Sherry, Baby

Images courtesy of Chantal Tseng.

The fortified wine from Jerez is no one-trick pony behind the bar.

#SherryingIsCaring. That hashtag appeared on a PowerPoint slide at The Global Future of Sherry in Mixed Drinks, a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail this past summer that delved into the history of using the Spanish fortified wine behind the bar, as well as its potential as a key component in modern mixology. Moderated by Celia Schoonraad, International Spirits Ambassador for Gonzalez Byass, Michael Callahan, Spirit Evangelist for Proof and Company Spirits, and Danil Nevsky, bartender at Tales & Spirits, the Wednesday afternoon event also examined Sherry trends like unfiltered bottlings, and modern riffs on classic Sherry-based tipples.

In basic terms, two types of Sherry exist: those aged biologically, where a layer of flor prevents oxidation, and those aged without flor, producing oxidative wines; both can be matured in the Solera, the fractional blending system. Beyond those two methods, differences exist in style, aroma, mouthfeel, flavors and sweetness mainly due to winemaking choices, and grape varietals. (Three are permitted for Sherry production: Palomino Fino, PX and Muscat.)

The Cobbler, invented in 1809, was one of the first cocktails to use Sherry, but has two other claims to fame. Its popularity helped spawn the ice industry, and it made the straw popular; it was necessary to sip the drink through all that pebble-y ice. Made with Sherry, sugar and citrus, its low ABV makes it highly adaptable. The Maison Cobbler, created at Maison Premiere in New York, mixes four different styles of Sherry (PX, Oloroso, Amontillado and Manzanilla) along with pineapple, lemon and a berry compote. It’s highly complex, yet still retains its easy drinkability because of the fact that Sherry’s ABV is only a little bit higher than dry table wine.

All of the classic Sherry cocktails, including the Cobber and the Bamboo (the latter, a Martini-like drink, is made with dry Sherry, French vermouth and bitters), can be riffed, lending infinite variations. The trio suggested experimenting by substituting Sherry for other components in a drink, and by switching things up by using it as a base, or a modifier. In the latter, oxidative Sherries give a lengthy finish on the back palate, while biologically-aged Sherries add crispness and brightness to the front and mid-palate.

Trending right now is en rama, an unfiltered style of Sherry whose name translates to “from the vine,” or “raw.” Biologically aged, these bottles undergo minimal filtration, which allows them to retain their flavor and color molecules. Purer in flavor, they are incredibly interesting, though they do have a shorter half-life.

One consideration with Sherry is shelf life. Write the date the bottle was opened on the back label, and store opened Sherry in the fridge, guests at the seminar were told. If a bottle has been open too long to use as a drink ingredient, the trio suggested making a shrub or a syrup with it. So what exactly is Sherry’s shelf life once opened? Callahan recommends a mere twenty-four to seventy-two hours for Fino and Amontillado, but says PX’s intensity and sweetness gives it more staying power. And using it in the kitchen can help use up a bottle; fino works well in macaroons, while Palo Cortado is great with lamb dishes.

Still, Nevsky admitted that every year we talk about “the revolution of Sherry,” yet sales are down. He suggests approaching it from a different perspective: cocktails might just give Sherry the boost it needs.

Chantal Tseng, Washington DC sherry educator - Sherry and sherry cocktails

Chantal Tseng, a Washington, DC-based Certified Sherry Educator and self-proclaimed Sherry Ninja, also shared some thoughts on the category:

On the heels of The Global Future of Sherry in Mixed Drinks at Tales this past summer, what are your thoughts on where Sherry is (in the US) and where it is headed?

Sherry is still not popular or well-appreciated by the glass in the US, but it certainly has made it into a good portion of the cocktail scene as an ingredient. I believe that more by-the-glass being offered and pushed by sommeliers will help.

What trends have you seen with Sherry?

Cocktails that are made with more of the drier styles of Sherry than the sweeter styles. Also, the release of en rama bottlings, which are minimally filtered and fined bottles that should be drunk rather than held on to. Also, the rise of newer labels, often negociant in style like Equipo Navazos or Alexander Jules, or more local like Alexandro. Also, I feel like more people visit Jerez in Spain than they used to. Just this last year, I've had to follow up with recommendations for three or four different people about which bodegas to visit when they get there. I'm encouraged by this because once you visit, it's much easier to fall in love and spread the Sherry love.

