Make mine a sherry, please
Looking back over the blogs I’ve written – on dressing gowns, cardigans, and now sherry – I realise that the Werther’s Originals blog cannot be far away. But people have got it so wrong about sherry.
I can’t understand why all attempts to rehabilitate it and get it away from the realm of vicarage parties in a Barbara Pym novel have failed. For a start, it comes in so many varieties that it should appeal to a variety of people.
In fact, I probably shouldn’t like sherry at all.The first time I ever drank it was at a sherry party given by a friend at university, perhaps trying to generate some Oxbridge refinement at our red-brick establishment (well, it was more of a green-tile one, actually). I completely undermined this effort by overdoing it and being monstrously sick.
For years after that I would have the occasional Harvey’s Bristol Cream at Christmas (admittedly, at the house of an elderly relative straight out of a Barbara Pym novel), but I think I liked the mysterious indigo depths of the bottle more than what was inside it.
But it was a visit to the Gonzalez Byass* bodega in Jerez itself that converted me into a sherry head. It has to be the best brewery/distillery/winery visit ever. For a start, you are greeted at the gate by senoritas in short red jackets, shiny red boaters and slim black trousers – you don’t get many of them at a vicarage do. Then you trundle round the beautiful estate on a little train (I am a sucker for a little train) along a route dappled by the vine leaves overhead. The cellar itself is impressive, with huge barrels stacked high. Some of the historic ones have been signed by the luminaries who have visited the bodega over the decades, and it’s interesting to note that Mrs Thatcher’s is tucked right next to Winston Churchill’s.
Although the guides give you masses of information about how the various sherries are produced, there is probably only one thing you need to remember: if it doesn’t come from Jerez it’s not sherry. Only the alchemy between the soil around the Jerez area and the climate produces the authentic sherry taste. Having attended to the lesson like good tourists, we went off to the bar for the tasting: six different types of sherry, plus our own well-chilled half bottle of Tio Pepe fino to drink at a table on the terrace at leisure. I just fell in love with the dry, salty smoothness. At the other end of the scale , though, is the liquid toffee that is Pedro Ximenez – the perfect end to Christmas dinner, or you can just pour it over ice cream.
In the town of Jerez itself, we noticed office workers on their lunch break sharing a half bottle of fino over their meal – how civilised. Strangely, though, not all of Spain seems to share this enthusiasm. When I tried to order a glass of sherry in Madrid (I know, my life is one long booze-fest), the barman denied all knowledge of the stuff. Perhaps a case of ‘not invented here’.
So cast out all thoughts of doilies and dog collars and give it a go. A glass of fino with a packet of crisps makes a quick and tasty supper.
*Other sherries are available!