Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peter Liem's Sherry Dinner at the Spotted Pig

Although I am no longer the least bit surprised, I continue to take great pleasure in expanding my experiences with the versatility of Sherry at the table. Fino style wines obviously pair beautifully with seafood, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many styles of Sherry wine, and some can handle spicy food (Amontillado with Szechuan food is unknown as the best wine and food pairing in the world, I think), they all tend to work beautifully with savory food, they can pair well with "difficult" vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes, and some sherries work beautifully with richer meats such as beef or lamb.

Recently I attended a very special dinner that offered new opportunities to experience Sherry at the dinner table. Celebrated wine critic Peter Liem selected a group of Sherries and April Bloomfield, celebrated chef at The Spotted Pig (among other places), created a menu to pair with the wines. The event was organized by those two folks and also by Rosemary Gray and Clara Rzeszewski, the Wine Director at Bloomfield's restaurants, and there should be more of these. Put top wine people and top chefs at top restaurants together and magical things can happen.

Wine Director Clara Rzeszewski and Chef April Bloomfield. Bloomfield herself actually cooked our food.

I was pretty busy drinking and eating and enjoying the company of my neighbors, so I don't have notes to share with you, but I can share some things that were meaningful to me. Peter selected two interesting Fino wines to begin the dinner, Valdespino Inocente and La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 22. Inocente is unusual in that the wines in the blend are much older than is typically found in Fino, averaging something like 8 years. The wine is intense and rich and has a substantial feeling in the mouth, while retaining the brisk salty freshness that I think of as the hallmark of a good Fino. La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 22 comes from a great solera at Bodega Sánchez Ayala in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and is unusual in that it is barely filtered. The wine is deeply golden and bursts with aromas and flavors that reflect the fact that the wine is essentially whole - most Sherry is rather viciously filtered.

Bloomfield chose to pair these wines with two seafood dishes, a smoked oyster topped with some sort of cream sauce and a perfect piece of Tasmanian Trout, adorned only with it's own crisp skin. Seafood and Fino Sherry is not a new idea, but these are richer styles of Fino wine and they played very well with the dishes. I thought the savory depth of the Valdespino melded with the Trout in a particularly delightful way.

Peter Liem discussing the wines he selected. Bloomfield cooks, behind him.

Peter selected two Oloroso Sherries for our second flight. In case you, like me, haven't memorized the rules of Sherry classification, Oloroso wines are distinguished from other Sherries in that they are never aged under flor, the layer of yeast under which Finos spend their lives, and Amontillados and Palo Cortados begin their lives. We drank Gutiérrez Colosía Oloroso "Sangre y Trabajadero" and Lustau Almacenista Oloroso "Pata de Gallina." These wines contrast interestingly in that Sangre y Trabajadero is an Oloroso made from rather young wines, averaging perhaps 10 years old. That's young for an Oloroso, and its youth was accented when drinking it next to the very old wines in the Lustau Sherry (which comes, I think, from a solera at Bodegas Juan Garcia Jarana). We drank these wines with perhaps the single most savory dish I have eaten all year, Scottish Hare with Wild Mushrooms on Bone Marrow Toast. Both wines were great with the dish, the youthful freshness and lovely finesse of the Colosía wine was a nice compliment to the dish. And the intensity and complexity of the Jarana Oloroso amplified the savory experience.

Peter chose two contrasting Palo Cortados for our third flight, Emilio Hidalgo Palo Cortado "Marqués de Rodil" and Barbadillo Palo Cortado "Obispo Gascon." Emilio Hidalgo's wines are quite difficult to find in retail shoppes, and this is a shame because everything I've had is absolutely excellent. Bloomfield paired these wines with Pigeon Agnolotti with Chard & Walnuts, a bowl of pigeon ravioli (not really ravioli, but think ravioli) in broth with shredded Swiss chard and bits of walnuts. The dish and the pairings were very good, but this was a bit overshadowed for me by the fact that I fell in love with Hidalgo's Marqués de Rodil, and found it hard to focus on anything else. The wine is barely a Palo Cortado, you can still smell, taste, and feel the flor. It is fresh and vibrant and gentle, its aromas and flavors intense and complex the way you would expect from a Palo Cortado, but still shot through with a brisk energy. As a public service to you, I will tell you that this awesome wine is currently sitting on the shelf at Chambers Street Wines, and if you like Sherry, or even think you might like Sherry, you should buy some.

