The tangy, dry pleasures of Fino and Manzanilla sherry
Just when I think it’s safe to stop talking about the basics of sherry, I’ll meet someone who asks, “Isn’t sherry sweet?” or says, “My grandmother loved the stuff.”
There is nothing wrong with these observations. The libation’s range includes some sweet styles, and I know plenty of hip grandmas. But it’s apparent that sherry — especially its dry, savory versions — is still a lesser-known wine. Whenever I fear repeating myself, I think of someone who has been extolling sherry’s virtues for years.
Deborah Hansen is chef-owner-sommelier of Taberna de Haro in Brookline, which recently celebrated an impressive 20 years in business. You can’t miss the beloved Spanish restaurant. The patio out front is consistently full of happy diners.
Hansen offers 85 different sherries on her all-Spanish wine list. These aged, fortified beauties — crafted mostly from palomino fino grapes and hailing from a distinctive seaside region in southwestern Spain — age in a solera system, a series of barrels that allow for the gradual blending of young wines with old.
During International Sherry Week earlier this month, Hansen was in fine form, teaching a class called “Fino and Her Finesse.” Fino — a dry, sassy style that anchors the pale-hued end of the sherry spectrum — ages biologically under flor, a layer of yeast that forms on top of the wine, protecting it from oxygen. Hansen speaks effusively, describing how cellar masters open the straw blinds of sherry houses to let in cool Atlantic breezes, ensuring tranquil temperatures that allow the flor to thrive.
Fino and its cousin Manzanilla make fine sippers before a meal. But it’s with food that these tangy, briny white wines sing. They stand up to golden potatoes with tuna, assertively seasoned with vinegar; pungent anchovies; and Ibérico ham, edged with fat and funky with age.
Hansen adores this versatile pour. “When you don’t know what to pair with a dish, you probably need sherry,” she enthuses.
Before or after a visit to the restaurant, try these three, available now in shops:
Grant “La Garrocha” Fino Located in El Puerto de Santa María, this bodega began life as an almacenista, a wholesaler that sold stocks of sherries to larger producers. The fourth and fifth generation of Grants now bottle their own. Saline, raw blanched nuts, and pear on the nose. Lemony and bracing, it is full of tangy, sea-salt savor. Around $18 (375ml). At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; Wine & Cheese Cask, Somerville, 617-623-8656.
Emilio Lustau “Jarana” Fino This distinguished sherry company with properties located throughout Jerez also began life as an almacenista, and today markets forty different wines. Scents of blanched nuts and rocks after rain lead to a palate of briny minerals and hazelnuts. Around $15 (750 ml). At Wine & Cheese Cask; Cardullo’s, Cambridge, 617-491-8888.
Valdespino “Deliciosa” En Rama Manzanilla “En rama” means unfiltered, but don’t fear finding floaty bits in this Manzanilla, a cousin of fino, crafted in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sea-breezy and pungent, pointing to a lively mouthful of lemon pith and walnut skin. 2017 bottling tasted; 2018 also available. Around $14 (375 ml). At Craft and Cru, Milton, 617-322-1162; Porter Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-547-3110.