It’s not the first time it’s been said and it’s well worth saying again: sherry isn’t just an old lady’s drink. Chosen well, it can be more than a match for some of the finest wines and spirits. And while chilled sherry can cool you down during the summer months, the fortified wine from south-west Spain is a nifty winter warmer – well worth remembering now the clocks are going back.

Enjoy a glass before a meal to prime your palate, or drink it like the Spanish do, with small plates of food throughout the evening. The sweeter, heavier styles work well with pudding and some, like Pedro Ximinez and Finos are excellent in cocktails.

Sarah Pollard

But if you’re a sherry novice, how do you begin to make your choice from the plethora of bottles available in bars and supermarkets? We asked Sarah Pollard, Brand Manager from Tio Pepe and self-confessed sherry-head for her top tips.

How much should you pay for a ‘good’ entry-level sherry?

“All the leading supermarkets have their own range of sherries covering a range of styles from dry, delicate Finos to nutty Olorosos. These come in a range of qualities and prices. You can get a good branded Fino, such as Elegante, for around £7.99 for 75cl. In the past, many restaurants and bars priced sherry like a spirit leading to some eye-watering figures when customers tried to order by the bottle. Luckily things have improved a lot. Increasingly sherry is being treated, and priced, as a wine. Londoners now have a choice of sherry bars as well as restaurants with excellent sherry lists with many styles available by the glass.”

What are the key characteristics to look out for?

“That depends on the style of sherry. Fino is bone-dry and has a yeasty, intensely savoury character. With the darker, oxidised styles you should be picking up rich, nutty flavours, and, with the sweeter styles containing Pedro Ximenez (known as PX), you will find concentrated raisin notes.”

How should you drink it?

“Again, this depends on the style. Many people don’t realise that a Fino is 15% abv, similar to many new world wines, and it should be treated as a wine. Freshness is key. Ideally Fino should be drunk within a year of bottling and within three weeks of opening the bottle. It should always be served chilled and in a wine glass. Tio Pepe is fantastic with food. It has no fruit character to fight with the flavours of your meal and has wonderful palate cleansing properties. If you prefer sweet sherry, you don’t get any sweeter than PX. If you are feeling decadent, try Noe, a 30 Year Old PX, poured over vanilla ice cream.”

The Cocktail Lovers say:

Try sherry at one of the growing number of dedicated bars, including Pollard’s favourites below:

Bar Pepito 

“This is an excellent dedicated sherry bar. You really feel like you’re in Jerez, with authentic posters, barrels and artefacts and of course a fantastic range of sherry. They also offer sherry flights so you can sample different styles.”
3 Varnisher’s Yard, King’s Cross, N1 9FD. www.barpepito.co.uk

 Morito

“Stepping into Morito feels just like walking into a tapas bar in Spain. Sit at the counter and order a few dishes from their excellent tapas menu with a glass of sherry or a Rebujito (a refreshing mix of Tio Pepe Fino with lemonade and mint).”
32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE. www.morito.co.uk

Rosita & The Sherry Bar

“This bar has an extensive sherry menu, with matchings provided on the tapas menu to help you choose the best pairing. They host regular sherry classes to teach diners about the different styles of sherry, with expert guest speakers.”
124 Northcote Road, SW11 6QE. www.rositasherry.net

The Ritz
“The Rivoli Bar has some fantastic cocktails using sherry, including the Cezar Ritz Cobbler with Amontillado and the Vanity, using PX.”
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BS. www.theritzlondon.com

For more tips on sherry, see tiopepe.co.uk

This week we’re loving…

Believe it or not, there was a time when October 31st was relatively low key here in Blighty. A carved pumpkin on the odd window ledge was about as spooktacular as things got. Now you can’t move for Halloween-themed parties and cocktails. Our favourite this year? Halloween Night at Opium featuring ghosts and ghouls and bespoke cocktails such as the Zombie Acopalypse, a blend of six rums from all over the Caribbean, grapefruit juice, blood orange purée, cinnamon syrup and lime juice shaken and served green. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour, 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JA. www.opiumchinatown.com 

As featured on The Independent, Dish of the Day blog 27/10/2013

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