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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


The Triumph of Sherry Married to Modern Cuisine Dishes - COPA Jerez 2009

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"I believe the more Sherry is used as a pairing by reputable chefs and sommeliers, the more people will start to take them on, on their own. I have always included sherries with our wine pairings at any event possible (our Pata Negra dinner, James Beard House appearances, our in house pairings, etc.) and we have always seen a tremendous, positive response. Sherry is still an unknown to many people and by offering a glass as part of a pairing, there is far less fear to be had and people are far more likely to experiment than if left to order it on their own." - - Roger Kugler, Wine Director, Suba and the Boquería restaurants, New York City; Winner 'Top Sommelier', COPA Jerez 2009

COPA Jerez

Sherry Pairings with Modern Cuisine Dishes

Heavenly Matches Made in Jerez

I have been drinking sherries and visiting sherry bodegas for forty years and have written at least a dozen articles, some with extensive notes on the wide range of sherries available. I have taught courses at Artisanal Cheese Center , pairing a range of seven different sherries with seven different cheeses and I have done the same at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone in Napa Valley at the Worlds of Flavor conferences. Here and there, I have been running into sherry and star chefs' dishes over the years. Most notably, the great pairings that Juan Pablo de Felipe has done over the years at El Chaflán in Madrid and at Terrance Brennan's Picholine. Recently at Picholine, I have had sherries with Brennan's tapas menu in the bar--paella spring roll with manzanilla--and with some of the dishes in his new 16-course "small plates" tasting menu (a virtuoso parade of artistic tapas-sized portions). At a recent dinner, Emilio Lustau Pata de Gallina Oloroso was matched to "bacon-n-eggs" (a brioche-wrapped quail's egg with American caviar and a thin slice of Ibérico ham wrapped around a fig with fig jam), followed by a trio of foie gras interpertations, for which the oloroso was also an excellent pairing.

But, not until this year, when--along with Andy Nusser, Chef and proprietor, Casa Mono, New York City; Michael Weiss, Director of Wine Studies, Culinary Institute of America-Hyde Park; and Steven Olson, aka wine geek, Beverage Alcohol Resource--I was invited to judge the 2009 COPA Jerez Food and Sherry Pairing Finals in New York City, did I begin to grasp how versatile Sherries really are. The finalists were a star-studded lineup of chefs and their sommeliers- wine directors from around the country: Chef Wylie DuFresne and Dewey DuFresne, WD-50, New York City; Chef Seamus Mullen and Roger Kugler, Suba (and Boquería Restaurants), New York City; Chef Michelle Bernstein and Allegra Angelo, Michy's, Miami, Florida; Chad Johnson and Kevin Pelley, Sidebern's, Tampa, Florida; and Matthew Accarrino and David Lusby, Tom Colicchio's Craft, Los Angeles.

Each chef presented three dishes each and matched them to a Sherry in three different categories--dry, medium and sweet. The fifteen dishes each paired to a Sherry chosen by each team was a tour de force that was like a wakeup call for a Sherry lover (see the list of COPA Jerez winners and their matches below). The quality of these matches opened up an personal awareness that there was an entire new world of possibilities for this classic wine in the era of modern cuisine, or as it is often called in Spain these days, cocina de vanguardia.

The COPA Jerez competition demonstrated that Sherries are not just perfect matches for Spanish tapas, for which they are a classic accompaniment, it revealed conclusively that Sherries make an incredibly good match for a wide variety of modern cuisine dishes. And that they are especially suited for the menus de degustacion being offered by many restaurants, like Picholine, who are offering such menus and switching to "small plates" menus in this era of changing tastes and economic downturn.

With some of the top chefs in America --Terrance Brennan, Wylie Dufresne, Michelle Bernstein and many others--discovering the virtues of matching sherries to some of their best dishes-it may come as a surprise that, from an economic standpoint, Sherries are an incredible bargain in an over-inflated wine market. A single bottle of Sherry, served in 3-4 ounces pours (or six - seven servings per bottle), goes a long way--in restaurants or at home--and that quality-price ratio, makes pairing Sherries to tasting menus a natural. Plus the range of Sherries--manzanillas, finos, amontillados, palo cortados, dry olorosos, sweetened olorosos, ultra-sweet Pedro Ximénez wines and moscatels--offers a stunning array of flavors, aromas and colors to play with. A chef and sommelier, as underscored by the COPA Jerez competition, can come up with an endless list of combinations to enhance and add an exotic touch to their tasting menus.

This market niche for Sherries could open up to reveal a whole new breed of sherry drinkers, especially with the proliferation of tapas bars, gastrobares, gastropubs and restaurants specializing in "small plates" that have been opening in the past two years in the United States and in Europe. Sherries may be finally be poised to make a big comeback and recuperate some of their mislaid glory and popularity.

(Double click on the images to see a full-size slideshow from the USA COPA Jerez Finals.)

The winners of the USA COPA Jerez Finals

First course and dry Sherry pairing:

Suba's Roger Kugler, the eventual Top Sommelier in the New York competition, who went on the wine the Top Sommelier honor in the finals in Jerez, justified his pairing of Chef Seamus Mullen's dish (Sardina Ahumada Y Ajo Blanco) paired with González-Byass "Tío Pepe" Fino (kosher)

"This is a dish of strong texture, which needs a wine with depth, but not necessarily weight to compliment it. Both the dish and the wine are wonderful on their own, but together they create a beautiful symbiosis of food and wine. Contrasts of light and dark, strong/sharp flavors to cool/round crispness abound in leading the diner through the experience. . ."

