Õåðåñ, Jerez, Xérès, Sherry wine

Sherry wine

Sherry Wine Functionality

Olga Nikandrova and Denis Shumakov.

The wines comprising the sherry line are very different from one another. The “sherry gradient” starts with delicately refreshing and crispy dry Manzanilla and ends with thick, sticky and sweet Pedro Ximenez sun baked to the extent that one can distinctively smell the notes of the bread crust in it. The other sherries, either by the sugar content or their color formally located between these two sherry extremes, by its taste and flavor are not intermediaries between absolutely dry and extremely sweet wines. They are completely independent drinks with their own unique characters.

Due to such diversity, there is no sense in a common recommendation on how to take sherry. Thanks to such diversity in the sherry range one can find there a drink which would satisfy any wine recommendation.

Dry biologically aged sherries (Fino and Manzanilla) are exceptionally gastronomic. Fresh-water and sea fish, seafood, cheeses, vegetables, soups, snacks, nuts, sushi, fruit, meat, poultry, and even, if you please, a salad, known as Olivier in Russia and as Russian Salad in Spain — all of it can be served with Fino and Manzanilla. It is sometimes tempting to say that these sherries pair with anything — but this certainly would be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, in the Jerez Region itself Fino and Manzanilla are very popular — we can say that biologically aged sherry is a universal beverage option there — along with beer and sangria.

Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo Cortado are gourmet wines. Regardless of the way you drink it — with food or without — these sherries are better taken in small portions, carefully studying all nuances of the taste and sometimes going beyond the limits of an adequate tasting. For example, it is very interesting to rub in a drop of Amontillado between fingers — to feel a powerful and very pleasant mushroom scent on already dry skin.

Sweet sherries are surely very good dainties which can be used either as a bright, sweet and flavorful company for other dainties (e.g. ice-cream), or as a stand-alone multi-function dessert.

The recommendations on serving and drinking sherry are elaborated and bewritten — including the Internet, especially in Spanish and English. For example, you can start studying sherry gastronomy with the convincing section of the Regulatory Council’s website. But rules of serving and pairing sherry are only the upper layer of sherry functionality. Sherries have special features which go beyond gastronomy, although they always remain connected with the drinks’ taste and aroma.

The brightest and probably most unknown outside Andalucía feature of Fino and Manzanilla is their ability to refresh a body “calcined” in the sun. Not simply cool (for cooling one can drink a litre of ice-cold soda), but refresh — to a most comfortable state smoothing the way for ease and relaxation. It works like this. At about 2 p.m., after a long walk in the heat, you finally get into a pleasant coolness, but you bring in the heat accumulated in the body. This heat, of course, will gradually disappear — but all the time needed for the body to come in thermal balance with the ambient coolness can be considered wasted. But if you drink a glass of (no more than 100 ml) chilled manzanilla, then harmony and thermal comfort will come almost immediately and permanently.

In the North-West of Russia it would be problematic to reveal this phisiological functionality of dry sherry — as it is very difficult to get calcined in our sun as you can in Andalusia. Well, putting a lot of effort, probably one could. Preparing manually a portion of cement mortar sufficient for laying 500 bricks in July’s hot sunny day in open air can bring a man of average constitution to a state when he would desperately want a glass of cold and dry sherry on a shady veranda.

But this is all a bit unnatural. In our parts, Fino and Manzanilla have their own season — it is autumn. End of September or early October, in those days when air is saturated with nice wet autumn freshness and the smell of damp leaves and herbs, and when the rare but bright sun adds to it hints of the gone summer dryness and nice dustiness, it is great to go to a glacial valley (Malskaya valley near Pskov would be a perfect choice), drink sherry there and look into the distance. Feeling joyful for the fact that the taste of the drink rhymes with the scent of autumn and that your eyes can slide on the sloping hills unconstrained.

But that’s not all. Fino and Manzanilla smell of bodega the strongest. This smell is a mixture of coolness, flowers and fungus, which allows you to inerringly find the places where sherry is ageing. And if you buy a bottle of Fino or Manzanilla at a bodega which you found by the smell and then take this bottle two-three thousand kilometers away home and then open it some time later, a powerful surge of memories is garanteed. We checked this repeatedly.

