Drink Sherry this Christmas and be proud

The producers of Sherry are trying to shake off it’s non-cool reputation

Now is the moment of revelation: the word I was reluctant to mention last week is sherry. Why? Because it has so many non-cool connotations – and despite the continuing enthusiasm of so many influential wine communicators and sommeliers it remains far too little appreciated.

Let me quote the words which the boss of sherry, Beltran Domecq, ended the second of the two masterclasses he gave last month when the top floor of Bloomsbury’s Imagination Gallery heaved with wonderful bottles. There were 146 in all, in what was certainly the largest-ever tasting of sherries in the UK and possibly the biggest anywhere, anytime.

“Please use sherry: with lunch, with dinner. It is good for you,” he urged. The audience didn’t need convincing. We’d just experienced 20 different wines, ranging from the palest lightest, driest, salt-edged manzanilla to thick, dark almost treacly-sweet PX, every one different, every one memorable.

In those two masterclasses, Domecq, who is president of sherry’s regulating coucil, had covered the major styles of a wine which can show a quite remarkable variety. Leaving aside the very sweet styles, all came from a single grape variety, from the same wine-making process, from fortification which differed by just two degrees of alcohol. Yes, remarkable.

The essence of Domecq’s argument for more sherry-drinking was simple. Think of it as a white wine, and drink it with food – perhaps a plate of salty, fishy tapas with manzanilla or freshly-carved jamon with fino. But serve both much further into the meal: with oysters, smoked salmon, tricky-to-partner artichoke or asparagus, salad with vinaigrette (dry sherry, because of the acetalhydes which develop during its biological ageing is the only wine which will stand up to vinegar, he insisted). But it must be very cold – straight-from-the-fridge temperature.

Try dry amontillado with consomm�, fish stew, tuna, light game such as quail, even curry – as well as cheese. Here, too, temperature is crucial – 12 to15 degrees, to avoid the alcohol showing aggressively on the palate.

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And no cramped little copitas: you must drink sherry for a proper, decent-sized wine glass.

So, which wines to buy? There is a splendid choice, and many bargains, even in supermarket own-labels. Domecq’s first masterclass line-up included wines which are very easy to find: to illustrate manzanilla, the classic Hidalgo La Gitana, young and tangy (�10, Majestic, Tesco, Waitrose), and slightly rounder yet deliciously crunchy, salty and nutty Barbadillo Solear (�5.50 half-bottle, Waitrose, Tesco.com and independents). (NB, prices may vary a little, and watch out for offers.) There was also a manzanilla pasada, to demonstrate a more serious, more mature style: Hidalgo’s Pasada Pastrano (�10-�12, The Wine Society, Waitrose) is a tempting, value-for-money introduction.

For finos, Domecq began with surely the best-known, the deservedly popular Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, where flowers join the yeasty pungency to lovely effect (�11, widely available), moving on to Harvey’s Fino (�10 half-litre, www.drinkfinder.com) and Lustau La Ina (�8, The Wine Society). All are delicious.

Finally in the snapshot of biologically-aged sherries came amontilllados, topaz and amber nectars whose complex flavours continue to develop in solera for decades The masterclass star was Amontillado VORS from Bodegas Tradicion (�23.50 half-bottle, Fortnum & Mason), which smells wonderful and tastes sublime. Good starting points are Valdespino Contrabandista (�17-�19, Lea & Sandeman, Moreno), though this is a slightly sweet-edged style, and Gonzalez Byass Del Duque VORS (�17-�19.50 half-bottle, Cambridge Wines, Fortnum & Mason and other independents). For more advice, ask such specialists as Moreno in Maida Vale (check opening hours on 020 7286 0678) or Cambridge Wines (www.cambridgewine.com).

In the run-up to Christmas, I intend to turn to the richer, oxidatively-aged wines – olorosos and more, so lots more treats ahead.