Top Pair: Jerez and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-wine (Sherry)
Food and wine pairings already have a presumed logic to them, a kind of gentle, nudging suggestion that says “don’t think too hard, we already did,” which makes pairing the ideal vehicle to introduce diners to the rainbow flavor spectrum and pairing potential of food-friendly Sherry.
“I think the best way to experience Sherry is with food,” says Fearrington House Sommelier and Jerez devotee of Pittsboro, North Carolina, Maximillian Kast. The reason Sherry isn’t as frequent as it might be on pairing menus? “Not because people don’t like it, but because it is greatly misunderstood and stereotyped,” he says. Leave it to Kast and Fearrington House Chef Colin Bedford to reeducate. On a recent visit, not only did Kast and Bedford devise an incredible food pairing for Sherry.
- The Fearrington House Restaurant
- 2000 Fearrington Village Center
- (Fearrington Village) Pittsboro, NC 27312
- (919) 542-2121
The sommelier part of Fearrington’s food and wine duo, Maximilian Kast grew up in Michigan, in a German-American family with a long tradition of passion and respect for food. It was a passion that wasn’t lost on Kast, who was introduced to the importance of hand-crafted and slow food well before he had a professional outlet. Once he was finally working in restaurants, while attending Montana University, Kast found his calling not in food, but wine.
Already enamored with the history behind food, Kast became intrigued at how each wine bottle becomes a journey to another place, an introduction to new people—and how, when paired with food, wine could evoke emotions and memories (a phenomenon for which Sherry is better known for). That expansive interest has followed him into his career. As Wine Director of Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, Kast increased the wine repertoire to span across 14 countries and helped earn both Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Wine Enthusiast’s Award of Distinction. Moving to The Fearrington House as a sommelier in 2007, Kast was quickly made Wine Director, managing a vibrant 1000 label wine list to match Chef Colin Bedford’s nuanced seasonal menu. Add to that oversight of Fearrington House’s popular Wine Maker Dinner series, wine and beer classes at The Fearrington Granary Restaurant, and the beverage programs at The Goat Café, The Fearrington Granary Restaurant, and Roost, Fearrington’s beer garden, and Kast has his plate full. That doesn’t stop the advanced certified sommelier (on his way to Masters Certification) from sharing his love of Sherry.
Sometimes the chemistry between a dish and a drink is straightforward, almost linear, with sip and bite connecting obvious dots of fat through acidity, smoke to smoke, sweet breaking salinity, and more. This dish was the opposite—a hedonistic intermingling of flavors that casually defies quantification.
Chanterelle and Carolina Moon Risotto with Foie Gras Snow, Golden Raisins, Zuchini, and Chives; Bodegas Cesar Florido, Cruz del Mar Oloroso Seco Sherry, Chipiona, Andalucia, Spain NV
We won’t say Bedford and Kast have quite the same indecipherable relationship, but the duo has worked together for over seven years. At this point, the process of putting dish together with drink is a bit more intuitive, a bit less explicit. For this dish, Bedford was most excited to feature chanterelles, his favorite mushrooms, alongside Carolina Moon, a local cheese that he says “beats any brie” with rich notes of mushroom and butter. But, it’s not all about richness; Bedford knows how to dose fat such that each bite seems sufficient, but just enough to beg for another. And then there are the apples, pickled in a Sherry vinegar mixture, which finds resonance with the Sherry in the risotto base.
The real reason Bedford and Kast knew this dish called for the darling of Jerez wasn’t ingredient consonance, it was flavor and complexity—what Kast calls Sherry’s ability to “[react] to the subtleties in dishes.” In fact, the reason Kast loves Sherry is the same reason it works in this dish—the spectrum of flavor contained in a single bottle. In fact, he converted to Sherry worship the way many do, with a single bottle, in this case a Palo Cortado from Bodegas Tradicion. “It smelled of caramel, sea salt, yeast cake, orange, and wood, and on the palate it was this balance of salinity, rich bold yeasty and nutty flavors, and sharp but balanced acidity.” Kast didn’t use a Palo Cortado here—it undergoes flora as well as oxidative ageing, resulting in a very different kind of flavor profile—but the principle was the same: in Sherry, there is plenty. And plenty for the plate.
In this case, that plenty was bottled as a Bodegas Cesar Florido Oloroso Sherry, from the seaside town of Chipiona, “a dry, oxidatively aged, full-bodied Sherry” made in a 12-year solera system, with 18-year-old Palomino vines. Because they’re exposed to oxygen, Olorosos are typically darker, with a “nutty quality [that] goes with the mushrooms,” not to mention “a fair amount of acid for the richness” of the cheese, chanterelle risotto, and foie. The raisins had their resonance, too, with the depth of the Oloroso, while its acidity found a friend in the bracing vinegar laced through and balancing the dish. For Kast, however, the real secret is Sherry’s tendency toward umami, “an area that a lot of people find mysterious, and I think because of that it can create amazing harmony on the palate.”
But it’s not all about harmony in the moment. Like most Sherry proselytizers we’ve met, Kast is looking to open palates, and makes a habit of regularly checking sales at the wine shop on the Fearrington property. “I always like to see what the Sherry sales are the next day, after guests tried it with their dinner at the Fearrington House. We do a good little Sherry business in Pittsboro.”