Sweet sherries (Moscatel and Redro Ximenez), as well as other sweet and tasty food, play quite a simple role — to be a dainty delicacy consumed in small quantities. The main gastronomic themes arising from this role are obvious. First of all come combinations of “sth not so sweet + sth very sweet” where sherries act as a syrop — as is for example in the pair with panna cotta. Second come mild contrasts which can arise when Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel is combined with blue cheese, for example.Third — sharp contrasts of the type “dry and salty + viscous and sweet” like a classical composition of dried tuna and sweet sherry. And, finally, forth — drinking sweet sherry on its own, just to amuse oneself.

But even these simple uses of sweet sherries can have curious derivatives. For example, one can use some local fish specialties as a dry and salty contrast for sherry. Fish jerky is produced in almost all places where there is fishing — combining it with Pedro Ximenez may have a nice and unusual effect. In Pskov, we always surprise our guests serving them sweet sherry with salty Peipus Lake smelt. For some inexplicable reasons, this combination brings about notes of fresh oysters and the sea — and it tastes very good.

But, in our view, the most luxurious to consumie Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez is in “tea, nuts and sherry” triangle. To construct it, some special conditions need to be met — it must be relatively cold outside, and warm and dry — at home. Since there are no problems with the cold outside and warm and dry houses in Russia, we use resort to this recipe quite offen.

Make some good black tea (Taiwanese Ruby tea — an ideal variant), take some macadamia, pour a bit of sweet sherry in a glass and then cosume all these in various combinations, looking for obvious and non-obvious matches. Sherry and macadamia rhyme in their nuttiness and light notes of the sea saltiness. Ruby tea and sherry rhyme in their warmth, vanilla and dry fruit notes. Tea and macadamia rhyme in nutiness (again), mildness and roundness. And so on... It turns out very nice, very tasty and very warm...

Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo Cortado are sheries with the most delicate and inexplicit functionality. We have mentioned already somewhere previously that these sherries are pure delicacies, but the delicacy of each of them is manifested in its own crafty way.

Oloroso (especially old Oloroso) is a blockbuster delicacy — an elegant, exquisite, rich and harmonious drink with easily perceived flavours. Seawater iodine, mild dryness, intensity, barrel vanilla, maturity, nougat, dry fruit, a bit of wood and even restraint — are all so evident in Oloroso, that it can be used as a teaching medium explaining beginners what sherry is. Despite the existing gastronomic compositions with its participation, Oloroso is an absolutely freestanding delicacy — it is very nice to savour on its own, enjoying its taste and one’s daintiness.

Palo Cortado is a drink in which you notice while drinking it that its collector value starts dominating its rational consumer properties — taste and flavor. This does not mean that there are any problems with Palo Cortado’s taste and flavor — on the contrary, everything is perfect with them. But the relative rarity of this drink and some mystique, often present in its descripion, give its flavor a new and purely subjective note. For a sherry enthusiast, Palo Cortado is a test on the ability to humble one’s pride and lay greter weight on the product’s substantive values than on its market oriented properties. As you drink Palo Cortado, it is most interesting to analize its taste, trying to figure out the traits which make it kin to “neighboring” sherries or distinguish it from them.

Amontillado is pure luxury, of course (not mentioning that its name sounds spellbinding and what role it played in Edgar Allan Poe’s and Ray Bradbury’s works). The point is that it is very difficult to find rational reasons to drink Amontillado. Or rather, you can find them — but in the sherry family, there is always a drink which would fit into these reasons even better. Want something flavorful? — There’s Oloroso and sweet sherries. Something unusual for showing off? — Here you are with Palo Cortado. Want something fresh? — Well, there’s no prize for guessing.

Amontillado is the most appropriate thing at the time when you want Amontillado. It is sherry for sherry’s sake. Imagine yourself for a moment sitting on the veranda of your sweet home, in the evening. Enjoying the sunset. You have a good job, which you can leave at any time, and a wonderful family, which wouldn’t ever leave you. Your friends live somewhere in the neighbouhood, you share common and very worthy memories with them. Frankly, these memories of the past are alredady more interesting to you than your future. Because in the future you have a near dinnerand a bit more distant death. Which, however, does not disturb you. Because in between the pleasant past and the imminent future you still have the present.

And a glass of Amontillado.

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