I am absolutely fascinated by sherry production. I don’t know why, it just rings my bell. Maybe it is the yeasty chemistry, the power of the capitaz, the weird and exciting flavors. When Jeff Burrows from Foodwineclick asked the #winepw group to do sherry pairings I made ambitious plans to wow my friends with a 4 course dinner. That was fantasy. The reality was I had a sample of Tio Pepe Fino so I give you Fino Sherry and Fennel.
Alabariza is considered the best soil for the main sherry grape, palomino. The soil dominates the vineyards of Jerez in Spain. One of my books says there is so much limestone in Jerez that the vineyards are a dazzling white in the sunshine. The palomino grape is difficult and delicate and must be handpicked. This is just the beginning of the complex process of making sherry. After the juice undergoes the first fermentation, the capataz (main cellar guy) tastes and marks the sherry, sealing its fate and future. I picture him wearing a special captain’s hat. Delicate wine gets one stroke and is pronounced Fino Sherry. Richer wines get two strokes and become Oloroso. Then the wines are fortified (alcohol is added). Less alcohol will be added to Fino Sherry so the all important flor yeast can survive. Flor does three things: 1. Reduces acidity 2. Prevents oxidation 3. Increases acetaldehyde which gives Fino Sherry their characteristic flavors of green olives, almonds and cashews, and yeasty bread dough. Oloroso will be fortified to a higher alcohol level and the flor will die, allowing the oxidative process that creates dried fruit and roasted nut flavors.
Sherries are matured and blended in a solera system. Barrels, called butts, hold the sherry. Each row of butts is called a criadera and the sherry in that row is all the same age. Bottling takes place from the oldest row and then those butts are topped off through a trickle down blending process that incorporates all ages of the sherry.
Styles of Sherry
Just because sherry begins life as two basic styles does not mean those are the only options.
Fino – Ages under flor yeast. Highest level of acetaldehyde derived flavors. Pale Cream are sweetened Fino Sherries.
Manzanilla – Like a Fino Sherry but from a different town than Jerez, with a different climate.
Amontillado – A Fino Sherry that aged long enough that the flor died and some nutty oxidative notes grew in the wine. My personal fave for pairing or for sipping.
Palo Cortado – Began as Fino Sherry but the flor failed to thrive. Flavored like an Amontillado with the body of an Oloroso
Oloroso – Fully bodied, dark in color. These sherries are the most fragrant with nutty savory aromas because they were influenced from oxidative aging their whole life. Some are sweetened and may be called Cream Sherry.
Pedro Ximenez – THE dessert sherry made from sun dried grapes.
So how to pair this Fino Sherry I had. There is an upcoming sherry pairing dinner in Portland and I stole ideas from their menu. For the Fino Sherry course they paired Ajo Blanco – a white gazpacho made with garlic, bread, and almonds. I based mine on this Ajo Blanco recipe from spanishfood.com. I made very few changes. I roasted the garlic because I didn’t want to smell like raw garlic and I substituted apples for the grape garnish and floated a splash of sherry vinegar on top. The instructions include a line to add oil slowly as if making mayonnaise. That did it for me. I don’t like mayonnaise. I barely like homemade fancy mayonnaise when it is disguised as aioli. Suddenly mayonnaise became all I could think about. So I hated this soup. Mark, who also hates mayonnaise, had not read the recipe and he liked the soup. I will admit it was a good pairing for the Fino Sherry.
Luckily I had a backup plan – fennel and mussels in a Fino Sherry broth. Served with bread and butter (with fresh fennel fronds smushed in), this was a great pairing. Fino isn’t my favorite sherry. I am also not a dry martini fan. If you are, then Fino Sherry might be right up your alley. Fino Sherry has always been served to me with nuts, so this pairing was a challenge. I reached out to Helen Highley who is a sherry expert and writer for Criadera – adventures in sherry. She gave her blessing on my pairing ideas. She loves Tio Pepe but finds Fino Sherry from El Puerto de Santa Maria are usually less harsh than those from Jerez. She recommended Lustau’s Fino del Puerto, Quinta by Osborne, and Colosia Fino by Gutierrez Colosia as other Fino Sherries to try.
The Fino Sherry and fennel were a great match and the Fino Sherry was also good for cooking. Handsome Hubby is kind of awesome with cocktails so he did some tinkering and we will share his Fino Sherry cocktail recipe in an upcoming post.
- 1 pound muscles
- 1½ - 2 cups fino sherry
- ¼ cup fennel fronds plus
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh fennel
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- In large pot heat olive oil and toast chopped fennel fronds until fragrant and softened. Add fino sherry and bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper, chopped fennel fronds, and mussels. Cover with lid. Cook until all mussels have opened. If mussels do not open, discard.
In the meantime, let’s see what the other #winepw group conjured up for their sherry pairings.
- David at Cooking Chat shares Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa
- Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog shares An Exploration of Sherry; In the Glass And At The Table
- Christy at Confessions of a Culinary Diva shares Ajoblanco & Amontillado
- Jade at Tasting Pour shares Fino and Fennel
- Nancy at Pull that Cork shares Oloroso Pairings for #winePW: What Worked and What Didn’t
- Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish shares The Possibilities of Manzanilla Pasada
- Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator shares
“A Quest for Sherry Part 1“
- Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Pollo a la Miel + An Amontillado-Style Sherry“
- Jeff at FoodWineClick shares A Sherry Pairing Mnemonic