November 18, 2009
“A good Sherris-Sack…ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish, and dull, and crudy vapours which environ it, makes it apprehensive, quick, inventive, full of nimble, fiery and delectable shape, which delivered o’er to the voice which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.”
It would come as a great surprise to Sir Falstaff that his beloved “Sherris-Sack,” or Sherry as it’s now called, is no longer coveted the way it was during his time. Although it’s now widely considered the stuff grandmothers drink on Sundays after church, the wine produced in the Jerez region of Spain has a long history that dates back to the ancient Phoenicians who first introduced the process of wine making to the Iberian Peninsula over 3,000 years ago.
It’s clear then, that if we’re to return to a true appreciation of Sherry, we’ll need to take a more robust approach–a Falstaffian one, if you will. That’s why I decided to share three different cocktail recipes with you, to give you a sense of Sherry’s versatility. But first, a bit of history.
Although the Phoenicians first introduced wine making to the area now known as Spain, many scholars note that the wine making practices involved in making Sherry trace even further back to the city of Shiraz and the ancient Persians whose empire predated the Phoenicians, to whom this knowledge was ultimately passed. The ancient Phoenicians set up shop in a city on the Iberian Peninsula they named Sherish–possibly in tribute to the Persian city of Shiraz–and the wine they produced was called Sherris. This area is now called Jerez, renamed when the Castillian King Alfonso X drove out the Moors in the 13th century. It is where all Sherry comes from.
But back to the Moors for a second. Despite their Islamic faith which forbids the consumption of alcohol, the Moors who gained control of Spain in the 8th century not only continued the wine making tradition of the Phoenicians (passed to them via the Romans) but added to it by introducing the process of distillation, which enabled Sherry to become the fortified (meaning alcohol is added, usually Brandy) wine that we recognize today.
This fortification played an important role in the development of Sherry because its higher alcohol content allowed the wine to be stored safely for long voyages and endure temperature fluctuations better than regular wines that do not have the added proof. This is why Sherry was the spirit of choice on many a sea voyage including those of Columbus and Magellan. In fact when Magellan was preparing to cruise around the globe, he spent far more of his budget on Sherry than on weapons. By the 17th century Sherry had firmly established itself as one of the world’s premier wines, largely due to its ability to keep during travel.
What most folks don’t know is that Sherry is actually made from white grapes, not red. You might also be surprised to hear that not all Sherry is sweet. In fact, there are now eight different styles of Sherry, ranging from the dry and subtly tart Fino and Manzanilla to the sweet and dark varieties known as Cream, Moscatel, and Pedro Ximenez, as well as the Amontillado, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado Sherries that balance out the middle of the field.
The drier varieties of Sherry (Fino and Manzanilla) pair well with Spanish olives, seafood, and Manchego cheese. The middle range (Amontillado, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado) is excellent with Jamon Serrano and other cured meats, spicy dishes, salted nuts, and game. On the sweeter end (Cream, Moscatel, and Pedro Ximenez) a pairing with figs, dark chocolate, or raisins is sublime.
Today’s cocktails are all created using the Manzanilla style of Sherry. Manzanilla is typically straw-colored with a dry, sharp bouquet that is very similar to pinot grigio. Like most of the lighter Sherries, it’s best served chilled. I chose to use Manzanilla in all of the cocktails because I wanted to create drinks that are versatile enough to serve to guests, whether at a holiday cocktail party with small appetizers or served as an aperitif before a large holiday meal. Another reason is that I just happen to like it.
El Viejo Tomas (pictured just above)
2 oz Manzanilla Sherry
1 1/2 oz Old Tom Gin
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Place ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled, about 20 seconds or so. Strain into a cocktail coupe, twist orange peel over the drink and place as garnish.
2 oz light rum
1 oz Manzanilla Sherry
2/3 oz (4 tsp) Lillet
1/2 oz (2 tsp) orgeat (here’s an easy way to make your own if you can’t find it in stores)
1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
Dash orange bitters
Absinthe, to rinse
Pour a bit of absinthe into your cocktail glass and swirl it around to coat the inside of the glass, then pour out the excess. Place everything else in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake while singing the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons‘ classic hit “Sherry.” Strain into your glass, twist the lemon peel over the drink and place as garnish.
2 oz Kentucky Bourbon
1 oz Manzanilla Sherry
Dash orange bitters
Place ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a cocktail coupe, twist orange peel over the drink and place as garnish. This drink is essentially my take on a Dry Manhattan, but using the Manzanilla Sherry in place of dry vermouth.
Although you can certainly sip these cocktails solo, I definitely had food pairing in mind when making these drinks and I recommend you do the same. They pair particularly well with olives, Manchego cheese (especially a fresco Manchego, which is aged less than 3 months), and charcuterie.
I have no doubt that after a few sips Sherry will have you singing her praises as exuberantly as Frankie & The Four Seasons. Salud!
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the stunning photography of Pay’s concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.