I suppose it shouldn’t really be a surprise that International Sherry Week comes at the same time as London Wine Week and Negroni Week. After all, these events tend to be scheduled for summer and there are only so many weeks to go around. We decided to expend our efforts on sherry.
Neither of us drink sherry, so we took International Sherry Week as a nudge to do a bit more reading and to attend a local tasting featuring 8 different sherries at once, which seemed the best way to get to grips with it. Being able to compare and contrast several at once is much better than tasting one and then months later, on some other occasion, maybe tasting a different style.
We thought we’d read up and remind ourselves of the basics of sherry before tasting. Sherry.org offers an online course in sherry, complete with quizzes after each section, as well as information in less overtly educational presentations and videos. Unfortunately, when we sat down to take the sherry course, we discovered it was all in Spanish. We struggled through one segment and scored 100% on the quiz — also in Spanish only, but couldn’t quite make ourselves struggle through the rest of the segments. Instead you might try Sherry 101 for a good overview or some of the English-language pamphlets available on Sherry.org. We liked this one especially.
At the tasting, we tried the following sherries, and in this order, which was basically from youngest/freshest/driest (fino styles) to oldest/richest/sweetest (oloroso styles).
Herederos de Argüeso Las Medallas Manzanilla
The Society’s Fino Sherry
Romate Fino Perdido
Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera
The Society’s Medium Dry Amontillado Blend
The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Dry Oloroso Blend
The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend
Osborne Venerable Pedro Ximenez 30 Years Old
The first two sherries were tough going. The Herederos de Argüeso Las Medallas Manzanilla: fresh and tangy indeed, and not in a good way, while The Society’s Fino had less flor on the nose and a less yeasty flavour, it was still pretty unpleasant if that’s not a flavour you like. I said it was not to my palate; Janet said it was purgatorial. She also said something about a yeasty codpiece, which I think is a “Pirates of the Caribbean” joke. The Romate Fino Perdido was slightly more agreeable, with more of an oak or barrel taste. It was maybe even a little toasty. It was at this point that Janet said she wondered if these wouldn’t be much different (and much better) with food.
We found the Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera more interesting. There was vanilla on the nose, and it had a long finish with an aftertaste of vanilla as well. This was the turning point for us, the first of the sherries we could drink with anything like pleasure. The Society’s Medium Dry Amontillado Blend was honeyed on the nose and full of rich, nutty flavours. Janet said she immediately wondered if it might be good with spicy dishes (and a nearby chart confirmed that as a suggested pairing.
The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Dry Oloroso Blend was a bit of a step back in that the flor flavour was back, which by now we realised was the note that was putting us off more than anything else.
The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend, by contrast, was Janet’s favourite of the sweeter sherries. She described it as rich and redolent of dried fruit without the claggy, cloying sweetness she dislikes. I, on the other hand, thought the Osborne Venerable Pedro Ximenez 30 Years Old was incredible and my pick of the evening. The tears on the glass, that deep Coca-Cola or even coffee colour, the deep flavours of raisins and treacle — it is simply outstanding. I couldn’t stop imagining it with ice cream, or even after a meal in place of a dessert. It’s an exquisite drink. Janet, on the other hand, wasn’t passionate about it, mostly because she isn’t passionate the taste of treacle. She doesn’t even like treacle tart. How can anyone not like treacle tart?? It should be noted that you should not expect to taste anything after having tried the PX as it is so thick and coats everything so well that it takes along time to get any sort of normal tasting ability back in working order.
Janet was vexed by the lack of food at the sherry tasting. She wondered if the flor character we found so disagreeable in the first few sherries might not be transformed by even just a handful of roasted nuts. She got home and immediately saw a post on Please Bring Me My Wine that made no bones about tasting fino sherry with food: “Don’t attempt anything this week without the food! Actually scrap that. For full effect it’s best to try the wine without the food, then try it with. The difference is insane!” I suppose if we had planned ahead, we could have smuggled almonds up our sleeves.
We happened to have a dusty bottle of The Society’s Fino in the drinks cupboard at home, so we tried it with roasted salted almonds, garlicky olives, and some Spanish-style meats. For me nothing changed, but she was happy to finish her glass and the rest of mine. She felt there was a slightly tangy alcohol burn at the first sip, cutting through the flavours of the food, and an aftertaste that brought that yeasty tang back again but in a pleasant way. It wasn’t at all the same as her experience from the tasting, and is the only way she’d drink those sherries again.
In the end, what’s generally true of wine is doubly true of sherry: drink it with food and friends. It’s the best way to enjoy it.