Questionable Tastes TM_PG_SHERRYC_FI_001

Sherry, Baby

Outside the wine cognescenti, sherry doesn't get much love. But have you tried it in a cocktail? Here are 8 options.

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Beware: Using your favorite wine in cocktails is a surefire way to scandalize the “serious” wine snobs in your life. Which, of course, is always fun. Mix up your wine routine with more than 40 new recipes from top mixologists in Planet of the Grapes Volume 3: Wine Cocktails, available now on Amazon. In this excerpt, author Jason Wilson explores the ever-underappreciated sherry.

Everybody’s talking about sherry these days. At least everyone snugly inside the bubble where sommeliers, bartenders, wine educators, and drinks writers reside. It’s the same place where grower Champagne, mezcal, and white whiskey are really popular, and ambergris (otherwise known as whale excretion) is used in cocktails. The other 99 percent of the world usually doesn’t get the memo. Which is sometimes just as well.

In the case of sherry, however, this lack of awareness beyond the bubble is truly a shame. Sherry is one of the most versatile, and best value, wines in the world. You can almost always find high quality for under $20, and often for under $15. Taken by itself, sherry has always been the perfect wine to pair with many difficult-to-pair foods such as olives, artichokes, nuts, asparagus, cured meats, sushi, as well as wine-unfriendly Chinese food.

Behind the bar, sherry has been a staple since cocktails first appeared in the 19th century. The sherry cobbler (sherry, fruit, and ice) was the Appletini of its day, and early 20th century classics like the Duke of Marlborough, the Bamboo, the Adonis, and the East Indian — all of which are varying combinations of sherry, vermouth, and bitters — wonderfully showcase the wine.

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Planet of the Grapes Vol. 3: Wine Cocktails, featuring more than 40 recipes from top mixologists, is available now on Amazon from Smart Set Press

But the classics are only a start, and bartenders around the country have been experimenting with sherry over the past few years, using it where vermouth might traditionally appear. Here, I recommend sherry mixed variously with aged rum, with Scandinavian aquavit, and with the Italian artichoke-based Italian amaro Cynar. As a base spirit in the Dunaway, it mingles with the Cynar and maraschino liqueur to create a drink that would not have been a out of place in a Gilded Age saloon. In the Smoked Palomino, it showcases what many bartenders today are discovering: Sherry loves agave-based spirits. In this case, it’s mezcal, meaning the Smoked Palomino is a perfect inside-the-bubble, cocktail-geek libation.

Which brings me back to my central question here: Why doesn’t sherry get more love outside the bubble? After all, the Laws of Wine Writing seem to dictate that one must proclaim sherry the most misunderstood/neglected/underappreciated wine in the world.

“Our goal is to be perceived as a wine,” says Cesar Saldaña, director general of the Jerez Consejo Regulador. That may seem a strange statement, considering that…sherry is a wine that’s existed for about 3,000 years. But here in the U.S. there is so much confusion over the misnamed “cooking sherry” that you see on supermarket shelves and that bears no relationship to the real thing. “Sherry as a word has become badly used,” Saldaña says. Many producers have taken to calling the wine “Jerez” instead.

Jerez is the Andulusian city in the middle of the demarcated “Sherry Triangle” (Jerez-Xeres-Sherry is the name of the Denominación de Origen), the only place in the world where sherry can be made. “Sherry” is actually the anglicization of Jerez.

“Sherry is a way of aging wine more than anything else,” said Carmen Pou, of Gutierrez Colosia, refering to the unique solera system. This is a system of stacked casks, in which young sherry is added to the casks at the top, and then transferred lower as the sherry ages, with the oldest wines at the bottom. The younger wine therefore takes on characteristics of the older wine, and the older wine retains a liveliness and vitality.

A venenciadora serves sherry the traditional way

A venenciadora serves sherry the traditional way

But aging is only part of sherry’s story. “In the end what gives the distinct flavor to the wine is the yeast,” Pou said. This yeast — called the “flor” — forms a protective blanket around young sherry in the barrel.

Folks in Jerez are pretty passionate about their yeast. When I visited Jerez, at some point on every tour of a bodega, I was shown a cut-away view of a barrel, with fino sherry resting inside its yeasty flor. When I was shown the flor at Harvey’s by Teresa Aumesquet, the commercial manager, and Eugenia Herrera Garcia, the public relations manager, the two women went nearly into a rapture about the yeast.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Eugenia.

