The Weekly Mix: The Second Coming of Sherry

by Rebecca Cohen with Will Blunt
Shannon Sturgis
June 2013

Sherry Fast Facts

The name "Sherry" is an anglicization of "Jerez," which itself comes from the Arab name "Sherish" given to the area during the 711 A.D. invasion of the north Africans into southern Spain.

Cream Sherry accounts for some 67 percent of U.S. imports, while Manzanilla, the most popular among Spaniards, accounts for less than 2 percent of our consumption.

Wines produced in the Jerez region of Spain—within the triangle demarcated by Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María—were declared Denominación de Origen in 1933.

After years of dormancy, Sherry has triumphantly reentered our liquid lexicon. The nutty, fortified wine has effectively leapt out of its traditional tulip-shaped glasses and into shakers everywhere, becoming the star of a well-versed mixologist's arsenal.

Stemming from the humble Palomino grape grown in the Jerez region of southwestern Spain, the various styles of Sherry span an impressive diversity of flavors. The four principal varieties—Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso—range from yeasty and aromatic to darkly complex. For an intensely sweet raisin-y flavor, opt for the Jerez Dulce made from Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes that have been dried to concentrate their sugars.

"The primary difference between Sherry styles is biological aging, or aging under a layer of yeast, versus oxidative aging, or extended barrel aging," says Derek Brown, owner of D.C.'s The Passenger, Columbia Room, and the new Sherry-centric Mockingbird Hill. "90 percent of the wines made in Jerez are dry, with Fino and Manzanilla among the lightest and freshest. Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso are progressively richer and higher in alcohol." When aged under a protective layer of yeast known as the "flor," the wine is protected from oxidation and remains light in color and flavor. Suppressing the flor through fortification exposes the wine to oxygen, creating a darker color and a nutty flavor.

Valhalla Rising: Linie Aqvavit, Gutierrez Colosia Olosoro Sherry, Ginger Syrup, Lime Juice, and The Bitter End Pale Ale

Valhalla Rising: Linie Aqvavit, Gutierrez Colosia Olosoro Sherry, Ginger Syrup, Lime Juice, and The Bitter End Pale Ale

The Milk of Sorrow: Christian Drouin Calvados, La Garrocha Amontillado Sherry, Wray and Nephews Overproof Rum, Pine Nut Orgeat, Lime Juice, and Angostura Bitters

The Milk of Sorrow: Christian Drouin Calvados, La Garrocha Amontillado Sherry, Wray and Nephews Overproof Rum, Pine Nut Orgeat, Lime Juice, and Angostura Bitters

Noblesse Oblige: Pedro Ximénez, Bonal, Vida Mezcal, Cognac Petite Champagne, and Mole Bitters

Noblesse Oblige: Pedro Ximénez, Bonal, Vida Mezcal, Cognac Petite Champagne, and Mole Bitters

Sherry Varieties

Dry and very light in color, Fino Sherries are typically made from the juice that runs out of the grapes as they are crushed under their own weight. Full of volatile aromatics that deteriorate when exposed to oxygen, wino wisdom says to drink a Fino within a year of its bottling, and that a bottle should be finished in one sitting. This variety registers at about 15 to 17 percent alcohol by volume and is best served chilled at 7°C to 10°C. Sweetened Fino is called Pale Cream Sherry.

Cocktail: Remember the Alimony: Cynar, La Ina Fino Sherry, Beefeater Gin, and Orange Peel
Who: Mixologist Dan Greenbaum of The Beagle – New York, NY
Why: I picked La Ina, which is a kind of younger, sharper Fino Sherry. It has more acetaldehyde than other sherries and a sharp mineral, almost abrasive quality that can stand up to something like Cynar. That briny backbone from the Sherry is what I wanted against the rich, bitter Cynar.

A Fino variety produced near the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Manzanilla has a distinctive salinity, which is often attributed to the vicinity of the sea. Its name is derived from the Spanish for "chamomile," another primary flavor characteristic. It has a comparable alcohol content to other Finos, and should be stored and served similarly.

