Are you ready for sherry? It's having a revival
Sherry is shaking off its fusty image, writes Aoife Carrigy, who visited some of Dublin's hottest restaurants as part of a wine crawl ahead of International Sherry Week
IT'S an early weeknight and one of the hottest restaurants to hit Dublin is hopping. We've got the best table in the house, a circular booth from where we can watch waiters in fitted red suede jackets glide about the low-ceilinged room.
They could be in a David Lynch movie, backlit by the neon orange bar above while feet shuffle along the pavement outside.
A waiter approaches and pours into our deep wine glasses an amber liquid that smells both bright and rich, with notes of salty yeast and freshly cracked nuts.
Another passes out bowls scattered with butternut squash tortellini, glistening trompette mushrooms and slivers of chestnuts, before drizzling over an autumnal consommé of burnt onion and pumpkin broth. The combination is gorgeous - possibly my favourite in an evening that has been full of brilliant food and wine pairing moments.
We're in Luna restaurant in the company of Paddy Murphy, a wine blogger (thevineinspiration.org), self-confessed sherry geek and official 'Sherry Educator' (a title awarded by the Consejo Regulador council that control all things sherry from its production hub in Jerez in southern Andalusia.)
Paddy is taking us on a sherry crawl through some of Dublin's best restaurants to remind us why International Sherry Week - which runs through to November 8 - is something to get excited by.
"We're in the middle of a sherry revolution," Paddy says, brimming with enthusiasm for what more wine-lovers than you might expect insist is one of the most underrated wines going. Sherry is also one of the most versatile for food pairings, thanks to its diverse range of styles.
We taste six pairings on our sherry crawl, ranging from ely wine bar's salt cod baccala and grated egg served with Lustau's pale and bone-dry Manzanilla 'Papirusa' (Paddy reminds us that Manzanilla is the "driest wine style in the world") to Stanley's mini game pie with Emilio Hidalgo's full-bodied and nutty Villapanes Oloroso.
Each pairing is magic. And - in case you're still wondering - none of the fortified wines we taste resemble the sticky-sweet cream sherry that your ancient grand-aunt had a soft spot for. That revolution is seeing sherry shake off its outdated fusty image, particularly in cities like New York and London, where sherry has been chichi for several years now.
"London has a huge amount of top-quality sherry bars," Paddy says, name-checking Bar Pepita, José and The Remedy as recommended hunting grounds. "I love Drakes Tabanco too, where you can drink it from the barrel. And Capote Y Toros have a phenomenal listing by the glass."
That influence is creeping into Dublin restaurants and wine bars too, if slowly. Luna's maitre d', Declan Maxwell, confirms that more and more 40-something customers are ordering their Lustau 'En Rama' Fino (a bone-dry, unfiltered sherry), which he likes to serve in a low tumbler on the rocks.
"Sherry really gets your taste buds going," he says, "and makes a great alternative to a gin and tonic or glass of wine as an aperitif."
Over in Stanley's Restaurant & Wine Bar, wine director Morgan Vanderkamer is using International Sherry Week to highlight just how well it pairs with all sorts of foods. She has suggested pairings for every menu item in Stanley's Restaurant & Wine Bar, and added to their list several more sherries by the glass to bring the choice from a dozen to 20, starting at just €4.25 a glass.
Morgan has also laid on nightly events, kicking off last night with a masterclass she hosted together with Paddy Murphy on the Macharnudo Alto single vineyard sherries of Valdespino, a bodega that dates back to the 1200s.
Tonight, Morgan will host an informal tasting of the Antiques range from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla. ("All those sherries from entry level up are absolutely amazing", she says).
And tomorrow night, the focus will be on the sherries of Bodegas Tradicion.
Both events cost €15 (visit http://stanleysrestaurant.ie/events for details).
Friday night is a free-for-all, when Stanley's and Wines from Spain co-host a free BYO (bring your own) sherry event from 5pm-7pm. The idea is that anyone can bring along their favourite bottle of sherry to share, and get to taste everyone else's.
"Last year, people brought about 20 different sherries altogether," says Paddy, who will be on hand at the event to help newcomers navigate the different styles. "They ranged from the drier styles like fino, manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado and oloroso, all the way up to some very sweet PX and the odd cream sherry thrown in the middle too. So a bit of everything really."
And if you're so new to sherry that you don't have a favourite yet? Paddy suggests that you pop along to your local independent wine merchant, tell them what you're coming to and ask for a recommendation.
"The good news is that, at retail level, there's such a wide range of sherries available to purchase here in Ireland," Paddy says. "We're spoiled for choice."
Even better is the news that sherry represents some of the best value going in wine terms, in part because that revolution still has to convince many wine-lovers of what they're missing out on.
The trick is getting people to try it, says Morgan.
"For the most part, anyone who tries it is very pleasantly surprised by what they get from sherry."
If there was ever a time to try it, this week is it.
For more information on International Sherry Week, see #sherryweek on Twitter or http://www.isherryweek.com