Peter selected two absurd Amontillados for our final flight, both made of very old wines, Hidalgo-La Gitana Amontillado "Napoleon" VORS and Bodegas Tradición Amontillado VORS. Bloomfield paired these in a classic style, with a crumbly Cheddar and another cheese called Podda Classico. The wines were both wonderful, richly complex and pungent, and each would be worthy of an entire dinner's worth of enjoyment and contemplation. It goes without saying that they were great with the cheeses.

Every one of those glasses was mine. I treated them as such, anyway.

Thinking about this dinner afterwards, I realize that we are very lucky to be discovering the beauty and versatility of Sherry at this time. The wines are inexpensive! We can drink the DRC of Sherry for as little as $20 for a 375 ml bottle. $80 buys several different wines that are among the finest versions of Sherry wine. $40 will buy a bottle of that beautiful Hidalgo Marqués de Rodil. There was a time when Burgundy was moderately priced in the US. Now is that time for Sherry. And with all the respect in the world for the beloved and great wines of Burgundy, Sherry is far more versatile at the dinner table. Not just tapas either, as this dinner emphasized. Well selected Sherry can make fine dining even finer.


Anonymous said...

I've never thought of sherry as a dinner pairing for the simple reason that I thought I would be too intoxicated by dinners end. Do these sherries have a lower alcohol content?

Robert Alexander said...

Thank you for the report.

May Matta-Aliah said...

I just came back from 5 days in Jerez and Sanlucar, during that time I gained the Official Sherry Educator Certification from the Consejo AND got to taste a wide range of Sherry wines. I could not agree with you more about the amazing versatility of Sherry with food. I am true believer, dinners like these will surely turn others into believers too.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks, Brooklynguy. In the interests of fairness, I'd also like to thank Ralph Johnson, head chef of The Spotted Pig. He and April did an amazing job with the food pairings. I really think that this was one of the best wine dinners of any kind that I've ever been to. It wasn't the fanciest or most extravagant, but in terms of conception, execution, location, fellow diners and simply the sheer pleasure of it all, I couldn't have asked for more.

Brooklynguy said...

Anonymous - i completely understand what you are saying, and I will admit to more than one instance in which I realized later than I meant to that Sherry must be consumed in smaller quantities than other table wines. I think that the high alcohol levels can be hidden in a balanced package, and it can be dangerous.

Peter says that the flor eats everything, from acidity to glycerin, and this is why the wines feel balanced even at such high alcohol levels.

i think you should play around some with Sherry at the dinner table, but drink a smaller glass than you would normally drink. especially if you are drinking brown sherries.

Then again, many of the Brits enjoy a small glass of Sherry at 11 AM, so what do I know.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, and I thought German Riesling was supposed to be the new Burgundy.

Nothing will ever be the new Burgundy. Sometimes the best--no matter how expensive it gets--stays the best.

But a truly wonderful and inspiring report: thanks so much, BG (I have my current sherries from CSW and am looking forward to them).

Lars Carlberg said...

Brooklynguy: your last few posts have included some enticing wines: a few Immich-Batterieberg 2010s; a Meursault-Charmes, Comtes Lafon 1997; and now some sherry. I've never been to The Spotted Pig before, but it seems like a great tasting with Peter and company.

Anonymous: (Are there two unknowns or just one commenting twice?) Anyhow, I'm replying to the previous comment. Although I understand your point, what does "the best" really mean? And for what and to whom? German Riesling is already a broad enough category and shouldn't try to be the "new Burgundy," except to reclaim its lost esteem and prices of yore. In the late 19th century, Mosel wines (back then filigree but dry-tasting) were as expensive and reputable as any wine in France. I, however, would agree that red and white Burgundy often do reach the highest heights of any fine wine, but so do many of today's Mosel Riesling in all its various styles.

Anonymous said...

I'm the second "anonymous" only, and, Lars, you are correct that I misspoke when attaching "the best" to any wine. But perhaps I was thinking the following: that BG exalted Sherry, but largely his enthusiasm seems founded on the felicitous pairing of Sherry and food. Red Burgundy certainly enjoys that also, but, as well, it seems alone, to my mind at least, in its maddening capacity so completely to enthrall and disappoint (often at the same time!). My (overly) casual connection with Riesling was just to point out that, in our enthusiasm for the new, we continue to search for alternatives, but the elusive and mysterious will likely always be Burgundy.

Lars Carlberg said...

Why remain anonymous? You seem familiar to me, too. Anyway, thanks for your explanation. I agree with you that red and white Burgundy (an '01 Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes, Domaine Leflaive was enthralling last Dec.) can be hauntingly beautiful and few wines can reach this level of finesse and grandeur, although Mosel Riesling is one of them.