I’ve lived in several cities that claimed to have great weather. In most cases, that was a public relations lie. Year-around warmth may work for arthritics. Not me.
I don’t relish Western Massachusetts Decembers or International Falls, Minnesota Januaries. But I also can’t abide Februaries in West Palm Beach. Such extremes don’t benefit wine consumption.
For true wine lovers, seasons are marked by four different weathers that allow us to appreciate all sorts of diverse wines.
Sauvignon Blanc in spring, Rosé in summer, Zinfandels in Fall, and heavier reds when December iciness arrives – all are all part of my appreciation of wine’s diversity.
Heavier reds warm us at this time of year, but now is when my thoughts often turn to another area of our cellar that probably doesn’t exist in many other wine cellars in the country: a rack of 40 or 50 bottles of great old Sherries I have collected since the mid-1970s.
For my abiding interest in Sherry, I thank the brilliant merchant Darrell Corti, a Sacramento grocery and wine maven who may know more about esoteric wine and food than any man alive.
Corti, perhaps more than any other single person, helped to keep Sherry on the minds wine lovers in the ‘70s when then that historic wine was on death’s door. Today, several brands are still available here, but it may take a search to find some of the better examples.
Sherry, the real stuff that comes from Spain, is an Anglicized version of Jerez (pronounced in Spain as heh-reth), from Jerez de la Frontera, the warm Andalusian town where sherry is king.
Sherry has been made for centuries. It was often referenced by Shakespeare (Falstaff loved his “cup of sack,” a reference to Sherry). And Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” was about Sherry.
Today, Sherry remains a tiny section in fine wine shops, but several brands remain available. Most are sound, worthy offerings, and will do the job with your meals or bedtimes (as a soporific) perfectly well. Special bottlings are often available in specialty shops, usually where one member of the staff understands Sherry – and the others think of him or her as a bit daft.
The driest and crispest of all Sherries is called fino, a wine made like few other. Fino Sherries are bone dry and delicate. And although all Sherries are fortified with a tiny bit of brandy to bring their alcohol up to about 18 percent, the best fino Sherries are lighter than that, about 15.5 percent.
La Ina from Pedro Domecq, Tio Pepe from Gonzales Byass, and Fino Apitiv from Sandeman are three of the most popular brands. Buy the youngest bottle available. Avoid old finos.
For a real treat, try to find Hildalgo’s superb La Gitana, which is technically not a Sherry, but a Manzanilla, made nearby the same way as fino, but it’s far lighter and more delicate (about $15).
These wines can also work brilliantly with toasted almonds and sautéed mushrooms as an aperitif. Or other tapas.
Not every vat that starts out to be fino develops fino character. Those that don’t will be made into Amontillado, a sort of halfway house to the real thing, oloroso.
The medium weight of a fine Amontillado can be engaging. Williams and Humbert’s slightly sweet Dry Sack is an acceptable version. It is generally slightly more nutty, but is a lot softer than I prefer.
One of my favorite Sherries, especially with soup, is the next style of wine, called dry oloroso (oloroso secco).
Dry olorosos are a perfect match for creamed soup. They aren’t sweet, but their higher alcohol (as much as 19 percent in many cases) combined with their maturity make them superb with cheeses after a meal.
The faint bitterness of a great oloroso, combined with their smell and taste of roasting walnuts, make them sensational, too, with toasted walnuts and cured olives, served as an appetizer. (Canned olives usually don’t work.)
Try to find the dry oloroso of Emilio Lustau; the Nina from Duff Gordon, or any of the superb oloroso offerings from Osborne.
The best Sherries rarely cost more than $40, and most of the very good ones can be had for $15-$20. And acceptable and tasty wines are available widely for $10 to $12.
Discovery of the Week
2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau ($10): Grapey and ripe, and completely unpretentious, this first wine of the just-past vintage has almost no complexity other than its jam and fruit-juice elements. Some purists disparagingly say it isn’t wine, but supporters say it’s wonderful with football and pepperoni pizza. It has less tannin than some white wines, and should be consumed as fast as possible. A year from now, it’ll be tired.