For many—well, for me—sherry conjures memories of furtively swigging a sweet, creamy substance from a sticky bottle stowed in the back of grandma's cupboard when no one was watching. Despite its low-quality reputation, the fortified wine is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated categories in the world of wines and spirits.
But that's about to change: as we learned at this year's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in late July—think Comic-Con for the booze industry—sherry is the next big thing.
Post-Prohibition, sherry was gradually pigeonholed as the forgettable sweet aperitif synonymous with brands like Harvey's Bristol Cream—a bastardization of the traditional form. Dry sherries were nowhere to be found. Thus, with the rise of dry wine's popularity in the second half of the Twentieth Century, sherry fell out of favor, tarnished by its false reputation of always having a cloying sweetness. "It's a great lesson in how fashion so often fails us," says Talia Baiocchi, author of Sherry(2014) and co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine PUNCH.
Today, dry sherry is gaining traction. Part of that is the evolution of the American palate toward acidic, savory, and bitter flavors. Another is that chefs and sommeliers are realizing it pairs together well with food, from oysters to shrimp to Iberico ham. But its revival can be largely attributed to bartenders who've rediscovered its important role in many classic cocktail recipes. "The reclamation of sherry as a classic cocktail ingredient—and, perhaps more importantly, as a modern one—really acted as the gateway for sherry back into the consumer's consciousness," says Baiocchi.
WHAT IS SHERRY?
Certain aspects of sherry production remain constant: By law, it is made from white grapes grown in the "Sherry Triangle" anchored by the city of Jerez de la Frontera in the southwestern Spanish province of Cadiz, in which the very light, chalky soil, calledalbariza, uniquely maintains moisture during the rain-deprived summer months. The grapes are fermented, the resulting wine is blended with a grape spirit to up the alcohol content, and the boozy liquid is aged in barrels that are stored aboveground (as opposed to in a cellar). All sherries are produced using the solera method—in which different vintages are combined during years of barrel aging to create the final product.