© by Sheral Schowe
The leaves have changed into beautiful colors of gold, red, yellow, and orange. Smoke rises from a few more chimneys each day, an indicator of warming fires in cozy homes. The air has turned crisp, and in some areas, snow has blanketed what's left of a summers worth of gardening. Tis sherry time once again. The cask of Amontillado beckons us to enjoy a glass of the amber-colored elixir.
Autumn reminds me of Amontillado sherry. It is warm, rich, golden, just enough sweetness, just enough acid, with aromas and flavors of nuts. It is perfect with so many things, other than with a good book and a crackling fire. I like to incorporate it into cream soups, especially cream of Portobello mushroom with fresh rosemary. It is a great addition to pureed vegetable soups as well, like butternut squash soup. It is surprisingly complimentary with a Caesar salad, especially with anchovies. As for an apertif, there is nothing quite as welcoming as a glass of sherry to greet you at the door.
Before my trip to Spain with my friend Troy, I loved sherry. But it wasn't until I visited the sherry bodegas of Jerez that I truly appreciated the painstaking efforts of producing this particular style of wine. Sherry has been made in Southern Spain since the middle-ages. It is a fortified white wine, mostly from the Palomino grape variety. The style was originally determined by the British market both in England and by British companies established in Spain.
The process of Sherry begins with a base wine fermented to a dry style. Brandy is added to the wine up to 15% alcohol. The fortified wine is left in partially filled barrels between one and three years. Filling the barrels only partially encourages either oxidation or the development of flor yeast, which grows and covers the entire surface of the wine. If the flor develops, a pale-colored fino sherry develops. If the flor does not develop, the wine is blended, then additionally fortified, up to 18% for oloroso or amontillado sherries, among others.
Sherry from separate vintages is blended by the solera system. Each year, wine from the oldest barrels is extracted for bottling. This wine is replaced by wine from the next year's vintage, and so on, up to the most recent vintage. The oldest barrels contain wine from many vintages, but the amounts taken and replaced are so small, that the year-to-year changes are cancelled out.
Sherry is usually dry, but it can also be sweetened with syrupy concentrated juice. The English preference is for the sweet style while the more austere versions of fino and manzanilla, as well as the amber-colored styles with the nutty finish are becoming more popular in the United States.
My two favorite brands of sherry include Hidalgo and Emilio Lustau. Try a few, side by side, and explore the differences in flavor, aroma, and color. And the next time you light the fire, pour a glass of sherry to enjoy with friends, or alone with a good book.
Sept. 16, 2000