Thursday, July 10, 2008

Telling the Truth About Sherry

Is it hot and humid where you are? Temperatures in northern California have been over 100 degrees in many places, and all across the country folks are complaining about the heat. (photograph "hot hot sun" by masaaidh)

If this sounds like you, you need to go out and get yourself a bottle of Fino Sherry. This may sound wrong, wrong, wrong if "sherry" conjures up great aunt Alice's stuffy front room, crocheted doilies, and tiny glasses of amber liquid served at room temperature that were cringingly sweet. But I'm telling you the truth: Sherry is the best wine you aren't drinking in a heat wave.

There are a few rules if you are interested in putting my veracity to the test. First, you need to go to a store that carries and sells a lot of Sherry. If it has dust on the bottle, you don't want it. You also need to buy a bottle from Spain. Sherry comes from Spain, in much the same way that Champagne comes from France. Other places make make wine with Palomino grapes, but it's just not Sherry. Finally, it needs to be dry and it needs to be pale--this means looking for labels that say Fino, Pale Dry, or go for Manzanilla. (the glass to the far left in this picture has Fino sherry in it, fyi) I've had a few bottles of Sherry here in the US, and the one I go back to over and over again because it's indecently affordable and widely available is Osborne Pale Dry Fino. It also is bottled with a screwcap in a process that keeps it tasting fresh as long as possible. This will cost you somewhere between $7 and $17 a bottle depending on where you are, and where you buy it. I bought my bottles for $11.99 at Weimax just outside San Francisco.

When you get your bottle home, put it in the coldest part of your fridge. Wait until it's very, very cold. Then put two small wine glasses in the freezer. Not thimbles--proper small wine glasses like the ones in the pictures above. My first glass of Fino was served to me in frosted glasses in Bilbao, Spain, so you want to trust me on this detail: frosted glasses keep the sherry cold and that's a good thing.

While you're waiting 5-10 minutes for the glasses to frost up, scrounge the cabinets and fridge for some cured meat (chorizo? salami? pepperoni?), some cheese (Manchego? Parmigiano? goat cheese?) some olives, and some nuts. Good potato chips are also an option. Put whatever you find on a plate--congratulations, you have just made tapas--take your frosty glasses out of the freezer, and pour some of your Fino into the glass.

It should be very, very pale. If it isn't, your bottle wasn't that fresh and you can either drink it anyway or take it back to the store and ask for something that's arrived in the store sometime this year. As you drink it, your body temperature will feel like it went down 10 degrees and you will swear that you have filled your lungs with ocean air. You will be struck by the slight brininess of the Fino (especially if eating olives), or its nuttiness (especially if eating a handful of nuts or some cheese). And you will be amazed at the way the spicy meat of your choice is perfect with the cold, cold wine.

This is the truth nobody tells you about sherry. And when people do tell you these truths, you probably weren't listening. This may sound like a "me, too" post and that I'm jumping on a moving bandwagon since Eric Asimov posted about the attractions of Sherry on Wednesday in the New York Times, but I'm going to post it anyway. There can't be too many people talking this stuff up.

Curious about the small print? I'm trying out a new way of linking to a social networking site for wine called Adegga. It automatically picks up this AVIN number and links it to a data entry for the wine, and to the contents of individual cellars and tasting notes. I'll be writing a story about it soon, but until then expect to see tiny alpha-numeric lines at the bottom of wine review posts.


Anonymous said...

Great point! Rarely do people talk about the cooling effect of a chilled dry sherry on a searing hot day. You literally feel as if your internal body temperature has dropped, allowing you a short reprieve from the intense heat.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. I'd add that while the alcohol in a fino is higher than table wine, every sip is prue refreshment thanks to the combination of the acidity, the temperature and the focuesd purity of the flavors. Marcona almonds (which can be found readily at Trader Joe's, among other places) are ideal with fino.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you Dr. Debs for this entry. My fondest memories are of drinking Harvey's at my grandmother's house shortly before dinner. I haven't tried any other sherry because I didn't know what to try! I never knew about chilling sherry either....I'm hoping I can find some great I know what I'm going to ask for next time I venture into my wine store!

Anonymous said...

Ever tried La Guita Manzanilla? Kermit Lynch brings it in, and it's still one of my favorites. I used to buy it in Paris at the Bon Marché fancy grocery store, but since we moved south, it seems we have to go to Spain to get it, shame!! Just don't get there often enough!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody. Boneygirl, you can see that I'm not alone in thinking sherry is great for cooling you down and Tish is right--get your hands on some Marcona almonds if you can and keep them on hand. The ones from Trader Joe's come in a can, I discovered thanks to Tish, which makes them easy to pop open and leave in arm's reach. LaGramiere, I will swing by KLynch in a few weeks and try La Guita. We don't see much Manzanilla in stores, and the only two brands I see routinely are Osborne and Lustau. The Lustau was quite a bit more expensive, and I didn't think it was as good QPR, which is why I focused on the Osborne here. But I'll give the La Guita a try.