by jason scavone
Some of the most complex, mysterious and storied fortified wines in the world flow from southwestern Spain’s Sherry Triangle.
Bounded by Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the sherry-making center sits in one of the world’s finest wine regions. (In fact, the word sherry comes from the English pronunciation of “Jerez”).
If you can’t make it to the Sherry Triangle, Jaleo at The Cosmopolitan may be the next best thing. The restaurant offers five sherry flights and dozens of rare sherries. With his expert selections sommelier John Peiser brings you closer to the Mediterranean one sip at a time.
“Sherry is one of the most diverse categories of wine imaginable,” Peiser says of the wines oxidized in barrels and fortified with grape liqueur to increase its alcohol content. “These things are special. They’re very small production. Some of them are bottled once every few years.”
With such variety, a flight is an excellent way to discover which sherry you’ll like best. The manzanilla, aged under sherry’s defining flor yeast, which only grows in three parts of the world — Spain’s Andalucia, the Jura region in eastern France and in parts of South Africa, is often favored by white-wine drinkers. Dulce sherry is thick like syrup, blacker than night deep in a forest and sweeter than a cloying co-worker who needs something from you. The oloroso and amontillado are richer and more complex, more like Scotches and whiskies than wine.
That richness isn’t just in taste, either. The Bodegas Osborne, which dates to 1772, only bottled sherry from 1925 to 2005 by request from the Osborne family or a member of the Spanish royal family. Its Osborne y Ca. Solera India oloroso has a touch of candied fruit with oak and spice.
It’s also only $32 a pour, making it the thinking man’s budget tipple.
The 18th-century designation isn’t just for show. Sherry production uses the solera process, where vintages are fractionally blended over time for the perfect flavor.
“They have a row of barrels at the bottom,” Peiser says. “These are the oldest wines in the solera, and they bottle from that. The law says you shouldn’t take more than two-thirds of a barrel per year so there’s always some left.
“You take some out, and you bottle it. You refill it from the level above, and you refill that from the level above it, and the new one goes in at the very top. There can be between five and 14 levels before you get to the top. It’s literally a blend from the very beginning of the solera to the last vintage.”
Wine pairing dinners at Jaleo usually incorporate at least one sherry, which holds up equally well before or after dinner. But perhaps some of the simplest pairings for sherry are the best: Jamón Ibérico, cured four years and Pasamontes Manchego.
No matter which sherry you share, the salutation is the same: Aclamaciones!