The Sherry Academy hosted its first interactive tasting experience last Tuesday in the capable hands of TV’s Hannah Crosbie and Jimmy Smith – a fun, online tasting that was aimed at both devotees and the uninitiated, bringing them up to speed with the basics then digging deeper into the gastronomic uses of sherry. CRDO Jerez, which operates this free online learning platform, also used the event as a primer for Sherry Week which has its tenth anniversary starting November 6. Sophia Longhi signed up and went along for the ride.
“With further understanding and knowledge-sharing, there is hope for a sherry resurgence to make a meaningful impact with customers in restaurants, bars and beyond,” writes Longhi about the Sherry Academy tasting.
For more details about the 10th Sherry Week and how you can take part, see the end of this article.
Six 50ml bottles of sherry at midday on a Tuesday. Things were looking up. “Not a bad way to start lunch!” one of the webinar attendees typed on the chat.
You’ll find that people who love sherry are devoted to it. “Sherry is life,” was another comment posted in the chat box before we even cracked opened the second bottle.
This kind of enthusiasm is exactly what the Sherry Academy wants to nurture in wine professionals and it is doing so via the free courses on its online learning platform, which are hosted by CRDO Jerez. ‘Sherry 101: A Modern Guide & Interactive Tasting Experience’ was an introduction to these courses, as well as a primer for the 10th anniversary of the official Sherry Week, which runs from 6th to 12th November.
The webinar attendees consisted of wine buyers, merchants, sommeliers, educators and front of house staff, possessing various degrees of sherry knowledge. The aim of the session was to provide an all-levels opportunity to explore the different styles of Sherry, whilst advising on food pairings and serving recommendations and temperatures.
Our affable hosts Hannah Crosbie (Sunday Brunch, Dalston Wine Club, The Sunday Times) and Jimmy Smith (West London Wine School, Streatham Wine House) began the session with some historical background on this 3,000 year old beverage and touched upon the long-time British love affair with it. Even William Shakespeare, speaking through his character Falstaff in Henry IV Part II, declared: “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack [sherry]!” Our love for sherry runs deep; it is etched into our culture.
Pairing sherry with food
Crosbie spoke of sherry’s ability to “elevate the gastronomic experience” thanks to its versatility, and highlighted the importance of front of house staff and sommeliers “introducing sherry to people for the first time.” She pointed out that the serving temperature is key to this process, with Fino and Manzanilla sherries to be chilled down to 6 to 8°C and everything else at 10 to 12°C, apart from VRS and VORS, which are recommended to be served at 12 to 14°C. There is also the stemware to think about and Crosbie advised that the best glass to enjoy sherry from would be a white wine glass with a bowl wider than the rim, to capture all of the alluring sherry aromatics in the top of the glass.
In terms of food pairings, we learned that different styles of sherry will suit different kinds of food. Manzanilla and Fino are ideal bedfellows for seafood, bread and complex fatty foods, because the acidity will cut through the fat superbly. Amontillado sherry, again, is great with anything cooked with fat (oily roasted aubergine was suggested), but its natural spiciness would also pair with lightly spiced foods, where the sensation would be accentuated. Oloroso and Palo Cortado sherries have more sugar in them, which coats the mouth and can act as a shield from hot foods, so any dishes involving chilli would work well, if you wanted to temper the heat. Cream sherries are ideal with fruity desserts, cheeses and terrines, while Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel are sublime dessert wines.
The use of sherry in cocktails was also encouraged and, in fact, sherry cocktails were indeed included in the first ever printed cocktail recipe book in 1862, the Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide. Pre-Prohibition, the Sherry Cobbler was a very popular cocktail in the States and is still a classic today (see here for a recipe).
The Sherry 101 tasting
Manzanilla means ‘chamomile’, because of its floral aromatics mingling together with sea spray, almonds and bread dough. Smith describes this as a “real coastal sherry” from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where there is “a lot of balance found in the climate”.
Salinity is the top note in Manzanilla sherry, as well as its bone-dryness. “This is one of the driest sensations of wine in the world,” says Smith.
