Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You can take a horse to water...

Bibendum was privileged to recently host a tasting led by Javier Hidalgo, one of the Kings of the Hill when it comes to Sherry. Or Jerez. Or Fino and Amontillado. And herein lies just one of the problems. What’s in a name? Will Sherry ever be cool or does it need yet another makeover? It is one of those curious products in the wine world which has recently been the darling of the press; drink of choice of those in the critical know (Tim Atkin sang heavy praise a few weeks ago in the Observer). But this seems to be as far as it ever gets. You can write about it and write about it, but you just cannot get young folk to drink it.

In Spain it is immensely popular, virtually always dry, and one of the first things the locals reach for whenever there are salty snacks or seafood on the table. The Juice enjoyed a glass of the beautiful single-vineyard Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana from Hidalgo last night with some very un-Spanish nachos and it was absolutely delicious. Interesting, rich, complex and with a long, evolving finish. A little more bitter and salty than some of the others we tried at the tasting, it perfectly reflects its coastal Sanlucar de Barrameda heritage. What was most surprising was just how refreshing it was and how well it suited a warm(ish) evening in the garden – a world away from the sweet syrup in the dinky little glass that granny loves.

Javier wants us to move away from the word Sherry and focus on calling it ‘Jerez’; others suggested trying to build the individual styles into brands i.e. Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla etc. Yet we are expecting a lot of our consumers – to embrace more unfamiliar titles in a crowded marketplace. To slip a Fino into a white wine list without explanation or a supportive sommelier could lead to confusion and worse, full glasses being returned by unsuspecting customers. Restaurants are one important battleground where these wines (and they are undoubtedly wines) will seek to increase understanding and consumption. The home is quite another matter. For most, it will continue to be drunk in very small, sweet amounts over long periods of time. The clichéd bottle will come out again each Christmas, stale and dead (dryer styles need to be treated like a wine and drunk in a similar time period once opened). Try adding a little to create the perfect Bloody Mary; try as an aperitif with snacks; try as an accompaniment to seafood. Try, according to Javier, a Fino or Manzanilla if you feel like drinking plenty throughout the course of the day, or an Oloroso or Amontillado if you feel like just a glass with some cheese. Try Pedro Ximenez over vanilla ice cream (possibly the sweetest wine in the world? – discuss…400g/l of residual sugar). But whatever you do…try and then try again. For the care and attention, never mind the skill and expertise, that go into these wines, you can get an awful lot of quality for your money. Serve chilled in a nice big glass and enjoy…

La Gitana, Manzanilla – sea breeze aromas with great freshness on palate. Drink with seafood.
Fino Hidalgo – More nutty, subtle and elegant. Easy drinking indeed and great with nuts and olives.
Amontillado Seco Napoleon – A Manzanilla allowed to oxidize. Richness and depth on nose – caramel. Great with smoked foods.
Oloroso Seco Napoleon – Intense nuttiness, dark and smooth. Drink with beef casserole or cheese.
Pedro Ximenex Viejo Napoleon – Like liquefied prunes and very dark, viscous and sweet. Over vanilla ice cream a dream.


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