Second course and medium Sherry pairing

Sommelier Allegra Angelo talked about his pairing of El Maestro Sierra's Oloroso 1/14 VORS (aged 30 years in solera) with seared sea scallops with rabo encendido from Chef Michelle Bernstein of Michy's in Miami:

"The Maestro Sierra Oloroso has different layers of taste: burnt orange, candided kumquat, allspice, toffee, roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon, chinese five spice. These flavors are robust and intense, like the rabo encendido. But the VORS 1/14 has elegancy, a dainty, clean fisnish. Its texture and delivery mimic the scallop, soft and feminine. The oloroso, thus, has dual personalities."

Third course and sweet Sherry pairing

Dewie Dufresne of WD-50 talks about Wylie Dufresne's Soy Custard, Banana, Caramel, Granola paired with Lustau East India Solera:

"The sherry's exceptional smoothness with flavors of raisins, candied peel and nuts sings an accompaniment to the banana, caramel, and granola. This great wine with a dash of salinity and a bit of Pedro Ximénez is a palate seducer."

And this justification by COPA Jerez Top Sommelier winner, Roger Kugler, for his pairing with Seamus Mullen's Rouget a la plancha, Pata Negra ham, La Ratte potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and fava beans) to a Hidalgo Amontillado "Viejo" VORS sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda:

"This extraordinary wine compliments all the participants. . .the saltiness fo theis seaside amonillado is perfect for the soft fish, sweet vegetables and mushrooms while the rich texture. . . stands up to the crunchy pata negra ham. . .a metaphor might be a fully ripe heirloom strawberry. . . Full flavor balanced with perfect acidity, a bright nose and deep, but not dusky color. . . retaining much of the blush of youth."

And by Dewey Dufresne of New York's WD-50, explaining his match of La Cigarerra Manzanilla to his son Dewey's dish of foie gras, fennel, malt & sherry vinegar jam:

"The fresh minerally sherry with its briny notes and sea sweet aftertaste is an agreeable foil to the velvety foie gras. . .The malt presence in the dish is a reminder to us of the flor (yeast) used in the sherry's development."

(Stay tuned for a Report on the COPA Jerez finals in Jerez de la Frontera, where Roger Kugler won top sommelier, Juli Soler of El Bulli & Pitu Roca of Can Roca were judges and the teams from the United States and several European Union countries showed why sherries are a stunning complement to modern menus. Plus Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Maestro Sierra and Emilio Lustau of Jerez de la Fronteraand Gútierrez Colosía of El Puerto de Santa María, four Sherry greats and, of course, lunch at Bigote in Sanlúcar and more, plus plenty of photographs.)

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From "Spanish Wine & Food Pairing: Possibilities Are Limitless", and article on the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone's new Worlds of Flavor Spain-dedicated website:

"Sherry (Jerez) Spain’s great classic wine, sherry, has long been pigeonholed as a wine to be served with Spanish tapas or perhaps, in its sweeter versions, sipped in front of a fireplace, accompanied by quiet conversation or a good book. Relatively few people understand that sherry and its nearby cousin, montilla, range in style from bone-dry to richly sweet, which makes them excellent matches for anything from Japanese (especially sushi and tempura) and other Asian cuisines, to fried foods, to a broad range of artisan cheeses (sweet sherries matched to blue cheeses are spectacular).Among dry sherries, all of which should always be served chilled, crisp, fresh, salty, apple-y manzanilla is a great match for shrimp, oysters, scallops, clams, and other shellfish; it is a quintessential accompaniment to tapas; and it offers a refreshing counterpoint for cheeses, especially Spain’s aged ewe’s milk cheeses. Fino, from inland Jerez, is also bone-dry and a bit weightier, gutsier and more alcoholic, but is still a good match with many of same foods and a fine substitute for sake with Japanese food.

Amontillado, in some of its best versions, is also dry, but many amontillados have been sweetened for broader market appeal. The drier versions are longer-aged and more complex than manzanillas and finos, and are splendid with richer dishes like game, duck risotto, and organ meats, as well as superb companions to cheeses. The sweeter amontillados also go well with cheeses and especially foie gras.

Olorosos come in both dry and sweet versions and can be among the most monumentally great and emblematic sherries. Dry oloroso, it is often said, is best in front of a fireplace with a serious contemplative attitude, a good book and a dish of nuts, but these wines are also superb when sipped as a course match on a tasting menu, especially with a game bird or a dish with cheese in the sauce. Sweet olorosos and cream sherries make for lovely sipping, good matches for foie gras and game courses, and may just be the perfect match for sipping with espresso, or café con leche (milky coffee).

Super sweet, syrupy Pedro Ximénez sherries, redolent of orange peel, raisins, prunes, figs, and baking spices can be sipped alone, but are used by many chefs to sauce foie gras and game dishes, but can also be poured of ice creams as a fabulous sauce, especially when blended with chocolate."

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About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television

series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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