Cocktail: Sketches of Spain: Ransom Gin, Amaro CioCiaro, Manzanilla Sherry, Martini Bianco Vermouth, and Lemon Bitters
Who: 2007 Rising Star Mixologist Eric Simpkins of The Lawrence – Atlanta, GA

Named for the Montilla region of Spain, Amontillado starts life just like a Fino, protected by its flor. Additional fortification is then employed to do away with the yeast, introducing oxidation. To maintain a controlled rate of oxidation, Amontillados are fortified to about 16 to 17 percent alcohol by volume. The final wine is darker and richer than a fino, though still yeasty. Its higher alcohol content makes it more stable and bottles can be stored for up to a few years. An opened bottle can last for up to two weeks, if corked and chilled.

Cocktail: Morning Buzz: Cognac, Ron Zacapa 23-year Rum, Honey Syrup, Orgeat, Amontillado Sherry, Honey Nut Cheerio-infused Cream, Egg Yolk, and Angostura Bitters
Who: 2013 Rising Star Mixologist Jillian Vose of Death & Company – New York, NY

Cocktail: Smoked Palomino: Lustau Amontillado Sherry, Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal, Lime Juice, Grapefruit Juice, and Simple Syrup
Who: Mixologist Phil Ward of Mayahuel – New York, NY

Palo Cortado
This variety of Sherry is a happy accident, occurring when the flor of an intended Fino or Amontillado unexpectedly dies. Completely unprotected from oxygen, the wine darkens and takes on some of the complexity of an Oloroso without quite losing the crispness of an Amontillado. Once it is realized that a given barrel has turned to Palo Cortado, extra fortification is administered to prevent spoiling during the longer aging. The final wine registers somewhere between 17 and 22 percent alcohol by volume. More stable than the minimally oxidized Sherries, Palo Cortado maintains its integrity for several years after bottling, and an open bottle can be kept, corked and refrigerated, for a few weeks.

Cocktail: Palo Negro (from Ivy Mix at Clover Club>)
Who: Mixolgist Julie Reiner of Clover Club – Brooklyn, NY
Why:Bartender Ivy Mix dreamed up the Mexico-meets-Spain Palo Negro for Clover Club. The elegant, autumnal tequila aperitif is softened by Palo Cortado Sherry. Blackstrap rum and Grand Marnier keep the spectrum of flavors unfolding.

The darkest and arguably most distinctive of the Palomino wines, Oloroso is rich and silky on the tongue and intensely nutty. The flor is intentionally killed at an early stage, allowing for full oxidation and requiring higher levels of fortification to avoid spoilage. The final product usually clocks in between 17 and 22 percent alcohol by volume. Best served slightly warmer than its more delicate siblings, between 12°C and 14°C, Oloroso is stable and can be stored for decades before opening. Once opened, try to finish a bottle within about two months—though the older the wine before opening, the longer it will last once opened. Oloroso is often sweetened with Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel to create Cream Sherry.

Cocktail: Valhalla Rising: Aquavit, Gutierrez Colosia Olosoro Sherry, Pale Ale, Ginger Syrup, Lime Juice, and Candied Ginger
Who: Mixologist Nicolas de Soto of Experimental Cocktail Club – New York, NY

Pedro Ximénez & Moscatel
Intensely sweet, syrupy wines with a pronounced flavor of raisins and molasses. These can be served on their own as dessert wines, or blended with dry Sherries to create Cream Sherry.

Cocktail: Pedro Ximénez Sweet Tea: Gonzales-Byass Pedro Ximénez "Nectar" and Black Dragon Pearls Black Tea
Who: Mixologist Derek Brown of Mockingbird Hill – Washington, D.C.
Why:The Nectar is full of cocoa, raisin, figs, dried apricots, and even black tea notes. It's very sweet and rich, almost velvety. It blends seamlessly with the Black Dragon Pearls Tea.