“It’s a perfect yeast,” said Teresa.

“It’s a miracle of the wine!” Eugenia said.

“That’s why it’s called ‘flor.’ It’s a beautiful flower!” Teresa said.

“Well,” I said with a laugh. “You really seem to love your yeast here.”

“This is our culture,” Eugenia said.

“It’s in our blood,” Teresa said. “I’ve been brought up with sherry, and so I feel it.”

Flor seen from a cutaway solera

Flor seen from a cutaway solera

I also quickly realized just how many forms that sherry can take. Many of us only remember the sweet “cream” sherries, like Harvey’s Bristol Cream, that were popular several decades back. Those sweet sherries, as Javier Hidalgo, the winemaker at La Gitana puts it, “still give the image of granny and the priest taking cream sherry after Sunday service.” Some sweeter styles such as Pedro Ximenex or East India work in cocktails.

The sherries that are most exciting for me, however, are the drier finos and manzanillas, and my favorite style is the slightly longer aged amontillado. Served chilled, these complex, nutty — and yeasty — sherries cry out for food. They’re the ones I most often mix cocktails with.

No matter what sherry you prefer, an important thing to keep in mind is that sherry is a wine, and therefore will spoil quickly – even more quickly than vermouth. Finos and manzanillas need to be consumed within a week of being opened; amontillados maybe 2 to 3 weeks; olorosos and creams with in a month or two.

Some brands to look for include Tio Pepe (in particular for its fino), Hidalgo La Gitana (in particular for its manzanilla and amontillado), Lustau and Guitierez Colosia. Even Harvey’s and William and Humbert (which made the Dry Sack that was another 1970s favorite) are putting more focus on the drier styles for the American market.

“The boom for sherry was in the 1970s. Then, the sherry barons sat back on their laurels,” said Jane Ward, export manager for Lustau. “They missed out on a few generations.” By some estimates, the market for sherry in the U.S. has dropped nearly 75 percent since the 1980s. But clearly the way back into the hearts and minds of consumers is through cocktails made by inventive bartenders. The sherry producers I spoke with seem to view it that way.

Said Ward, “If you had asked us 10 years ago, ‘Is the cocktail scene of any interest?’ we’d have said, ‘Oh, no. We’re purists.’ But now, it’s just the opposite.”

THE CLASSIC SHERRY COCKTAILS

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There are four classic sherry cocktails found in most early-20th-century guides — the Duke of Marlborough, Bamboo, Adonis, and East Indian. I’ve included recipes for all of them here. All four are made with ever-so-slight variations on the same four ingredients: sherry, vermouth, bitters, and a citrus peel garnish.

The boldest of quartet is the Duke of Marlborough, equal parts amontillado sherry and sweet vermouth, with three dashes of orange bitters. The lightest is the the Bamboo, created in 1899 by bartender Louis Eppinger, at the Grand Yokohama Hotel in Tokyo, which replaces amontillado with fino, sweet with dry vermouth and calls for only two dashes of bitters.

Further variations include the Adonis (named for an 1899 Broadway play) with a 2:1 ratio of amontillado and sweet vermouth, and dashes of both orange and aromatic bitters. And finally, the East Indian, with equal parts amontillado and dry vermouth and a single dash of bitters.

It may seem hair-splitting and supremely geeky to talk about the anatomy of cocktails with such minute differences (and I wouldn’t disagree). But trust me, each of these drinks has its own distinct taste, and they’re an excellent illustration of how a small change of ingredients can create very diverse cocktails.

Adventurous home bartenders can use the basic templates here to further experiment. Other variations over the decades have includes adding lime or lemon juice, raspberry syrup, a dash of absinthe — just about anything.

DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH

INGREDIENTS

Ice
2 ounces amontillado sherry, such as Lustau brand
2 ounces sweet vermouth, preferably Cinzano brand
3 dashes orange bitters
Twist of orange peel

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the sherry, vermouth, and bitters; stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Squeeze a twist of orange peel over the drink (to release its natural oils), then drop it in.

