Web Exclusives

So Very Sherry

Elyse Glickman / photos by author
Mockingbird Hill in Washington, D.C.                                              PHOTO COURTESY OF MOCKINGBIRD HILL

While Sherry may have once had a rep in some circles as a sweet, dessert-y libation for an older generation, all it may take is one trip to Sevilla or Jerez during national holiday or their annual springtime "Feria" to see that what was once "old school" is quite cool with people of all ages, especially young adults.

They're drinking it straight in flutes, or mixed with Sprite as part of a Regujito cocktail. The average young professional in Andalucía—and the rest of Spain, for that matter—is well versed on many different expressions of Sherry, from the traditional dessert and cigar-pairing wines to dryer, fresher finos and manzanillas that pair with a variety of foods running the gamut from tapas to seafood and poultry.

This was quite evident this past May in Seville, when internationally-distributed Tío Pepe released Tío Pepe en Rama (a limited-production fino bottled without the usual processes of stabalization, clarification and filtration) at an elaborate party at the Alfonso X Hotel, just before the eagerly-awaited Feria Sevilla, where revelers dress in flamenco outfits and the Sherry pours freely. The launch was complete with models in costume, several musical acts, a structured comparison tasting leading up to the new release, and top executives and marketing reps from Tío Pepe.

Universal Appeal

The best evidence presented at the party about Tío Pepe's universal appeal and great potential for the new release was that the bone-dry but fruit-forward fino paired with everything passed out on platters, from traditional tortillas (Spanish omelets) and croquetasto Serrano ham, Machego cheese, Italian mozzarella and tomatoes, and Asian nibbles like egg rolls and sushi. Of course, you could not have a celebration of all things Tío Pepe without dessert expressions, but pairings of the wine with artisanal chocolates gave the tried and true expression of Sherry a very modern spin.

"When I go to the States to host tastings for trade and consumers, I am lucky that my importers love and know the Sherry, and can present well-informed arguments that there's more to Sherry than dessert and cooking wines they may be familiar with," says Jaime Gil, marketing executive for Grupo Estevez Group, which oversees the Marqués del Real Tesoro, Valdespino and Manzanilla "La Guita" brands. "In New York, you will find our wines in numerous tapas bars in general, because of their versatility in food pairing."
    Tasting Sherry at Tío Pepe.

Beyond structured tasting events, Gil also credits nationally acclaimed wine writers like Peter Liem who from his perspective have made it their business to convince more people, especially the younger, trend-setting demographic, to familiarize themselves the many expressions of Sherry.

"Peter Liem has advanced our efforts through his book, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, which reached a mix of young people and connoisseurs interested in advancing their own experience and knowledge of Sherry," he continues. "I myself have observed a big change in the last two or three years in the United States, through my travels to various stateside restaurant events, tastings and so forth, and observed the numbers of young people at these events growing. [Furthermore,] the market opened up on its own accord, as the number of curious and sophisticated younger consumers has increased."

Innovative Uses

While Gil acknowledges that that the cocktail movement is less instrumental among young consumers in Spain than in the U.S., innovative uses of Sherry in cocktail recipes, food-wine pairings and even tasting classes are piquing even more curiosity among young American consumers already interested in expanding their knowledge base in wine and spirits.

 Tío Pepe launch party.  
According to Andrew Sinclair, Senior Business Development Manager, East Coast, at Gonzalez Byass (Tío Pepe's parent company, imported by its Chicago-based subsidiary, Vin Divino), a mixologist's or sommelier's challenge is to address lingering misconceptions that Sherry must always be sweet, brown and warm, and is, therefore, a seasonal drink. He encourages his client restaurants and bars to get the message out that it is above all, a local white wine from Andalucía, which happens to be lightly fortified. In terms of education efforts, it is best to let the client experience the different expressions of Sherry rather than present a long-winded geography lesson.

"In Spain, most Sherry like Tío Pepe is consumed is bone dry, and when you present Sherry like this is a wine glass, extremely well chilled, in a generous serve of least three ounces, and with the right snacks, like some olives, almonds and cured meats, then people get it," Sinclair advises. "Gonzalez Byass has been supportive at cocktail events like Tales of the Cocktail. Many people in their company get it and will be the reason Sherry is ascendant for Millennials, and I definitely appreciate their support."

