Some people think of sherry as their grandparents’ drink. Or something you might see Lord Grantham pour before dinner at Downton Abbey. Not to be confused with cooking sherry, bottles of which everyone should toss immediately (it is mixed with salt and other unwelcome things), sherry is an appetizing drink with a seaside tang, lovely on its own or paired with food. Sommeliers, mixologists, and a growing number of enthusiasts are embracing the dry versions of this fortified wine from Jerez, Spain, even pouring it with hard-to-pair ingredients.
Recently, sherry’s image got a boost from “Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucia,” by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin, authorities on the subject. In the volume, they trace the arc of sherry through history, including its golden age in the 19th century and the trend toward corporatization, which shuttered many family-owned bodegas in the 1960s and 1970s. The authors describe traditional methods of production and profile artisanal sherry makers who produce some of the finest examples today.
What gives sherry its unique character is how it is made. Fino, manzanilla, amontillado, and oloroso are four styles of dry sherry made from the palomino grape. Soon after fermentation, wines are fortified with neutral grape spirits and readied for aging. Fino and manzanilla are the lightest styles. They age biologically (anaerobically) under flor, a special yeast that forms atop newly fermented wine in the humid, temperate climate of Southwestern Spain. Amontillado, an intermediate style, spends only some time under flor. Oloroso, the most robust, ages oxidatively. It spends no time under the yeast.
Aging takes place in oak barrels containing wine in different stages of development, a system called solera. When the oldest is drawn from barrels for bottling, those barrels are replenished with slightly younger wine. This continues until the barrels of youngest unaged wine are reached. The solera system ensures a consistent house style, smoothing out variation from vintage to vintage. For wines that will age biologically, the addition of younger wine replenishes nutrients so flor thrives throughout the aging process. Considering the age of those we tried (4 to 15 years in solera) these sherries represent remarkable values ($12 to $22 per 375 ml bottle). Many bottles graced our table these past months.
At the Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro in Brookline, Deborah Hansen, chef-owner and sommelier, serves pintxos — skewered green olives, pickled guindilla peppers, and salty anchovy fillets — with manzanilla. Braised artichoke hearts — notorious for making other wines taste metallic — are paired with a lively fino. Both styles, served cool, beautifully complement these assertive flavors.
We found that a nutty amontillado pairs deliciously with hard cheeses, creamy mushroom soup, and miso-glazed sablefish. Dry oloroso can be treated like red wine and served alongside a robust beef stew or garlicky rack of lamb.
If you did have grandparents who drank sherry, and you were lucky enough to inherit their crystal glasses, pour away and see what else goes with it.
Gutierrez Colosia Elcano Fino Pure and fresh with notes of saline, lemon pith, and blanched almonds. The most delicate of the bunch, yet with characteristic tang. Around $12. At Bauer Wine & Spirits, Back Bay, 617-262-0363; Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416.
Bodegas La Cigarrera Manzanilla Emphatic sea spray quality with aromas of apple skin, lemon peel, and hazelnuts. Lovely minerality and zip. Around $14. At Vintages, Belmont, 617-484-4560; Winchester Wine & Spirits, Winchester, 781-721-5900.
Bodegas Grant “La Garrocha” Amontillado Appetizing aromas of orange peel and toasted nuts. A savory, tangy palate of burnt sugar, walnuts, and brine. Around $14. At Vintages; Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Somerville, 617-623-0867.
El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 15 years Rich and supple with stewed fig and hazelnut aromas. Well-balanced components of orange peel, fig, and brine, supported by pleasant bitterness. Around $22. At Cardullo’s, Harvard Square, 800-491-8288; Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040.
Gutierrez Colosia “Sangre y Trabajadero” Oloroso Like its name, which translates “blood and the worker,” this oloroso means business. Assertive acidity, toasted orange peel, and soil-driven minerality. Calls out for hearty fare. Around $17. At Streetcar Wine & Beer; Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974.