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Crossing The Line: Sherry, Baby!

There’s not a lot of crossover between the libation lines: the wine snobs, the whiskey gurus and the beer geeks all stick to their respective companies when imbibing. As a wine lover, I still consume my fair share of IPAs (and nothing beats a well-made Sazerac on a chilly night) but geeking out on these things doesn’t excite me like wine does.

But even though the dividing lines between drinkers may be thick, there are a few unique products out there that successfully transcend the boundaries. Who’s the unlikely hero for this gargantuan challenge? Sherry! But rest assured: there’s a heck of a lot more to Sherry than your grandma’s cheap, sweet stuff.

Winemaking in Andalusia, located in southwest Spain, has being going on for thousands of years. There are 4 major styles of this historic Spanish fortified wine, ranging from bone dry to sticky sweet. And while they were originally (and still very much are) drunk by themselves, sherry cocktails are bursting onto the fine dining scene in cities across the world.

Bodegas Grant La Garrocha Fino 375 ml

FINO/MANZANILLA | light body, bone dry, nutty, soft fruits

The driest of the Sherry types are Fino and Manzanilla, and are regularly drunk in Spain at ice-cold temperatures. They pair brilliantly with virtually any tapas dish. This is my personal favorite “cooking” wine, too (the kind you drink, not the kind you put in the pan)—there’s nothing I love better than to be refreshed by something light, crisp, and dry while I’m in a hot kitchen!

Fino and Manzanilla are aged in a peculiar way. They spend their lives going through a solera system, which is a structure of several rows of barrels piled on top of each other. Young sherry is added to the top of the solera, blending with the older sherry beneath. Thus, Fino and Manzanilla are “non-vintage,” and every quinta has their own “house style” of these wines. There’s also a thick layer of yeast that develops on top of the sherry, protecting it from oxygen. This yeast layer, called flor, is responsible for the fresh fruit and slight nutty tastes that come through in these Sherry types.

These dry Sherries are the most versatile of all the styles, and can be used in place of a dry vermouth in any cocktail.

What to pair Fino and Manzanilla with: Olives, hard cheeses, Marcona almonds, sardines, cured ham, seafood, and any variety of tapas

How to use it in a cocktail: Tuxedo Cocktail

Stir with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula

AMONTILLADO/PALO CORTADO | medium body, dry, slightly nutty and caramelized

Amontillado is an intermediate style of sherry which spends the first part of its life in the same way a Fino does—in the solera and under flor—and then halfway through, it deliberately gets taken out and finishes its aging in barrels where it’s allowed to come into contact with oxygen. The color and flavors are darker and richer than Fino, and while it still tastes dry, it has more depth of flavor.

Palo Cortado is very similar to Amontillado except for one thing: it wasn’t supposed to be an Amontillado. These rare “mistake” sherries were meant to be Finos, but for one reason or another the flor died and the sherry became oxidized, thus taking on the character of an Amontillado. In other words, Amontillados are made on purpose, Palo Cortados are not. Because of the rarity of this happening, Palo Cortados are usually more expensive.

What to pair Amontillado and Palo Cortado with: meatier tapas, cured meat, smoked meats, pate, sautéed mushrooms

How to use it in a cocktail: Butchertown Cocktail

Combine with ice in a lowball glass; stir and garnish with an orange peel.

Florido Cruz del Mar Oloroso 375ml

OLOROSO | medium to medium-full body, slightly sweet, dried fruit, caramelized

Oloroso sherries are usually the easiest sherry to start out on. They’re well balanced in terms of sweetness—neither too dry or too syrupy. These oxidative sherries don’t see flor aging—they live their whole lives in upright barrels and see oxygen from the start. They’re also fortified to a higher proof, which gives them an added sweetness along with those dried/stewed fruit flavors. They also have the most flexibility in terms of how to use them.

What to pair Oloroso with: Drier Olorosos can be paired with a variety of foods including aged cheeses, roasted meats, mushroom risotto, or pate. Sweeter Olorosos work best with blue cheeses, mature Parmigiano Reggiano, and desserts with dried fruit, caramel, toffee, coffee, or baking spice influences.

How to use it in a cocktail: Bamboo Cocktail

Stir ingredients together with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange.

Valdespino El Candado PX 375ml

PEDRO XIMENEZ | full body, very sweet, stewed fruit, molasses, caramel, toffee

PX sherry is intensely sweet, with the sugar content averaging around 300-500 grams per liter. Whew! Made from Pedro Ximenez grapes, the fermentation is halted at an early state with the addition of grape spirits so the yeast is unable to consume all the sugar, leaving the wine sweet and unctuous. It doesn’t see any time under flor, and is oxidated from the very beginning. PX and Oloroso sherries can last for quite a while once opened, unlike the drier styles of sherry.

What to pair Pedro Ximenez with: Foie gras, pungent blue cheeses, baked fruit desserts, caramel and toffee desserts, and bitter chocolate

How to use it in a cocktail: Old Quartermaster

Stir ingredients over ice; strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a twist of orange and a few drops of a smoky scotch (optional).