Like most Americans my age, I never got sherry. To me, it was what old ladies poured out of intricate cut-glass crystal decanters around four in the afternoon. Don’t get me wrong: Day drinking is great, but I’m not an old lady. So I never bothered to learn about sherry. The sum of my sherry knowledge: (1) It is a Spanish fortified wine; (2) it tastes sweet; and (3) it is intended for sipping in tiny glassfuls.
All of that changed, however, in 2010. That’s when I traveled to Andalusia in southern Spain, where the cities of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María make up what’s commonly referred to as the “sherry triangle.” There, over the course of seven days, I studied the grapes used in sherry production and paired the end result with as much local cuisine as I could find—fresh shellfish, aged cheeses, dried sausages, fried almonds, smoked paprika.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong about sherry. There is, in fact, a lot to get about it. For starters, it is certainly not just for sipping. During a meal, whole bottles can easily be drained—especially lighter, drier styles such as fino, amontillado, palo cortado and oloroso. Their nutty, crisp apple flavors fit perfectly with the food I ate throughout my weeklong stay in Spain.
When I returned to Portland, I immediately wanted to put sherry in a cocktail, which I found had started to become a common impulse among my bartending brethren, who treated it as a secret handshake of sorts. One such bartender, Naren Young, beverage director at Empellón in New York City, gets sherry particularly right. His latest custom sherry cocktail, appropriately named Autumn, is the best use of this fortified wine I’ve tasted outside of Spain. It’s also another example of why sherry should never be shortchanged again.
1½ oz. reposado tequila
¾ oz. amontillado sherry
¼ oz. Clear Creek pear eau de vie
¼ oz. maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with cracked ice and strain over fresh ice into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a thin slice of apple.
Photo by Melissa Hom