BAMBOO

INGREDIENTS

2 ounces fino or manzanilla sherry
1 ounce dry vermouth, preferably Dolin
2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon peel twist

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add sherry, vermouth, and bitters. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel twist.

From Chantal Tseng of Mockingbird Hill in Washington, D.C.

ADONIS

INGREDIENTS

2 ounces amontillado sherry
1 ounce sweet vermouth, preferably Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Orange peel twist

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add sherry, vermouth, and bitters. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel twist.

From Chantal Tseng of Mockingbird Hill in Washington, D.C.

EAST INDIAN

INGREDIENTS

2 ounces amontillado sherry
2 ounces dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
Lemon peel twist

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add sherry, vermouth, and bitters. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel twist.


NEW-SCHOOL SHERRY COCKTAILS

These cocktails take the classics a step further, adding sherry to aged rum, Scandinavian aquavit, trendy mezcal, and the Italian artichoke-based Italian amaro, Cynar. They might just be the best way to introduce sherry to the other 99 percent.

DUNAWAY

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A wonderful example of how sherry can take center stage. The original calls for fino or manzanilla sherry, but I find that amontillado works well, too. Misty Kalkofen, its creator, says the drink is sassy and sophisticated, like actor Faye Dunaway; hence the name. Cynar is a bittersweet Italian amaro distilled from artichokes. Maraschino liqueur, by the way, is not the syrup from a jar of maraschino cherries; look for Luxardo brand.

INGREDIENTS

Ice
2¼ ounces fino or amontillado sherry
½ ounce Cynar
¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
Twist of lemon peel

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the sherry, Cynar, maraschino liqueur, and bitters. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Twist the lemon peel over the drink to release its essence, then drop it in as a garnish.

Adapted from Misty Kalkofen of Drink in Boston

SMOKED PALOMINO

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Using mezcal to add a smoky flavor has been very hip and trendy in cocktail circles over the past few years. So has using sherry as a base spirit. This drink is a good example of both. (Palomino is the grape used to make sherry.) For the mezcal, look for the Del Maguey collection of single-village mezcals. They range from light and floral to smoky and spicy. Amontillado sherry works best here.

INGREDIENTS

Salt
Ice
2 ounces amontillado sherry
2 ounces mezcal
1 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce club soda

INSTRUCTIONS

Wet the rim of a pilsner or large Collins glass and rim it with salt. Fill the glass with ice cubes.

Fill a shaker halfway with ice. Add the sherry, mezcal, citrus juices, and simple syrup. Shake well, then strain into the glass. Top with the club soda.

Adapted from Phil Ward of Mayahuel in New York

FLOR DE JEREZ

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This light-bodied but complex drink is essentially a daisy (a rum/sherry sour sweetened with apricot liqueur), and flor, of course, means “flower” in Spanish. But in producing sherry, flor also refers to the strange layer of yeast that forms around the fino sherry as it ages in the unique, stacked-barrel solera system they use in Jerez. Joaquín Simó calls for sugar cane syrup, but simple syrup works just fine.

INGREDIENTS

1½ ounces amontillado sherry
½ ounce rum, preferably Appleton Reserve
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
¼ ounce apricot liqueur, preferably Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot
1 dash Angostura bitters

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill shaker halfway with ice. Add all liquid ingredients and shake well. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

From Joaquín Símo of Pouring Ribbons in New York

TRIDENT COCKTAIL

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This is a Negroni with “just slightly obscure ingredients,” says creator Robert Hess of DrinkBoy.com. Besides aquavit, it calls for Cynar and peach bitters, neither of which are really that obscure in this Golden Age of Mixology of ours. For peach bitters, look for Fee Brothers brand.

INGREDIENTS

Ice
1 ounce fino sherry
1 ounce aquavit
1 ounce Cynar
2 dashes peach bitters
Twist of lemon peel

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice; then add the aquavit, Cynar, sherry, and peach bitters and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon peel twist.

Jason Wilson is the author of Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and the wine series Planet of the Grapes. He previously wrote the drinks column for the Washington Post, which has won awards for Best Newspaper Food Column three times from the Association of Food Journalists. Wilson is director of the Center for Cultural Outreach at Drexel University, which also publishes The Smart Set. He is series editor of The Best American Travel Writing, was previously the food columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @boozecolumnist

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