Confused about sherry? 7 tips for pairing sherry with food

Confused about sherry? 7 tips for pairing sherry with food
The lineup of sherries at a dinner at Rivera matching sherry with a six-course menu. (S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times)

In San Francisco this week, the grand tasting that wound up the SherryFest there included 150 sherries. That was just one of more than 2,000 events that took place around the world as part of International Sherry Week.

The fortified wine from southern Spain is big in San Francisco. It's even bigger in New York. And while L.A. hasn't quite caught the craze, we did celebrate, albeit in a more modest fashion.


One of the events was a sherry dinner at Rivera in downtown L.A. with the wines of Alex Russan, a young Los Angeles sherry enthusiast who imports a small selection of barrel-selected sherries from Spain under the label Alexander Jules. Rivera chef/owner John Sedlar has long had one of the best sherry lists in the city. Rivera sommelier Michael Achach added a few more bottles to serve with the menu that night.

Sherry doesn't exactly fit the norm. And that may be why it's not as known as it should be. Is it an aperitif or an after-dinner drink? Can you serve sherry with food? And if so, what? The six-course dinner at Rivera was a fascinating exercise in matching sherry with Latin food. Of course they have an affinity, but I also gleaned some general tips on which styles of sherry work best with which foods.

1. Serving sherry with nuts and olives and with tapas seems like a no-brainer. The refreshing, slightly saline styles such as fino and manzanillo play up more delicate flavors. But, says Russan, sherry also works with cured meats and jamón. That's not something I'd considered before.

2. The lighter styles — fino and manzanilla — work well with oysters. Try one next time instead of a Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc. And I can well imagine spending an hour or so over a chilled seafood platter with a bottle of Alexander Jules Fino 22/85, selected from 22 of 85 barrels from a sherry house in Jerez de la Frontera. Sedlar, in fact, served the fino with a ceviche of shrimp with avocado and Anaheim chiles. The bright, nervy fino seemed to recalibrate the palate with every sip.

3. Fino and manzanilla are also great matches for fried fish, and for lighter fish dishes. Alexander Jules Manzanilla 17/71 is a notch up in intensity and complexity, marvelous with a dish of seared scallops with plantains, tomatoes, sweet red pepper and pimentón.

4. Go ahead and serve sherry in a regular white wine or Chardonnay glass, the better to open up and express all its nuances. "You can't stick your nose in one of those traditional little copitas," Russan, said laughing, referring to the diminutive tulip-shaped glasses. The fact that you don't need a special glass makes it even easier for sherry to find a place at the dinner table.

5. In Spain, amontillado might be served with cured pork loin, shrimp and richer shellfish. Alexander Jules Amontillado 6/26 is ethereal and complicated, with a long fascinating finish. And the dish Rivera served with it, a sweet corn flan and black quinoa and squash blossom sauce, plays to it beautifully. "Think of amontillado," said Russan, "as similar to a light Pinot Noir."

6. A 20-year-old Wellington Palo Cortado from Bodegas Hidalgo (notes of vanilla, caramel and hazelnut) is paired with piquillo peppers stuffed with ham and cheese. One bite is all it took to understand how terrific a sherry like this would go with a cheese plate.

7. Sedlar even served a sherry with his baby lamb chops, a dry oloroso "Don Nuño" solera reserve from Lustau. That was a revelation, too, the fact that this sherry with its notes of hazelnut, tea and caramel could bring out the flavors of the sweet tender lamb so well.
All three of Alexander Jules' sherries are priced at $40 a bottle, and are available at Everson Royce in Pasadena, (626) 765-9334; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463; K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, (323) 464-9463; Monopole Wine in Pasadena, (626) 577-9464; Wine Expo in Santa Monica, (310) 828-4428, and The Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731.

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