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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Sherry’s Image Gets a Makeover

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To meet the challenge of making their classical fortified wines attractive to an increasingly younger demographic group that is much more in tune to sexy new age table wines, sherry producers, while almost always quite hospitable and charming to visitors, have had to reconsider the aristocratic, often arrogant image that they projected to the world and wrestle with the significant problem of putting a new face on the stodgy image of their wines. In today’s market, classicism seems anachronistic to many consumers, especially with the new wave wine crowd that has emerged in the past decade.

Javier Hidalgo believes that sherry’s old-fashioned image was created because the sherry producers have been making wines specifically for export markets and he disagrees with this approach. Hidalgo says, “These sherries are very different from the kind of sherries we drink in Spain. I think we were wrong to export product that were not of the type we consume in Spain.”

Javier Hidalgo drinking his Bodegas Hidalgo Napoleon Amontillado.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 / Contact

Stephen Olson (aka The Wine Geek), a New York-based wine professional and drinks consultant, who was contracted by the Commercial Office of Spain to promote several high-profile brands and to find ways to make new converts to joys of drinking good sherry, also admits that overcoming sherry’s “stodgy” image is a formidable task.

Olson also knows that the chances are slim that Americans will learn to love sherry if they are introduced to it in most American bars and restaurants, the majority of which offer a couple of standard brands in bottle long since opened and kept unrefrigerated behind the bar. Olson says, “Most bartenders don’t know what sherry is, have never been taught how sherries sound be served, and they don’t have the proper glasses for it.”

There are signs though that sherries are not condemned forever to conjure up images of antiquated “dinosaur” wines favored by elitist wine aficionados (duty bound to cover all the classical wine bases) or of cooking sherry consigned to the back of a cupboard and eventually pilfered by puberal grandkids foraging for something naughty to drink or of sweet wines with English names that are drunk on the rocks.

Steve Olson conducts sherry seminars for consumers, but also for sommeliers, chefs, bartendars, and restaurant staffs. He says wine and food professionals quickly become converts once they have been taught about sherries and get a chance to taste them served properly (finos and manzanillas, and some amontillados chilled; palo cortados, olorosos, Pedro Ximénez, creams and dessert sherries cool) in a tulip-shaped sherry glass or small tulip-shaped wine glass. “Many professionals who are served these wines in a good glass become sherry aficionados,” Olson says. “If you pour them a fresh manzanilla, fino or amontillado and serve a bite of food with it, they love it.”

Olson likes to point to number of success stories in top-end American restaurants. At Ilo in New York, the highly-regarded chef Rick Lakonnen liked sherries so much with some of his dishes that he now offers 8 to 10 sherries by the glass. Joseph Scalice, co-owner and wine director of March, which has been one of Manhattan’s top dining establishments for more that a decade, has long been a sherry lover and even has his own selections under the Dios Baco label. Rob Bigelow, the Master Sommelier who runs the wine programs at Il Circo and Le Cirque in Las Vegas, also offers a number of sherries by the glass and sommelier Jorge Liloy of Nuevo Latino restaurant Patria in New York has a list of 25 to 30 sherries by the glass.

Max McCalman—author of The Cheese Table, mâitre fromager at New York’s Picholine and Artisanal, and one of America’s top cheese gurus—often pairs sherries with some of the 225 cheeses he offers in the two restaurants. “Most dry sherries, because of their crispness, acidity, and pungency are excellent foils for cheeses. Stronger, more assertive, full-flavored palo cortados, olorosos, Pedro Ximénez and creams are fine companions to powerful flavors of aged and blue cheeses.”

Olson also points out that dry manzanilla, fino, and amontillado sherries have a particular afinity for seafood dishes, especially shellfish, which is not surprising since they are often the wines of preference with Spain’s superb crustaceans, which are some of the best in the world.

Olson also points out that “One of the classic matches for sherries, especially amontillados, is soup.” Many restaurants that offer black bean soup either lace it with sherry or offer a glass alongside, but dry sherries are also excellent partners to seafood soups and consommes and the “brown” sherries such as lightly sweetened amontillados and olorosos are perfect foils for thick autumn and winter soups, chowders, etc.

There are signs that a foundation is being laid for turning a new generation on to sherries. The ubiquitous Spanish habit of having tapas with a drink - - call it hors d’ouevres noshing - - is growing in popularity in the United States and tapas bars are popping up like mushrooms. Most, if not all of them, offer a range of sherries by the glass. A recent survey showed that there are now more than fifty Spanish restaurants serving tapas in Manhattan alone. That doesn’t include dozens more in the surrounding burroughs and in nearby communties in New Jersey and Connecticut, nor the Latino cuisine restaurants that serve tapas and the scores of non-Spanish restaurants that now offer a selection of small dishes and call them tapas.

One of the most pleasant surprises Steve Olson encountered in finding food matches for sherry is its afinity for Asian food, especially Japanese food. Sushi Samba in New York’s Flatiron district matches dry sherries with sushi and sashimi.

Sherry’s staid image is getting a makeover.

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