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The corkscrew: sherry the love

Nellie Ming Lee

 

Most people think of sherry as something elderly aunts sip at Christmas. This is mostly cream sherry - the sugary tipple created solely for the British market. Beyond that, a raft of exciting drinks awaits the adventurous palate.

There are two styles of sherry: those aged under flor, a fuzzy, porridge-like layer of yeast that grows on the surface; and those that are not. Sherries made with flor are without exception dry. The flor, which protects the wine from oxygen, gives fino and manzanilla sherries their freshness. With amontillado and palo cortado sherries, however, the flor dies and sinks to the bottom of the barrel, giving these varieties a nutty taste and a rich amber colour. Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries are made without flor from extremely ripe raisin-like grapes, fortified to between 18 and 20 per cent alcohol, and oxidised, which produces a rich flavour and texture. Of all these types of sherry, only the Pedro Ximenez is sweet. All sherries go through the solera system of ageing, which sees all vintages fractionally blended with older wines.

In Spain, sherry is enjoyed with tapas, a repast said to have been conceived in the 13th century for Spain's King Alfonso X. While sick, the monarch was served wine and small bites of food between meals, to help him digest his medication. Having made a full recovery, he decreed that no wine should be served unless accompanied by something to eat.

Matching sherry with food in Asia, therefore, might be simpler than you think. In Hong Kong, after all, we have the greatest version of tapas outside of Spain: dim sum.

Fino Tio Pepe, made by Gonzalez Byass, is an excellent example of this wine. It is tangy, with generous hints of sea salt, and utterly refreshing. For a dim sum match, try it with siu mai or steamed turnip cake.

Manzanilla More intense than a fino, with its salty tang and almondy scents. The best examples are from the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda; Jose Estevez's manzanilla is the most renowned. Enjoy it with char siu - the sweet and salty flavours combine exquisitely.

Amontillado Wonderfully nutty, with aromas of green olives. Exposed to oxygen after being aged under flor, it's slightly darker than a fino. Pair steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce with Valdespino's Tio Diego amontillado.

Palo Cortado Has a delicious nose of roasted orange peel, vanilla, toffee and sandalwood. It's dry but intensely flavoured. A good example would be Lustau Peninsula Palo Cortado. Serve it with har gau.

Oloroso Aged longer than other sherries, this wine is dark and rich. Oloroso exudes toasty, nutty aromas - almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. Try Gonzalez Byass' Alfonso Oloroso (dry) or Cristina Oloroso (slightly sweet) with sticky rice in lotus leaf.

Pedro Ximenez We've saved the best for last. Lusciously sweet, this wine has mouth-watering flavours and aromas of dried fruits (think figs, raisins, dates) and toffee-scented mocha. Gonzalez Byass' Nectar lives up to its name. Try it with a baked sago pudding.

 

Nellie Ming Lee is a freelance food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers

 

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The corkscrew: sherry the love

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