better with food. Fish would be my first choice although others prefer Serrano ham. Crab and fino is one of the great food matches. This summer a plate of freshly caught grilled mackerel with a glass of the Hidalgo fino sherry listed here was sublime.
BOTTLES OF THE WEEK
Lustau Papirusa Manzanilla, 15%, €9.99 per half bottle:Lustau makes some fine sherries, including the excellent fino Jarana, but on this occasion I would suggest the light, refreshing and crisp manzanilla. Perfect as an aperitif or with lighter fish dishes.
Stockists: Mitchell Son, Glasthule, CHQ and mitchellandson.com; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Redmonds of Ranalagh; Bradley’s, Cork; La Touche Wines, Greystones; McCambridge’s of Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford; McDaniels, Brittas Bay; Myles Doyle, Main Street, Gorey; O’Briens.
Classic Fino, Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, 15%, €15.25:An approachable style of fino, bone-dry and fresh, with crisp citrus. If you haven’t tried sherry before, this would be a good starter wine.
Stockists: The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; James O’Keeffe, Ennis; Wicklow Arms, Delgany; Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown.
La Goya Manzanilla, Delgado Zuleta, 15%, €9:This outstanding sherry has featured in these pages before. It is manzanilla at its brilliant, mouth-watering, saline best – a fresh, vibrant, tangy wine with a crisp dry finish. I am looking forward to the arrival of the “en rama” (bottled unfiltered and unrefined) La Goya in September. This version is the closest you will get to sherry served straight from the barrel and should be a real treat.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Baggot Street Wines; Lilac Wines, Fairview; Black Pig, Donnybrook; Listons, Camden Street; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; La Touche Wines, Greystones; 64 Wines, Glasthule; Blackrock Cellar; Ennis Butchers; Enowine, Monkstown and the IFSC.
Hidalgo La Panesa Especial Fino, 15%, €30:Expensive, but boy is it worth it. A 15-year-old fino that is bone-dry, with fine flavours of toasted almonds and citrus and a lingering finish. A complex sherry to partner crustaceans and fish dishes.
Stockists: The Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin.