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We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone.
Today: Take a cue from Julia Child and stock your cabinet with the best beverage for the home cook.
For many of us, the thought of sherry evokes exotic, far-reaching places and things: Manzanilla. Fino. Amontillado. Saline. Even Julia Child and her gleeful tipple of it. So why don’t we all drink more of it? Why don't more of us keep a few bottles on hand?
Sommeliers love sherry for its versatility and all of its complex, concentrated flavors. Their stamp of approval would normally be a very reliable indicator that home cooks can make good use of it, too. Yet sherry remains misunderstood, maligned. It falls into the category of drinks that “take some getting used to.”
But I’m here to tell you that missing out on sherry means missing out on one of the best beverages a home cook can have. You can drink it before a meal, drink it after a meal, pair it with wines during a meal, use it to cook a meal -- you get the idea. With so many options, though, we need to lay a foundation for what you can expect from sherry’s many iterations.
More: A glug in the pot, a sip for yourself.
Joon Lim, an Advanced Sommelier at Atlanta's The Spence, says that fino sherries make an ideal aperitif because they don't overwhelm, but are high in acid, which gets your mouth watering. Just imagine having it on the patio instead of rosé.
Fino pairs excellently with a wide range of foods, including milder cheeses, almonds, anchovies, olives, and oysters. Look for the Tío Pepe label, which is well regarded as both a value wine and one that has worked hard to distinguish itself from poorer-quality options in its category. You can keep it and store it like a white wine, but it will last four or five days once opened.
More: Build the perfect cheese plate to pair with Fino.
Amontillado is what would happen if you took the delicacy of a fino sherry, let it age, and opened it up to the happenstances of life. It sports a darker, tanned color with flavors that are nutty, tangy, and more mature. Try it with cheeses, cold meats, and pâtés, or sprinkle it over roast chicken so that it reduces in the juices. You’ll end up with a sauce that -- like amontillado itself -- is nutty and tangy and unique.
Where fino serves as an aperitif, amontillado moves us into the second course. Lim especially likes it with broth-based dishes like steamed mussels, because it bridges sherry’s saline tang and the brininess of seafood.
Look for selections from Equipo Navazos, especially its La Bota de Amontillado (Number 37). The company’s owners taste many old barrels of wine, then buy specific portions from different producers. This one tastes of salted caramel, orange peel, and grilled nuts. For something very full-bodied and food-friendly, look for Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado.
With oloroso we move into richer sherries; it lends itself to heavier main-course dishes, like pasta with tomato cream or alfredo sauce. Other, fuller pairings include monkfish, seared salmon, chanterelles when they're in season, white truffles, and macadamia nuts. I like Hartley & Gibson’s Oloroso for its notes of walnuts and figs.
Sweet Dessert Wines
With sweet, dessert-level sherries, we move into other grapes that yield a different flavor profile. While the first three sherry styles are made primarily from the Palomino grape, sweet sherries are made from Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes. Though food pairings can be intuitive -- think crème brûlée -- Lim warns that the wine has to be sweeter than the dessert, otherwise the wine can seem bitter and unpleasant. Wines from Montilla-Moriles, sherry’s nearby cousin, play well with chocolate and open the door to any number of dessert pairings. Look for Alvear PX Solera 1927 in particular.
Photos by James Ransom