The chosen food pairing from Ibérica Marylebone (where the tasting was broadcast from) was Gilda pintxos, a skewered olive, anchovy and green chilli pepper. Crosbie described the pairing as an “umami bomb”, where the saltiness is matched but the acidity is contrasted.
Smith tells us that Fino sherry still has some coastal influence, but it’s usually made further inland, where the climate is slightly warmer. Because of this, you usually get riper fruit, with notes of “sweet orchard apples”.
Described by Smith as “still bone-dry, with a fuller character and an almond note on the finish”, the Fino was paired with jamón ibérico. Crosbie explained that the match worked well because the “acidity isn’t as high and the mellow flavour pairs well with the smoky meat”. Smith added that the fat from the jamon is “so mouth-coating” and the freshness of the Fino “cleans the palate”.
Amontillado is described as “a cross between styles” due to the way it’s made, but also in flavour and sensation. As Smith’s self-confessed favourite style of sherry, he pointed out how the flavours and aromas of Amontillado are “influenced by the spice route”. Notes such as star anise, nutmeg, macadamia nuts, marmalade and caramel were all detected and discussed.
With outstanding length and “real drinkability”, the ideal chosen food pairing was salted almonds.
The purely oxidative Oloroso style is deeper in colour and in sensation. “The flavours are about density and intensity,” says Smith.
With a stand-out note of toffee apple, Oloroso was discussed as the perfect sherry for this time of the year, being labelled as more of a “festive style”. It was paired with the classic Spanish Manchego cheese, with a drizzle of honey and a dab of quince.
Smith described this type of sherry as “more of an Anglofication of sherry”. This sweet style was preferred by the likes of Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I. The particular Cream sherry in the tasting pack was “very forward in its sweetness”, which made it ideal for the aperitif-style serving suggestion, which was presented over ice with a garnish of orange rind.
“We’re getting into the headier expressions of sherry now,” said Crosbie. With tasting notes of candied hazelnuts and a sweet marmalade bitterness, Cream sherry was discussed as a flexible cocktail companion.
A deep iodine-brown in colour and thicker in consistency, Smith told us that the Pedro Ximenez grape made “some of the sweetest wines in the world”. Smith explained how the grapes are selected and then dried out in the sun to concentrate the sugars and flavours. As described by Crosbie as “sumptuous”, PX was recommended as an ideal match with chocolate torte, ice-cream and blue cheese, the latter of which was the chosen food pairing from Ibérica Marylebone.
If the lively discussion in the chat box during the webinar was anything to go by, it’s clear that sherry has the potential to captivate both devotees and the uninitiated of the wine trade. With further understanding and knowledge-sharing, there is hope for a sherry resurgence to make a meaningful impact with customers in restaurants, bars and beyond. As Crosbie pointed out at the start of the webinar, sherry is “criminally good value, considering the amount of time and effort that goes into making it”, so it’s no wonder that the Sherry Academy wants to let more of us in on the secret.
For those who couldn’t join live and would like to rewatch the webinar, here’s a link to the recording. You just need to register on the Sherry Academy website to watch it.
International Sherry Week which starts this November 6, is the world’s largest annual festival which, in previous events have seen half a million wine lovers participate in 18,000 events in 40 different countries. If you are in the trade – from top end restaurant to indie wine store – and want to take part, you have a chance to receive merchandise packs and be part of a massive PR push.
Why Participate? If you organise at least one Sherry event or tasting this year during Sherry Week, you will have the chance to receive: A sustainable merch pack including Sherry Week aprons for your team, tote bags for your customers, tasting mats and official Sherry Week posters (only 150 are available so make sure you register ASAP!)*. Your venue will be showcased on our Sherry Week website, which will be promoted on publications like MOB, Time Out, other national and regional PR, and digital ads.
- Want to take part? Register one event or tasting for Sherry Week here.
- Find out more about Sherry Week here.
- If you’d like to learn more about how to take advantage of this year’s activities and would like to participate, please get in touch with Brisc at email@example.com.
*Merch Packs T&Cs: To qualify to receive a merch pack, your venue needs to organise a Sherry event or tasting including at least 3 sherries and should aim to educate consumers about different Sherry styles and the region. Please add as much information as possible about your event when uploading it.
CRDO Jerez is a commercial partner of The Buyer