First published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 11th December, 2019
At Christmas I swop my usual fino sherry for another of my favourite wines; aged dry sherry and Madeira. Every year, I make sure I have at least one bottle open, my personal Christmas treat, to dip into when the time is right.
Once opened, a bottle will keep for a week or so and makes the perfect indulgent treat; a glass of Oloroso, Amontillado or Palo Cortado sherry, or a dry Sercial Madeira with some cheese, a few crackers, and maybe some nuts. Pour a small measure into a proper large wine glass to release the amazing aromas.
Dry Amontillado Los Arcos, Lustau
€13.50 per half bottle , 18.5%
A delicious, rich, rounded Amontillado with walnuts and hazelnuts, dried fruits and a touch of toffee. Drink it with firm cheeses and nuts. From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, thewinecentre.ie; Gibney’s, Malahide, gibneys.com
A superb precise intensely flavoured sherry with toasted almonds, mahogany polish, tangy crisp citrus acidity and excellent dry length. Serve lightly chilled with fried salty almonds, a few slices of chorizo or some pâté and toast. From: Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon
€16.50 for a 50cl bottle, 18%
A very elegant bone-dry sherry with toasted hazelnuts, citrus peel and raisins finishing on an attractive saline note. From:jnwine.com
Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado
€45 per half litre bottle, 19%
An exquisite sherry, elegant and concentrated with orange peel, toasted almonds, finishing long and bone dry. Try with blue cheese on sourdough toast. From: Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 17th August, 2019
There are exceptions to every rule. I have been recommending lower-alcohol wines over the summer. But I have a confession to make: most evenings I have been quietly drinking a glass or two of wine that registers at 15 per cent. The wine that breaks the rules is sherry, or fino and manzanilla to be more precise. This is one of the great summer wines, bringing back fond memories of lunches in Jerez, sitting in the shade, sipping a glass of chilled sherry.
Treat fino as you would any other white wine, and don’t leave it lying around for weeks; once opened, drink it within a few days. Two of today’s bottles come in handy half-bottles. Serve chilled in proper large wine glasses alongside a variety of foods.
I sometimes wonder if retailers and restaurants have ever tried placing their fino and manzanilla sherries alongside all their other white Spanish wines instead of corralling them alongside the other fortified drinks – they are wines, after all.
Fino is not to everyone’s taste, but if you like umami-rich foods such as green olives, Roquefort, anchovies, Marmite and soy sauce, then you will probably like fino too.
Manzanilla is a fino sherry produced and aged in and around the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. All other fino is aged in nearby Jerez. Because of the differing climates, manzanilla is generally livelier and fresher, and is said to have a characteristic salty tang.
There has never been a better time to try sherry. Changes are afoot in the region; some producers are now offering “en rama” unfiltered sherries, others single-vineyard sherries, and some are producing limited edition batches of unfortified wines. These fascinating and delicious wines deserve an article all to themselves, but look out for Bodegas Cota 45 Ube de Ubérrima as a brilliant example of an unfortified sherry.
You could ease yourself gently into fino sherry by dropping into a wine bar, most of which serve it by the glass, or try a half-bottle of the Rey Fernando de Castilla fino – this also would go well in a rebujito, made by mixing fino with lots of ice and fizzy lemonade, or soda water. Otherwise, look out for the names Valdespino and Barbadillo in independents and the excellent Lustau sherries, to be found in Mitchell & Son and elsewhere.
Fino sherries are traditionally matched with all manner of tapas, including deep-fried fish and croquetas, tortilla, Ibérico ham and other cold meats, olives, toasted nuts, and cheese. They are also great with sushi, sashimi (and most Japanese food), gazpacho, fried hake, smoked salmon, garlic prawns, asparagus and so much more. In fact, fino goes amazingly well with just about any food, particularly anything deep-fried or salty.
Marks & Spencer manzanilla sherry 15%, €12
Light, fruity, tangy and fresh; the perfect summer sherry – and a steal for €12. From Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.com
Gabriela Manzanilla NV, Pago Balbaina, Sanchez Ayala 15%, €12.30 for a half-bottle
This is quite lovely; a fresh intense nose, lightly floral with bready notes; the palate has almonds, lovely subtle fruit, excellent length and real character, finishing dry. From Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie
El Maestro Sierra Fino 15%, €25.99
Wow! This explodes with flavour; full of character, dry with classic almonds, savoury, and an earthy touch too. From the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Alex Findlater, Limerick, alexfindlaterandco.ie