The Liquorists’ Gonzalez Byass Sherry Evening

9 Jun

Three things, when pushed, that people most commonly associate with sherry:

  • Sickly sweet
  • Christmas
  • Nanas

Three things I associated with sherry, before I paid up to play at The Liquorists’ Gonzalez Byass sherry shindig:

  • Ice cream
  • Christmas
  • The go to bottle at the back of the shelf when I run out of port

Wrong. We’ve all been quite wrong, apart from the ice cream association of course. Sherry kicks the crap out of fudge sauce and chocolate sprinkles any day. Trust me. It’s the thing.

Turns out, there’s far more to this finely crafted fortified wine than I ever imagined, as many hip foodies down that there London can testify, with their fancy pinxtos bars and walls of sherry bottles to sample from. This elegant wine from Southern Spain is seeing a much needed demographic shake up, and for good reason.

After sipping my way through every type of sherry Gonzalez Byass sell, from a delicate, dry fino to an intense, unctuous pedro ximenez (PX), I was blown away by the complexities of the styles on show and majorly impressed with its ability to pair with just about any flavour.

So, as a full-fledged member of the sherry fan club, here’s what I now know…

Sherry is not always sweet

Having been weaned on the sweeter PX style stuff – admittedly a whole lot more sophisticated than my earliest incarnation as a food philistine when I solely quaffed Croft – my lips went loco for the dryer fino style sherries, made from the elegant palomino grape.

With sherry being fermented first and fortified after to further boost the barrel’s ABV, the grape’s natural sugars convert completely to alcohol, so only the grape used and subsequent ageing introduce any trace of sweetness. As you can imagine, sipping a sherry akin to a dry white wine – grassy hay in colour, sharp pear flavours and fragrant almond notes – the Tio Pepe first provided was a serious revelation, and gave my palate a good kicking to prepare it for the forthcoming wines.

Wine glass followed wine glass, each gradually darkening in colour and introducing caramel and citrus nuts in the amber-hued Vina AB amontillado, and an unusual woody, nutty yet sweet toffee hit in the 10 year aged Alfonso oloroso-style sherry, despite all being made from the same grape.

Turns out, whereas lighter, younger fino sherry is biologically treated during its time in the barrel, the older, darker sherries are allowed to oxidise during the ageing process. Turning the wine attractive caramel and toffee colours as the liquid evaporates – allowing for a stronger sugar concentration – the oxidisation introduces a hint of sweetness without actually adding any extra sugar. Only when you start producing sherry with the sweeter PX and Moscatel grapes do you get the real sugar hit.

The mahogany-coloured, velvet rich Solera 1847 – made from a 75% PX and 25% oloroso sherry mix – had deep raisin and strong liquorice notes, reminiscent of bonfire night, with the creamy sweetness achieved through the six week soleo process they put the PX through, laying the freshly picked grapes out in the sun to increase their sugar level. Intense, but no more so than the pure PX-based Nectar, viscous like treacle and just as sweet.

Surprising in its variation and each glass a revelation, I’m still no sherry aficionado, but can now firmly identify as an oloroso girl, and feel safe in the knowledge that a solid sherry habit (which I fully intend to take up) won’t lead to type 2 diabetes. Huzzah!

Sherry is for life, not just for Christmas

Whilst I’d happily let someone buy me a bottle of the expensive sherry for Christmas,* I’ll no longer be consigning my sherry sipping to the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, I plan to make each and every season wonderful by drinking and pairing this fine, fine fortified wine regularly, and here’s why.

Not only did I get sloshed after two glasses, but it was the happiest session I’ve had in a long time. I found myself giggling – giggling for Christ sake – at my two companion’s banter and drifted off into a happy daze, where I dreamily contemplated the joys of life.

I now see why Nana’s hammer the Harvey’s Bristol Cream come Christmas Day. All those sugar high grandbabies running amok and turkey related tension – you need a hit of happy to see you through to New Year. I say, why wait til old age?

For a girl who comes over all Grinch like after one glug of gin, or an incoherent sack of spuds upon necking cider, the light-hearted highs of sherry drinking makes it just the tipple for me.

Sherry is not Port’s poor cousin

Yes, they’re both fortified wines, and yes, they both enjoy the lofty stature that comes with being assigned PDO status. Let’s give pause and celebrate the fact that only the white grapes grown around Jerez de la Frontera are used to create this refined drink, safeguarding the history, production and unique flavours this skilfully created sipper offers. Let us not, however, underestimate what sherry can stretch to, and automatically assume the answer to every question is port. (Just me?)

Far beyond the usual port and cheese pairings or the majesty of the red stuff as an after dinner digestif, the white grape base means a fino can be paired with everything from fish and vegetables to fruit and cheese, whilst the sweeter grape varieties understandably ally to dessert with ease.

The Liquorists’ pairing of mussels in white wine and bacon worked wonderfully with the Tio Pepe, and as we moved on through to the darker colours and caramel flavours, found the morcilla pinxtos and manchego and fig pairings a real feast for the senses. The PX paired best with crumbly, buttery richness of the most perfectly pitched rhubarb crumble I’ve ever eaten, and worked wonderfully with a dollop of dense and dreamy ice cream, natch.

Most importantly though, don’t condemn it to the dusty recesses of your drinks cupboard- or cabinet if you’re wanky like that – like you might be inclined with port. Sherry is a fortified white wine – the clue is in the name. Chill it in your fridge. Sup a fino within 4 or 5 days like you would a sauvignon blanc, though admittedly, the PX-based bottles can last a little longer.

Too much, you say? You’d be surprised at my capacity for port, which in comparison to a fino or amontillado is far more challenging to put away.

So, sherry’s secret is out. Sorry Nana.

* Any bottle of the Gonzalez Byass classic range will do, ta.

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2 Responses to “The Liquorists’ Gonzalez Byass Sherry Evening”

  1. Deborah Smith June 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    It really does help you dance through the ironing too! xx

  2. Sharon Coulman June 9, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Why wasn’t I invited to this little soiree? And guess what you’re getting for Christmas!

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