Sherry is coming out of its culinary closet, and stepping out for food and wine matching
The pairing of sherry with food puts one in mind of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn's pithy remark that "He gave her class.
She gave him sex appeal." Sherry in this scenario, you might have gathered, is Fred. Respectable but just a little bit dull, sherry has until recently lacked sex appeal.
The most recent stab at doing for Sherry what Ginger did for Fred – is to get it back onto the dinner table and away from the bar, and coupling it with fantastic food. The biennial Copa Jerez, an international competition, is set to consolidate the glamorous make-over. Held for the second time earlier this year in Jerez, the home of sherry, the final round of the Copa Jerez this year saw chefs and sommeliers go head to head.
Judging on the day were internationally renowned names including Juli Soler, owner of El Bulli in Catalonia and Britain's own Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Bray.
And the overall winners – for the second time in the short history of the competition – were the UK, represented by Chef and Sommelier duo Kevin Sutherland and James O'Donnell from the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, who dazzled judges with a three course menu of Scallops followed by Anjou Pigeon and a Banana and Hazelnut Frangipane, paired respectively with a Manzanilla, Palo Cortado and Moscatel. Judges also awarded prizes for the winner of each individual course.
Who knows what we'll see next year. There are no rules to sherry with food – it was evident that we're only beginning to explore the potential of the wine. You can tinker with temperatures, textures and tastes to find the perfect match.
HESTON BLUMENTHAL'S VERDICT
For those looking for inspiration, a new book, The Perfect Marriage; The Art of Matching Food and Sherry Wines from Jerez, is at your service. With a foreword by Heston Blumenthal, it emphasises tasting small dishes.
Fifty recipes – all paired with sherry – come from 15 UK-based chefs including Ichiro Kubota of Umu in London, Anthony Flinn of Anthony's in Leeds, Jason Atherton of London's Maze, Rasoi Vineet Bhatia's Vineet Bhatia, and St John's Fergus Henderson.
Blumenthal's contribution is enlightening. He says that because it "delivers in the mid-tongue acidity area, it really does make food perceptibly juicier – it quite literally whets the appetite."
His research into sherry – he now has some 30 by the glass on the wine list at the Fat Duck – focused on the so-called fifth taste, ‘umami', some special properties of which are found in sherry. Blumenthal believes we're still only scratching the surface, but that sherry "genuinely encourages our receptivity to food". A discovery that throws the area of food and wine matching wide open.
As well as recipes, there's also a guide to sherry styles – from Manzanilla to Pedro Ximénez – and an introduction to the region of Jerez. It's not for the wine buff, but for the newcomer – an accessible place to start out.
All the contributors have donated their royalty fees to the Parkinson's Appeal.
The competition courses
The Winning Combination from Jan Hurtigkarl & Co, Copenhagen: Scallop in a Terikyaki Sauce with Green Shiso and Pea Crumbs, with Fino de Bodegas Valdivia.
Sommelier Alexander Berntsen tracked down a fino from a lesser known bodega, just two years old, to match a Danish/Asian dish, finished with a ryebread tuile.
Other highlights: Nancy Selzer, sommelier at Casa Mono in New York, matched a fried duck egg (with fingerling potatoes and mojama) with Lustau's Almacenista Obregon Fino del Puerto, rather than the more obvious amontillado, to get a contrast of texture and temperature.
The Spanish team from restaurant Poncio in Seville, went ‘beyond merely pairing', to create a ‘new texture'. With such lofty ambitions in mind, they warmed up fino in a bain marie with a shot of ‘sherry mary', a chilled soup, the idea being to accelerate the process whereby the mouth warms the sherry.
The Winning Combination from Casa Mono, New York: Higados con Cinco Cebollas (Seared Foie Gras with Five Types of Onions) and Aposteles Palo Cortado VORS from Gonzales Byass.
