Sherries are ripe
by Kate Zimmerman for Vancouver Sun: In Good Spirits column

Spaniards know differently, but in North America, sherry has long been seen as the province of the stuffy.

With an apparent fan base of persnickety old-timers and suspiciously flushed vicars, sherry-drinking has seemed to revolve around tiny crystal glasses and dry digits of shortbread. In addition, many of us dismiss it as a Christmas drink; sherry and walnuts even figure in Dylan Thomas’ 1955 classic, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

But according to the pros, sherry is gaining wider-spread cred.

Award-winning sommelier Mark Taylor, the owner of Cru (1459 West Broadway), has found enthusiasm burgeoning for the Spanish drink. A recent sherry tasting and dinner at Cru, which bills itself as a “vino bistro,” was sold out; demand was such that it hosted a second sherry event the following weekend. Local tipplers braved a wet Sunday afternoon in October to sit down at the restaurant and learn from the un-vicar-like Taylor about sherries, followed by a four-course dinner with pairings.

“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, sherry….” Taylor admitted to the group early on. This, despite the fact that it supposedly dates back to 1,100 B.C. and William Shakespeare, among numerous luminaries, was a fan.

One reason for us to sit up and pay attention now, according to Taylor, is that “Sherry is one of the great classic wines of the world that is still sold at relatively bargain prices.”

The six samples provided at Cru ranged from the ultra-dry, pale yellow Gonzalez Byass Fino “Tio Pepe” (under $20) to the sweet, oxblood-coloured Gonzalez Byass Pedro Ximenez “Noe” (about $60).

Incidentally, Noe is pronounced “No-way.” Taylor said the appropriate response to an offer of Noe was “Way!” Its bouquet smells like essence of sun-drenched raisins and its texture is syrupy ‑‑ Noe has legs, and it knows how to use them.

Taylor pointed out that sherry is a fortified wine, with an alcohol content of over 15 percent ‑‑ which accounts for those minuscule glasses. The wine is largely made from the Palomino grape, which is harvested from the sandy white soil of Jerez, in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. In the heat, the soil absorbs rainwater and develops a crust that retains moisture. The other sherry grapes, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, are dried in the sun and help sweeten the dessert types of sherry.

Key to sherry’s flavour and bouquet is its flor, the yeast that grows on the wine. The flor is most evident in the drier sherries; the sweeter the sherry, the less the flor.

Taylor pointed out two unique aspects of sherry. It is deliberately oxidized, by leaving it in partially filled barrels. It’s also blended fractionally. That means old wine is constantly topped up with younger wine, which makes the sherries’ flavour more consistent.

In Spain, the drier sherries are often accompanied by salty dishes like anchovies or almonds. Cru’s special menu (its chef is Dana Reinhardt) paired its dry Gonzalez Byass Fino Tio Pepe with white gazpacho with Serrano ham. The Oloroso sherries, on the other hand, fulfill our expectations of a dessert-type wine, with toasted and nutty flavours detectable through the nectar. Cru served Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Nutty Solera with Spanish cheese and  ‑‑  there’s no arguing with the classics ‑‑ shortbread.

Styles of Sherry
(From Mark Taylor’s tasting notes)

Always store sherry upright. Serve the whiter ones chilled, and the sweeter ones at cellar temperature, or about 18 degrees Celsius.

Fino: Pale, light, dry and delicate, best drunk young.

Manzanilla: a dry, delicate fino made only in the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda.

Amontillado: Well-aged, rare fino with a hazelnut character.

Oloroso: Full-bodied, dry with hints of raisin and walnuts. Cream sherries and East India sherries are sweetened Olorosos.

Palo Cortado: Rare and full-bodied like a dry Oloroso, with the bouquet of Amontillado.

The Cocktail Hour

“Canada’s favourite cocktails” are one of the lures for Harry Rosen’s men’s fashion show October 19. Among the libations on offer will be the Opus 97, compliments of Elixir, in the Opus Hotel. The event is for invited Harry Rosen customers only, but you can certainly make yourself the drink.

The Opus 97

Shake 2 oz. Grey Goose L’Orange vodka, ¾ oz. Alizé Gold (a passion fruit and cognac liqueur), 1 oz. passion fruit juice and 1 oz. blood orange juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a martini glass.

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