Not Your Grandmother's Sherry
Sherry elicits thoughts of something my grandmother would drink or Elizabethan ladies sipping in the parlor while gentlemen converse over cigars. Despite sherry’s reputation, it is one of the most complex and unusual wines. Made in Andalucía, it’s super-ripe and super acidic grapes bake in the hot, southern region of Spain.
Sherry’s distinctive flavor comes from the film of yeast, called flor, which develops during fermentation. The resulting wine tastes of nuts and caramel, with a salty edge of the Mediterranean Sea and an earthiness from the yeasty flor. While some of my favorites are bone-dry, today I am in love with the sticky, sweet 2011 Alvear Pedro Ximénez de Añada.
Pedro Ximénez (PX) is a grape often blended into Oloroso or Cream Sherries, but is also aged and bottled on its own, often in Montilla-Moriles. Established in 1729, Alvear is the most acclaimed producer in Montilla-Moriles and, as such, is priced accordingly. Recently receiving a rating of 100 points by Robert Parker, I highly recommend the splurge!
The PX grapes are hand harvested in September and then allowed to dry in the intense sun until the raisins are pressed producing a honey-like juice. Fermentation is then arrested by the addition of spirits. The wine spends six months in American Oak prior to bottling. It is an amazing effort that results in a wine that looks like molasses. Notes of macerated figs, chocolate, and caramelized tropical fruits emerge from this full-bodied, unctuously-textured wine. While sweet, it has enough acidity to balance out its richness.
When pairing this wine, think of warm Gingerbread or Christmas Panatone. Drizzle it over ice cream or crème brûlée. It has enough depth to stand its own with dark chocolate truffles. Best served slightly chilled, I prefer to contrast the sweetness with pungent cheeses.
I recently paired this with Roasted Pears and French Lavender garnished with warm Gorgonzola. Pears are one of my favorite fruits and the lavender**(see note below) highlights the earthy notes with a floral spiciness. The cheese adds the perfect bite to cut through the wine’s sweetness. I had originally planned to serve with a drizzle of honey, but decided I preferred it without. I recommend trying both ways. You can be your own judge!
Sold in half bottles around $50, this wine should be savored. Tightly corked, this wine can last months, even without refrigeration. Unopened, it will outlive me.
**I love using lavender in sweet and savory recipes. It’s a unique flavor profile in American cuisine and worth trying. Go slowly, you can always add more. It, like rose water, will begin to taste like soap or perfume very quickly. Lovely with the classic flavors of Vanilla and Chocolate, it can also be added to recipes with Rosemary and is wonderful with Lemon. It is traditionally included in Herbes de Provence.