Posted: Sep 25, 2017
For dinner I had a green salad - lettuce (proper lettuce), avocado, cucumber - and thick slices of white seeded bread, toasted so they were soft inside and crunchy out, with crème fraîche, horseradish and fat chunks of hot smoked salmon. To drink, I opened a bottle of aged fino sherry. Needless to say, that was a great decision.
Good sherry with food is a very special experience
Sherry is to food what ketchup is to fish fingers, or mustard to beef. A glass of fino, manzanilla or amontillado can elevate a simple plate into a serious treat; just the sort of thing we all need as the evenings grow colder and darker. "Good sherry with food is a very special experience, and it's a much bigger experience than the sum of the wine and the food," says Jan Petersen of ace sherry producer Fernando de Castilla. "We don't talk about it enough."
Too right. I've long thought of sherry as a superb "at the table" wine, but it was only really when I began to research my book, The Wine Dine Dictionary, that I started to realise quite how many miniature feasts I'd been missing out on. Every sherry-maker I contacted could talk for hours on the subject, or send emails I had to scroll and scroll to read.
I think we all know that sherry is very fine with tapas, but do you ever remember to open a bottle at home? An onion and green pepper omelette, tastes so much more civilised with a crisp little glass of manzanilla, especially if some of the vegetables are still a bit crunchy. Jamón is wonderful with almost all types of sherry, but I have a particular weakness for jamón iberico with the yeasty, bucolic taste of an en rama fino. Maybe throw in some pan con tomate too. If we're thinking along tapas lines then we already know that the salty vigour of sherry slices beautifully through the fat of deep-fried snacks, such as croquetas and calamares fritos, so why not try it with tempura too?
The smoke, salt and marine flavours of sherry also play beautifully with fish and shellfish
Admittedly in the absence of a SWAT cleaning team to follow me around removing oily residue from my kitchen, I can never be bothered to faff around with deep-fat frying at home, but maybe others do. I am more likely to open an en rama fino to drink with a Scotch egg, or with a veal chop served with a plate of garlicky red and green peppers, covered in a slick of olive oil and cooked until they are soft.
I think we forget that sherry can be more than an aperitif. The richness and depth of flavour of the best finos, amontillados and palo cortados makes a good accompaniment to the sweet depth of slow-cooked beef or oxtail casseroles.
Jan Petersen makes one of the best palo cortados I know, and also one of the best value (it's about £35 for a 50cl bottle, but you don't need much at any one time and it keeps well once opened; see wines of the week). Petersen also has quite a few ideas for food to eat with it: "Certain pâtés and terrines; mature cheeses; anything with mushrooms, maybe wild mushrooms, sautéed; artichokes; pigeon; partridge; pheasant; and if you just want a glass to enjoy, maybe late in the afternoon when you get home from work, then a few walnuts that you crack open yourself." In case that sounds slack, I think that afternoon in Spain is what we would call early evening.
The smoke, salt and marine flavours of sherry also play beautifully with fish and shellfish. Go for the freshness of a fino or manzanilla. Petersen drinks his complex antique fino with smoked fish - eel and mackerel - or with scallops cooked with herbs and garlic. But there's no need to be completely European about it. When I was writing The Wine Dine Dictionary, Jesús Barquin of Equipo Navazos got me on to sherry with Asian food - "in particular sushi but also spicy south-east Asian dishes." He's right. The breezy and slightly abrasive texture of fino and manzanilla acts as a condiment to sashimi. Apologies because this is a bit of a London thing, but if you live anywhere near the four Atari-Ya shops (in Finchley, West Acton, Golders Green and Kingston) then a takeaway party platter of sushi and sashimi plus a couple of bottles of sherry is a great way to cater supper with friends.
If your kitchen habits are anything like mine, you might also be thinking about chicken livers now there's a chill in the air. "I do love chicken liver dishes with fino styles," says Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrène. If you like the classic chicken liver, bacon and spinach salad, trying using a sherry vinegar for the dressing (and don't forget to warm it by using it to deglaze the frying pan). You are then perfectly set up for a warming glass of fino or amontillado or even palo cortado with the food. Also, I'm going to come over all Seventies here, but does anyone ever make little chicken liver pasties in a cheesy pastry? They have sherry written all over them. They're meant to be a snack but you'll probably eat so many that all you will need for dinner is a big green salad. Enjoy.
By Victoria Moore
Septmeber 23, 2017
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