All bottles benefit from having talented sommeliers in their corner. Dry sherry, Spain’s fortified white wine renowned for its nutty, sea-spray profile, has wine professionals singing its praises, curating lists full of bright, snappy styles, mixing it into creative cocktails.
“For many people, sherry is a foreign concept, so I start them at square one,” says Emily Nevin-Giannini, sommelier at Barcelona Wine Bar in Brookline. Once she clears up the misconception that all sherry is sweet, the somm loves to offer tastes of the dry styles. “I like to introduce dry sherry as a completely versatile food wine,” she says, explaining that it complements olives, cured meats, cheeses, and marinated white anchovies called boquerones.
Sherry hails from Jerez in southwestern Spain. Soon after fermentation, wines most often made from palomino grapes are fortified with neutral grape spirits, and prepared for aging in a solera, a system of oak barrels containing wine in different stages of development. Dry styles like fino and manzanilla age under flor, a special yeast that forms on top of wine in the humid, temperate coastal climate.
Some cocktail enthusiasts think of sherry in their mixed drinks as something new. Kevin Mabry, beverage director of the South End’s Merrill & Co., as well as jm Curley and Bogie’s Place in Downtown Crossing, affirms that sherry was one of the first mixing spirits popular in the late 19th century. He encourages guests to experiment with a daiquiri-like Manzray, made with manzanilla, strawberry, rhubarb, and bitters, or simply sample several pours straight. “Finding your preferred style can be trial and error,” he says. “Be patient and have fun with it.”
With 60 sherries on offer, Taberna de Haro, Brookline’s 16-year-old Spanish restaurant, features one of the most comprehensive lists around, with rare bottles like Lustau “3 en rama,” an unfiltered manzanilla offering nervy acidity, assertive sea-salt tang, plus lingering flavors of hazelnut and walnut skins. This robust style pairs splendidly with squid ink paella, full of briny-umami flavors, and crispy morsels of paprika-dusted pig’s ears. Visiting Spain regularly lets chef-owner Deborah Hansen bring back fresh ideas.
“Gin and tonic is very popular in Spain right now, even in sherry country,” says Hansen. This year, she hired Sean Sullivan and Will Thompson, both alumni from Barbara Lynch’s craft cocktail destination, Drink, to transform Taberna’s bar program. Rechristened as Straight Law, after the cocktail of the same name, the bar showcases gin and sherry-focused libations. A refreshing copper-hued creation called a Barbara West features palo cortado sherry, another dry type, gin, lemon, bitters, and a splash of simple syrup.
Hansen once eschewed sherry as a cocktail ingredient, preferring it poured neat. The restaurateur now sees the error of her ways. “I have officially recanted my position,” she says.
Barcelona Wine Bar, 1700 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-264-8900
Merrill & Co., 1 Appleton St., South End, 617-728-0728
Taberna de Haro, 999 Beacon St., Brookline. 617-277-8272Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.