Successful Spirit Partners

The incredible diversity that Spanish viticulture has drawn out of just a few grapes means that there's a Sherry to pair with virtually every liquor. Brown breaks down pairing into a few user-friendly categories: "I like gin with Fino, and tequila with Manzanilla. For the oxidative styles (Amontillado and Oloroso), brandy and bourbon go great. Pedro Ximénez can be used as a sweetener in drinks like the Old Fashioned in place of sugar."

Brown's own Sherry breakthrough came when he first made an Adonis, a simple concoction of Sherry, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters. "Sherry can be very complicated to learn, though the rewards, I believe, are well worth it. This stuff is good. It is so interesting and complex—magic with food—and has an amazing history," he says.

"People are confused about a lot of things, and Sherry is definitely one of them," says Philip Ward, owner of NYC's Mayahuel, who is enthusiastically re-educating his guests' palates. "Most people don't know anything about it and what they think they know is generally wrong. As a bartender we're always looking for something new to utilize in cocktails, and discovering Sherry was not just discovering one new ingredient, it was a whole world." At his Mexican-inspired East Village speakeasy, Ward's head mixologist Dan Nicolaescu entices guests to venture south of the border with his blanco tequila, dry Fino Sherry, olive brine, and habañero tincture elixir dubbed El Soucio. On the other side of the flavor spectrum, Nicolaescu's After Dark melds nutty Oloroso Sherry with smooth reposado tequila, espresso-flavored Galliano Ristretto, Benedictine, and Xocolatl Mole Bitters.

Ward and Nicolaescu are not only impressing patrons with their adept Sherry cocktailing, but other bartenders as well. Nicolas de Soto, of the Lower East Side's Experimental Cocktail Club attributes his love of Sherry cocktails directly to Ward's concoctions: "One of the reasons I really started to like Sherry's was Mayahuel, when [Philip Ward] started pairing all the Sherries with mezcal and tequila."

At ECC, de Soto takes a page from Ward's book by pairing Pedro Ximénez with Mezcal in his Noblesse Oblige. Similar to a Harvard's combination of cognac and sweet vermouth, de Soto's libation sweetens Petite Champagne cognac with Pedro Ximénez, throwing in Vida mezcal for a warm saline smokiness and earthy mole bitters to round it all out. De Soto doesn't hesitate to pair outside the Latin liquor family, either. His Valhalla Rising marries Sangre y Trabajadero Oloroso with Linie aqvavit, brightened by lime juice and a pungent ginger syrup. Poured over cubed ice, the drink is topped with Bitter Ends Pale Ale, which brings an effervescent creaminess and muted bitterness. "[Sherry] is just so good," says de Soto. "It's a big danger when I do the menu—I tend to put Sherry in every cocktail."

"It's a versatile, delicious, one of a kind fortified wine, and any bartender not using Sherry in cocktails is not doing enough research and development for their program," says Philip Ward. "It's fantastic by itself, but also adds so much to cocktails in so many different ways. The best thing is we don't have to choose one [way to enjoy it] or the other, and [we can] have that many more ways to imbibe."

Dan Greenbaum has more than done his research and serves more than 20 Sherries at NYC's The Beagle. In his Second Marriage Greenbaum blends Elijah Craig 12-year bourbon with Daron Calvados, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, and Angostura Bitters for an updated version of an Old Fashioned. "What we're starting to see lately, which is encouraging, is the use of different brands and styles," says Greenbaum. "In cocktails I like to use Sherry from Barbadillo, Valdespino, Emilio Hidalgo, and Lustau, mostly because they produce wines that aren't prohibitively expensive and are often available. All of those guys, and most bodegas in general, have a range of wines to choose from, whether I'm looking to use a dry or sweet Sherry." In the last few years a number of smaller Sherry producers have popped up, embracing the limited and controlled production of high quality wines which appeal to in-the-know consumers. Gutieacute;rrez Colosia, Equipo Navazos, and Fernando de Castilla all offer distinctive, minimally processed bottles.

"Sherry is key for any beverage manager or bartender; you don't want the public to get ahead of you," says Brown. "Sherry may be a trend now but it's also already lasted for hundreds of years."