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A love letter to sherry...

A have a friend. Kind fellow, charming family, cooks a tremendous rib of beef and harbours a penchant for the wines of Ribera del Duero that verges on the perverted. It was a Sunday, some while back now, when he pointed towards the kitchen clock which read midday and remarked casually "It's sherry O'Clock." You can probably understand why we get on. I now rarely prepare a Sunday roast without glass of cold Fino in hand.
Fino sherry should be treated in the same manner as white wine for it has been protected from oxidation by a delicate layer of surface yeast used known as the Flor. Decanting a bottle of Tio Pepe to sit idly in the drinks cabinet for the six months following Christmas is  hopefully the sort of criminal activity that is fading into history. I like my Fino fresh and cold, so cold that if it were not for the stem of the glass then picking it up would require a special sherry glove. That, for me is the place of Fino sherry. Sunday roast, the aroma of bubbling beef dripping and roasting potatoes consuming the kitchen. Sherry is a drink that can evoke so much.
    Take Manzinilla, the stablemate of Fino, a similar wine but  produced in the coastal region of Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is remarkable how a glass of Manzanilla enjoyed on a miserable winters evening in Sussex can transport one to the sun-flooded seaside. Iodine and oyster shell, the salty tang of the Atlantic as fresh as if you were there. Try it with a bowl of salted almonds for a near erotic experience. 
    Next in the chapter of sherries, working on a dry and fresh to sweet and gloopy scale, is Amontillado. Now this is a drink that can be kept in a decanter to dip into when required, but not for too long please. It is essentially a Fino sherry which has lost its Flor and therefore oxidized giving it a nutty, mealy character and more depth than a Fino or Manzanilla. It remains delicate in style however and its ability to suit every occasion makes it a favourite style of mine.
    Following Amontillado is a slight oddball in the form of Palo Cortado. The definition of a Palo Cortado seems to differ depending on who you ask. It looses it Flor unintentionally and then undergoes a period of aging. An accidental sherry which is half way between Amontillado and Oloroso (the next wine in the sequence) in style . Effectively wine gone wrong gone and then wrong again which is enough to make sherry haters run for cover. For sherry lovers it can be paradise.
   Next, we get to the Godfather of sherries. Oloroso. Probably my desert island wine.  Nutty, deep, complex notes of dried fruit and wood.  A bottle can be opened and enjoyed over several months but it would be a miracle if it lasted that long in my household. Oloroso is produced from a wine that has lost its Flor and gone on to age in barrel. Dry but luxurious, sultry and age-worthy.
   Then we have cream sherry. The kind of thing which might remind you of an old Aunt who smelt of cats and polo mints, slumped quite contended in a rocking chair on Christmas afternoon. They are usually fairly commercial sherries, produced from a blend of Palamino Fino the drier sherry grape with the addition of Moscatel or the final sherry (and also grape) in the sequence, Pedro Ximenez. 
   If the sherry styles where to form the components of an orchestra then I reckon Fino and Manzinilla would be the strings, Amarillo the woodwind, Palo Cortado and Oloroso the brass and Pedro Ximenez the conductor. Not physically a part of the orchestra but the ensemble could not function without it and it is frankly speaking a dreadful show-off. The sun-dried grapes are capable of producing some of the sweetest wines in the world where fermentation has been stopped early by the addition of neutral spirit to retain the incredible sugar levels. Though they may often lack the acidity and balance of say a Sauternes of Tokaji, they make up for it with a palate caressing liquid raisin and prune profile. As slick, sweet and sexy as a Federer backhand.
Star buy: The Almacenista range from Lustau is a superb collection of sherries. An Almacenista sherry is one that is bought from a larger house of shipper from a  small family businesses which has produced a sherry and matured it for years. They are rare and unique.The Amontillado del Puerto from the Lustau Almacenista collection has a knockout aroma of almonds and raisins with a tangy nbite of orange pith.Dry, as clean as a whistle in the mouth with terrific depth and concentration. Would be great with an array of different dishes, but Iberico ham springs naturally to mind. However, as so often with great sherry it is perfectly acceptable as a meal in itself, just possibly not breakfast.  £24.95 for 50cl

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