Sherry On-Premise

One of the model Sherry-centric bars both Sinclair and Vin Divino Director of Marketing Andrew Taylor point to is Mockingbird Hill in Washington, D.C., which follow the lead of teaching through tasting and trying, rather than through highly formal discourse. Owned and operated by husband and wife team Derek Brown and Chantal Tseng, the restaurant keeps their canvas simple so the wines can be front and center. They use social networking (see their Facebook presence, www.facebook.com/events/635291743232027/) and play punk music put customers at ease in building their relationship with Sherry.

   Young people trying Sherry at Mockingbird Hill.
"What we do isn't camp, it's sincere," says Brown. "We're not Spanish, but we love Sherry. I think people relate to that and it decontexualizes Sherry, letting them start over with their understanding of what Sherry is or could be. The key is to simply let people try it with food and in cocktails. Once they do, it's hard for them to hold onto their misconceptions. It's not always sweet. This isn't what your grandmother drank, unless your grandmother had great taste in drinking. It's the world's best pairing wine. It's frickin' delicious!"

Los Angeles–based independent cocktail consultant, recipe developer and cocktail blogger Elana Lepkowski heartily agrees. In her work with chefs and event planners in Southern California, she has had great success bringing showmanship into the cocktail-making process.

"There's an expectation from my clients that, in addition to providing original recipes and unique spins on classic cocktails, I'll be presenting things like Sherry cocktails with both new and 'forgotten' ingredients," she says. "By showcasing Sherry as an ingredient that pairs well with many spirits, including ryes and mezcals, we're giving people a chance to make a new connection with Sherry in a completely new context. What we're doing with our custom cocktails is inherently fun and adventurous, so it's easy for our customers to then see past the dusty stereotypes, like those of Sherry as a after-dinner standard for geriatrics."
 Sherry al fresco.  

Micah Olson, head mixologist and co-owner of Crudo ( www.crudoaz.com) in Phoenix, AZ, offers a take on the classic Cobbler, which features Lustau "Don Nuño" Oloroso Sherry, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, muddled orange and Arizona Bitter Lab's Figgy Pudding Bitters, served tall over ice with the traditional bendy straw. He says he always makes an effort to have at least one Sherry drink on the drink menu and consistently uses it when creating special cocktails for pairing dinners, with food pairing serving as the vehicle for Sherry education.

"Sherry is beautiful on its own, but it also has beautiful nuances and flavors that can really help build and unite flavors in a cocktail," Olson says. "I love to dispel misconceptions of Sherry, but the main goal for me is to let people try different kinds and decide on their own whether or not they like it."

Gastronomic Tourism

Back in Spain, Seville-based husband-and-wife food and wine public relations professionals Fernando Paredes and Valeska Idarraga (under their Paladar y Tomar banner) have reached out beyond their industry base to the consumer directly via their La Azotea Food & Wine Club. The couple conceived the idea as a way to generate further word of mouth about Sherries and other food products from Andalucía with tours built around the notion that visitors to Spain are far more knowledgeable about Andalusian gastronomy than standard tour operators give them credit for.

   Val Despina, Spain.
Paredes and Idarraga, in fact, see so much renewed potential with Sherry's worldwide appeal that Idarraga has written an informative English-language article [ http://en.www.paladarytomar.com/10-razones-beber-Sherry/] on why Sherry is the coolest thing going among young wine enthusiasts. With her pulse firmly on various wine and spirits trends, Idarraga likens Sherry's impending re-emergence to the recent gin revival, sees a tie in with the low-alcohol cocktail movement in the U.S. and Europe, and observes that Sherry-focused bars are taking New York by storm.

Thanks to the efforts and research of my colleague, Rachel Weil, I was introduced Paredes and Idarraga, who in turn gave both of us an exclusive opportunity to be some of the only U.S. journalists to attend the Tío Pepe en Rama launch on the eve of Feria Sevilla. Their hospitality toward us on short notice is also reflective of the collective interest among producers and marketers in the region to help spread the word and light the way to rediscovery in a meaningful, hands-on way.

THE TASTING PANEL, 6345 Balboa Blvd, Ste. 111, Encino, CA 91316
Content ©2016 THE TASTING PANEL magazine. All rights reserved