Folk will forever argue over what combination of booze and food is the best. In our part of the world, cheese and cider will win the most votes. Elsewhere, countless others wouldn’t consider anything other than wine when it comes to drinking with dinner. And who can argue against a crisp, cold, flavoursome lager when a spicy curry is on the menu?
But we* are among the steadily growing band of people who reckon the best booze to go with food is sherry, especially if you’re tucking into a whole menu of flavours such as those served in a tapas. To help us with our sherry and food pairing education, Nick recently headed over to Spanish food and drink aces Bar44 in Clifton, Bristol, for a tapas extravaganza, held as part of International Sherry Week.
The event was attended by restaurateurs, wine educators and members of the booze-based press who were all treated to some of the best tapas dishes we’ve tasted, each course further enhanced by some fantastic sherries courtesy of Bodegas Barón. If you’re keen to discover more about how to match sherry with food then we reckon this expert insight from Bar44’s director, Owen Morgan, on the evening’s menu is a good place to start…
Xixarito Manzanilla Pasada en Rama
Paired with: Cuttlefish croquetas, Jamón Ibérico de bellota, Apple ajo blanco
Manzanillas are sherries produced on the coast that are dry and light with a seaside freshness, making them excellent partners for salty snacks and especially seafood. The Xixarito Manzanilla was served by Bar44 to go with our appetisers, enjoyed in the bar before wandering down to the vaults for the main event. ‘Manzanilla’ is also the word used in Spain for ‘chamomile tea’ as the sherry is said to have similar flavour characteristics.
Owen describes the sherry as having “ultra dry, bready, almond, zest and chamomile notes. Serve straight from the fridge and, like all sherries, in a proper sized wine glass to show it off as the great wine it is.”
In brief: Manzanilla + Salty Snack
Served with: Carpaccio of carabinero prawn, seaweed, prawn head vinaigrette
Once seated, our first course was a stunning seafood prawn dish, served with another Manzanilla – this one 12 years old which, according to Owen, “is about as old as it gets for this style.” He adds that it “still retains a beautiful seaside freshness, yet has a sophistication and a rounded finish.”
In brief: Aged Manzanilla + Light Seafood
Served with: Brixham scallop, Cinco Jotas Jamón consommé, jamón crumb
Manzanillas are aged under a protective layer of yeast, known as ‘flor’, which prevents the wine from oxidising. This Amontillado started life as a Manzanilla but was finished in contact with oxygen before being bottled. According to Owen, this process “gives it toasted notes and a completely different style, although it’s still completely dry. It complements the depth of a great acorn fed cured ham consommé as well as the sweet freshness of Brixham scallops.”
In brief: Amontillado + Rich Seafood
Xixarito Palo Cortado
Served with: Wild mushroom, Ibérico pork, clam, bone marrow, black truffle
For this course, Bar44 brought out the big guns. Deliciously tender slices of pork were enriched with a myriad of intense wild flavours from mushrooms, clams, bone marrow and black truffle. And to drink with it we were treated to an outstanding Palo Cortado, “the rarest and most sought after style with collectors and connoisseurs” according to Owen.
Describing the style of Palo Cortado sherries is as complex as the flavour, but essentially they have been aged under a flor, which naturally breaks up under mysterious circumstances, before maturing and taking on richer colours and buttery flavours like an Oloroso. It’s the kind of booze-magic we love, and Owen tells us that “this particular Palo Cortado is the one and only bottle on UK shores, past or present, and has an average ageing of 35 year. A true treat. Intense, angular, but nutty and toasted with orange peel notes.” (So, yes, Nick did help himself to a second glass).
As for the food pairing, Owen continues with full enthusiasm: “A perfect foil for rare ibérico pork and briney sweet clams. Indulgent bone marrow amontillado clam juice sauce enriches the combination and brings everything together. Some shaved black truffle and you’re in food and drink heaven!”
In brief: Palo Cortado + Pork
Served with: Wild duck, salsify, oloroso & membrillo, walnut, hispi
The sherries are now getting significantly darker as we reach for an Oloroso, a strong booze that comes in a range of styles, from sweet to dry, and is characterised by heavy oxidisation as a result of the flor being intentionally broken up.
The Oloroso served by Bar44 was suitably special, as Owen explains: “Soluqua is the ancient name for Sanlucar de Barrameda, the home town of Manzanilla. The Soluqua name is also given to the range that Bodegas Baron used to reserve just for the family and special occasions. Their Oloroso is 30 years old and is a deep, powerful, dry Palomino**. With dry aged mallard breast, confit leg, nutty cabbage and some sweetness of quince given to the duck carcass sauce, it hits on all levels.”
In brief: Oloroso + Duck
Soluqua Pedro Ximénez
Served with: Part 1 – Aerated Galician blue from Jersey cows milk, fig, px raisin syrup, hazelnut
Part 2 – Dark chocolate, chestnut caramel, sea salt, pear olive oil cake, poached pear
The Pedro Ximénez grape is a sweet variety that is allowed to dry in the sun before being fermented. The resulting sherry is a thick, syruppy sweet dessert wine – “the darkest, sweetest wine of them all!” Owen declares. “Unlike Manzanilla, which is the driest wine of all (under 1g of sugar per litre), examples of ‘PX’ can be up to 50% sugar!”
Owen goes on to describe this Soluqua PX as having “classic flavours of dates, raisins and figs combined with notes from the ageing of leather, tobacco, roasted nuts and spice.”
To show off its versatility, the sherry was paired with two contrasting dishes, one savoury and one sweet. First up, things got a little cheesy, as Owen describes: “An aerated blue cheese with fig and hazelnut, along with some rosemary sea salt crackers on the side to mop it all up. The salty cheese reacts beautifully to the ultra sweet sherry.”
And with the sweet dessert of pears, chestnuts, caramel, dark chocolate and sea salt, the thick and sticky sherry felt part of the actual dessert, prompting Owen to point out that PX sherry is often poured over desserts as a boozy sauce.
In brief: Pedro Ximénez + Cheese & Dessert
From the bone dry Manzanillas that demand to spend time with a salty snack, to a sherry so rich and sweet it can be used as a dessert, and all the shades and textures in between, we’re not sure any other booze can quite compete with the range of food pairing options that are afforded to the sherry drinker. Salud!
For more on Bar44 visit www.bar44.co.uk
To discover more about Bodegas Barón sherries visit bodegasbaron.es/en
Thanks also to Bodegas Barón importers Morgenrot for the invite
*In this instance ‘we’ means ‘Nick’. Rich still hasn’t fully explored the sherry and food alliance and was unable to attend this event. He still drinks cider with everything.
**The grape variety, not the horse. The Palomino grape produced all of the sherries apart from the Pedro Ximinez, emphasising how much variety can be achieved from the various ageing methods for sherries.
Sherry novices (like Rich) might want to check out our beginners guide to sherry styles