Celebrate Jerez! It’s International Sherry Week, when thousands of restaurants, bars and wine stores around the globe hold tastings and pairing menus in celebration of this centuries-old type of wine, to dismiss the notion that sherry is merely cooking wine, or for old ladies to sip.
“Sherry” is a bastardization of the Spanish Jerez, which is the territory in Southern Spain that is home to three major centers making up the Andalusian nursery of sherry.
Sherry pairs well with charcuterie, cheeses and “through your entire meal, including dessert,” said Paula-Marie Kule, assistant general manager of Barcelona Wine Bar in Inman Park, which kicked off its sherry festivities on Monday, Nov. 4. The week is a chance for Barcelona Wine Bar staff to demonstrate how much pride they take in the products they serve. Gretchen Thomas leads food and beverage innovations for the restaurant, and has a deep passion for sherry, even taking part in the blending process of one of the house sherries. Educating staff and guests is part of the ethos at Barcelona. Sherry comes in a myriad of styles, and Barcelona has a menu of about a dozen, in a range of flavors and profiles.
The history of winemaking in the region dates back to 1100 BC, and the version of sherry we know today dates back to the 1700s. Making it is a complicated process, much different from conventional winemaking today.
Sherry gets most of its flavor from what the winemaker does in the process, and not from the grape itself. Most sherries are made from a single grape. Palomino is a bland — but easily manipulated — blank canvas of a grape.
The making of sherry uses a dynamic solera system. The wine ages in old barrels, and an intricate method of blending is used, in which the winemaker takes a fraction of wine out and replaces it with young wine, gradually blending old and new wines. Ultimately, a bottle of sherry is a mixture of many wines of varying ages, with a lot of complexity.
There are two distinct styles of sherry. Those that are biologically aged are called finos, and the ones that are oxidatively aged are olorosos. Finos rely on the development of yeast known as “flor,” which grows on the surface, protecting the wine from oxidation, changing acidity and imparting the distinctive flavor. Olorosos are fortified to a higher alcohol content, inhibiting the growth of flor. As the wine ages in barrels exposed to oxygen, it grows darker, rounder, and takes on more concentrated notes.
During Sherry Week, you can order sherry by the glass, flight or half glass at both Barcelona locations. The menu lists pairings of pinchos, (bite-sized snacks) for each type of sherry.
“Sherry can be a little intimidating at first,” Kule said. She loves the half-glass option, because it “gives the opportunity to dive in and try something different” without the commitment. Her staff is ready to walk diners through different types of sherry — to share the nuances.
Bone-dry finos go great with something briny and salty, like marinated olives and boquerones (anchovies). Finos are straw-colored, light and refreshing, especially when served very cold. Manzanilla, a type of fino made only in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, has floral and sea breeze characteristics. Pair it with seafood and shellfish.
Amontillado is an aged fino where flor stopped developing. Kind of a hybrid, it has the lightness of fino with the nuttiness of an oloroso. It can carry sherry into entrees, and matches well with poultry.
Olorosos are fuller in body, with concentrated nutty aromas and flavors of caramel and dried fruit. They are a natural fit for heartier dishes, like pork belly or veal shank ravioli.
The old Andalusian adage — manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it walks — is a good general rule when beginning sherry tasting.
Dessert offers a couple of options for pairing with sherry as well. Pedo Ximenez, sometimes called simply PX, is a sweet sherry that tastes of concentrated dried fruits and sugars. It reaches its peak when poured atop ice cream. Cream sherry is merely sweet oloroso (it contains no dairy). Kule thinks it pairs beautifully with flan.
Sherry also adds heft to a cocktail, modifying the base spirit. Barcelona Wine Bar features a couple of cocktails crafted to showcase the wine, one with a tequila distilled specifically for the restaurant, and one with green Chartreuse.
Aside from International Sherry Week, “Fall is a wonderful time for sipping sherry,” Kule said. “The warm, nutty notes are perfect for this time of year.” Barcelona Wine Bar’s patio features heaters and a welcoming fireplace — seems like a good place to get to know sherry.
The Iberian Pig also is celebrating Sherry Week, with special flights all week.
Barcelona Wine Bar. 240 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-589-1010; 1085 Howell Mill Road NE, Atlanta. 404-872-8000, barcelonawinebar.com.
The Iberian Pig. 121 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-371-8800; 3150 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 404-994-4990, theiberianpigatl.com.
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