How should a newbie tackle the category? How about someone who is already a little familiar?

A newbie should roll up to a bar or wine store with Sherry offerings and join a tasting or a class. If they are on their own, they should consider ordering a classic pairing like a Tio Pepe Fino and some olives or jamon; food always provides a great introduction into the wine party. Someone with some mild familiarity should consider taking a class, or frequenting a Sherry-loving bartender or sommelier and have them pour and chat. They should do so until they decide which style or label is their favorite, then buy a bottle, cook at home, and invite some guests and wow them with their knowledge. Newbies should consider picking up a copy of Talia Baiocchi's Sherry Guide. For folks with more familiarity, they should pick up Peter Liem and Jesus Barquim's book Sherry.

Can you give brand/producer suggestions for each Sherry category?

Fino and Fino en Rama: Gonzalez-Byass Tio Pepe Fino and Fino en Rama. Also, Valdespino Inocente Fino and Lustau Puerto de Santa Maria Fino en Rama.

Manzanilla & Manzanilla en Rama: Hidalgo La Gitana, La Cigarrera, Valdespino Deliciosa en Rama, La Guita & the en Rama, Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada, Barbadillo Solear en Rama.

Amontillado: Lustau Los Arcos, Hidalgo Napoleon, Valdespino Tio Diego, Grant.

Medium Amontillado: Valdespino Contrabandista, Fernando De Castilla Classic, Dios Baco Elite.

Oloroso: El Maestro Sierra 15 Year, Gutierrez-Colosia Sangre Y Trabajadero, Lustau "Pata de Gallina" Almacenista bottling.

Medium Oloroso: Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Especial, Dios Baco Elite.

Palo Cortado: Hidalgo Wellington, Gonzalez-Byass Apostoles VORS, Valdespino C.P., Fernando de Castilla Antique.

Cream: El Maestro Sierra Amoroso, Lustau Capataz Andres.

Moscatel: Cesar Florido Dorade, Especial & Pasas.

PX: Valdespino El Candado, Alexandro, Gonzalez-Byass Noe VORS, Williams & Humbert Don Guido VOS.

What is the biggest misconception about Sherry and how can we overcome it?

That Sherry is one-noted; either someone thinks they are all sweet or all "something." The truth is, Sherry spans a great and adaptable range which happily pairs so well with a multitude of cuisines outside of Spanish, and that same range also adapts into cocktails with all kinds of versatility. Overcoming the lack of knowledge is always about more education and spreading of the word. It's easy to chat profusely within communities but much, much harder to break into new ones. It takes ongoing effort. We likely need an amazing celebrity endorsement, like if the President had it in a special White House dinner that was publicized...that would be pretty great.

Monty Collins

Recipe courtesy of Chantal Tseng, Certified Sherry Educator, Washington, DC

“This drink takes a heartier spin on a classic Collins (gin, lemon, sugar, soda) with the substitution of Amontillado and honey, [and] the orange oils complement the nose well, and the ginger adds just a tiny hint of spice,” explains Tseng. “This drink is also 100% inspired by my cat, MONTY, who as you know is named after Amontillado. He is an orange/ginger cat, [so] call it a love poem if you will.”

  • 2 ½ oz. Amontillado Sherry
  • ½ oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey mixed with boiling water and cooled)
  • ½ oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Sparkling mineral water
  • Fresh ginger
  • Orange twist, for garnish
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over cracked ice, top with sparkling mineral water, and squeeze the ginger over to release a few drops of ginger juice. Garnish with a straw, the orange twist and the grated nutmeg (if using).


Recipe courtesy of Chantal Tseng, Certified Sherry Educator, Washington, DC

  • 2 ½ oz. Dry Oloroso Sherry
  • ¼ oz. PX Sherry
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Absinthe, for rinse
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Pour absinthe into a chilled rocks glass, swirl to coat, and pour out the rest. Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain it into the prepared glass, express the oil from the lemon peel over the glass, and garnish with the peel.

Sherry Ninja

Recipe courtesy of Chantal Tseng, Certified Sherry Educator, Washington, DC

  • 2 ½ oz. Dry Amontillado Sherry
  • ¼ oz. Gifford’s Orgeat Syrup
  • 2 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain it into a chilled coupe glass, express the oil from the lemon peel over the glass, and garnish with the peel.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her websitekellymagyarics.comor on  Twitter  and  Instagram  @kmagyarics.

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