Sorry Nana, that sherry’s for me!
By Bob Davidson, Assistant Manager, Majestic Wine Battersea
Every Wine Course, I tell people that my favourite wine is sherry. This is usually met with laughter, and in truth, I could no more pick my favourite wine than my favourite vital organ. There is, however, a very good case for sherry being the most complex, best value, best food-matching wine in the world.
Sherry on top
One thing that stands out about sherry is its uniqueness. The soil on which it is grown (albariza); the grapes from which it is made (Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximenez), the system in which it is aged (solera), and the yeasty growth that helps define it (flor) are found virtually nowhere else.
Neither are its flavour characteristics. It can smell of apples, banoffee pie, roasted nuts, molasses, seaweed, figs and nail varnish, to name but a few. And it works with all sorts of food. When I was lucky enough to visit Sanlúcar de Barrameda as guest of Javier Hidalgo, we drank Manzanilla with seafood tapas and it worked better than I can explain. Freshly-caught boiled prawns, deep-fried baby squid and sea anemone were whipped into a gustatory crescendo by the distinctive salty nectar. In no way do I use hyperbole. I stand by the claim that sherry is a better partner for fish and chips than Champagne.
Sherry is, perhaps, a little difficult to understand at first. My first glass of something other than a cheap ‘Cream’ style was a shock but after a little time one begins to realise how and why all these flavours work. It is full of paradoxes, capable of being the driest, sweetest, freshest, oldest, lightest and heaviest apéritif and digestif all at the same time. Don’t give up because you don’t understand it straight away. Descartes’ ‘Meditations’, Bacon’s ‘Tritych’ and Wagner’s ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ are not the easiest things to understand immediately – beautiful and great things rarely are.
Port of champions
Sherry and Port are similar only in that they are both fortified with extra alcohol. Port has its own unique production, soil types and grape varieties. It is easier to like at first than sherry, but all too often relegated to partner only cheese or chocolate. This it does admirably, but it is capable of so much more. How about lightly chilled with your jalapeno, cream cheese and chorizo starter? Or as an intriguing match for rich, red-meat curries?
Getting better with age
These are ancient, fascinating wines offering superb value for money. The extraordinarily complex bottles of VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) featured are older than I am, yet they remain affordable. You may not think they are to your taste, but please, don’t write them off as Granny’s Christmas tipple. Give them another try and take your place among the esoteric society of sherry lovers. You’re missing a trick if you don’t.
Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana
£8.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Hidalgo’s most popular wine is outrageously complex. The nose has freshly chopped Granny Smith apples, yeasty hints, nuts and seaweed. The palate is bone dry with some sour green fruit notes overlaid by that famous salty tang.
Apostoles 30-Year-Old Palo Cortado, Gonzalez Byass
Half bottle £15.99
The pronounced nose is awash with all sorts of dried fruit, freshly shaved pine, overripe bananas and more. After what seems like a sweet nose the palate is dry and seemingly infinite, with new flavours evolving in the mouth every second.
Matusalem 30-Year-Old Oloroso, Gonzalez Byass
Half bottle £15.99
The darker, sweeter brother of the Apostoles has a nose of coffee, bitter chocolate, liquorice and nuts, with a palate to match. My colleague Lewis summed this wine up in one word: “Wow!”
If you have never tried this style of wine before, this will change your life. PX is a contender for sweetest wine on earth, good as a dessert wine or poured over really good vanilla ice cream and a hot mince pie. Noe is not the sweetest, but it is still a heady mix of raisins, figs, coffee, Christmas spices and molasses with a smoky hint.
Taylor’s First Estate NV
Rich, peppery and typical of the Taylor’s style – restrained and powerful. On the nose it’s plums, cassis, cedar and leather. The palate follows with overtones of coffee and prune.
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2005
LBV is aged at least twice as long in cask as Vintage Port for earlier drinking. This perfect example has liquorice, blackberry jam and truffle aromas, with trademark Taylor’s austerity and ripe, fine-grained tannins in the mouth.
This is a bargain. Beautifully matured with a sediment to prove it, its nose is a proliferation of damsons, toffee, kirsch and gamy notes. The palate is delicate with a good hint of brandy on the finish.
Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
This deliberately oxidised style is often people’s favourite. Aromas of figs, dates, walnut, caramel and toffee betray a sweet palate with woody overtones.
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2001
Superb Single Quinta with dried fruits of the forest, sultanas, cigar box, marshmallow and green peppercorns on the nose and a long, elegant palate with supple, integrated tannins and an overlying sweet spice. Enjoy over Christmas or in five year’s time…