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.
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 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.
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.