Sommelier Nancy Selzer tries to get 375cl bottles so it stays fresh. The dish is Chef Andy Nusser's take on liver and onions. The Palo Cortado – or as Selzer calls it, ‘the sherry drinker's sherry'
suits the medley of onions served pickled, soured, charred, with membrillo paste and onion seed in the sauce. The additional 10 per cent PX (Pedro Ximenez) in the sherry gives an extra dimension of sweetness to mirror the dish.
The Dutch duo from T Brouwerskolkje in Overveen chose amontillado with roe deer, to match the caramelisation of the meat. They served it in a white wine glass to lose some alcohol and enhance the aroma. Meanwhile, the Spanish team served oloroso in a burgundy glass, with Seville orange peel rubbed around the rim, to match braised oxtail.
The Winning Combination from The Balmoral, Edinburgh: Caramelised Banana and Hazelnut Frangipane, Chocolate Ice Cream and Banana Cream with Moscatel Soleadeo from Colosia.
Casa Mono's twist on chocolate with churros is a signature dish that's always on their menu – battered bay leaves with a spicy hot chocolate sauce, paired with lightly chilled PX. "Not a palatecleansing course, I can tell you," says Selzer. The similar textures but different temperatures worked well: the warmth builds up with chilli, before cooling off with the wine. The Spanish sommelier chilled PX down to 1ºC to increase the wine's density. "As it warms, it becomes more like a liqueur" says Miguel Angel Lejarza.
The only team to try a Moscatel in the competition were the audacious Brits, who had El Bulli's Juli Soler green with envy when he found out they could get hold of a wine even he can't get supplies of (Colosia's Moscatel Soleadeo).
THE SHERRY FAMILY
Manzanilla A pale, delicate ‘fino' made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Dry with a light body and a yeasty nose and a tangy finish. Consume – well chilled – within a week of opening. Goes with: Fish; a classic aperitif suited to salted almonds or green olives. Look out for: La Guita; Hidalgo's La Gitana or Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, an aged Manzanilla.
Fino Meaning ‘elegant', fino sherries are light and crisp, with almonds on the nose. Goes with: Classic Spanish tapas like Serrano Ham and Olives. Also great with some hardto- match foodstuffs like artichokes and asparagus. Surprisingly good with sushi. Look out for: Tio Pepe, Valdespino's Inocente, Fernando de Castilla Classic or Antique Fino.
Amontillado An aged amber fino and a light to medium body. Serve just lightly chilled. Goes with: Full-flavoured, even spicy foods. Try with mushrooms, mature cheddar, chorizo and roast meats. Look out for: Tradicion Amontillado, 30 Years Old; Barbadillo Principe Amontillado; Gonzales Byass' Del Duque (VORS – aged over 30 years).
Oloroso Dark amber to mahogany colour. Naturally dry, but available in both dry and sweet styles. Goes with: Black pudding, smoked meats, offal. Sweet ones go with dried fruit or pudding. Look out for: Oloroso Amoroso, Maestro Sierra; Oloroso Dulce ‘Amoroso San Rafael', Barbadillo.
Palo Cortado Serve at room temperature. Rich and smooth tasting; delicate on the nose. Goes with: Can stand up even to red meat, and game. Works like dry oloroso with smoked and cured meats. Look out for: Gonzales Byass' Apostoles (VORS) and Palo Cortado Gutierrez Collosia (VORS).
Moscatel Another of the grape varieties used in sherry. Sweet, medium-full body, and amber-coloured. Goes with: Blue cheeses and chocolate. Look out for: Emilin Moscatel, Solera Reserva, Lustau.
Pedro Ximenez Made of Pedro Ximenez (PX), grape, sun-dried, giving dark colour, full body, and caramel, raisin-y nose. Very sweet. Goes with: The ultimate with dark chocolate. Works well poured over vanilla ice cream. Look out for: Venerable Pedro Ximenez (VORS) de Domecq; Pedro Ximenez de Fernando de Castilla.
A good one-stop reference for all things sherry-related is tenstartapas.com.
The site includes UK supplier details, information about Copa Jerez, where to go and what to see in Jerez.