I'M on a mission. I want to persuade you all to drink sherry, in its myriad styles.
If it's variety you are after, sherry can provide it in spades. No other beverage, except maybe beer, exhibits a wider taste spectrum, and beer can only compete because rules, or the lack of rules, permit the addition of flavour-enhancing substances.
Chuck some orange zest, coriander seeds, or seaweed into a vat of fermenting barley and you have an interesting new flavour. To do the same with fermenting grapes is to invite the local wine police to close down your winery.
Sherry is food friendly. It's no accident that the drier styles -- fino and manzanilla -- grew up alongside tapas, or vice-versa. They are not overly heavy, despite the fortification process used in their making. Most register at alcohol levels only a half a degree above an Italian Amarone or a Barossa Shiraz. In any event, the tendency is to use smaller glasses -- though, please, not those Auntie Maud's Christmas-tipple ones -- and drink more sparingly.
Finos and manzanillas develop under flor, a veil of yeast that grows naturally on the surface of the wine. Augmenting the alcohol level to much beyond 15.5 degrees can kill the flor. Finos that lose their blanket of flor turn amber in colour, becoming amontillados. True amontillados are dry and brilliantly complex. However, many of the cheaper ones are made by blending fino with inferior quality sweeter wines to produce mass-market medium-sweet plonk.
Olorosos, in their natural state are dry and these, too, are well worth exploring. Fortified to around 18 degrees they cannot hide under flor and so darken upon contact with air, also gaining in concentration as they age. Even though I know these things, it always comes as a shock when I encounter a bone-dry oloroso.
The best sweet sherries -- designated oloroso dulce -- are produced by blending dry olorosos with intensely sweet wine made from the Pedro Ximenes (PX) grapes. Caramel, figs, almonds, marzipan and plum pudding burst from the glass --for me, a perfect match for a bowl of good vanilla ice cream.
Please drink sherry. It's enjoyable, affordable and will reward exploration. It has a quality/price ratio better than any other wine. But there's more to it than that. A century of tippling aunts sustained a market for tawdry, humdrum, if not downright nasty pseudo sherries. The good stuff has remained hidden -- to the extent that it's almost an endangered species. 'Real' sherry is the giant panda of the wine world. Don't let it become the dodo.
You could try Lustau Papriusa Manzanilla (pictured), €9.95 per 37.5cl (Mitchells, Redmonds, Bin No9, On The Grapevine); Hidalgo Villapanes Oloroso Seco, €29.95 (Wines on The Green, 64 Wines, The Vintry, Lilac Wines); or Valdivia Pedro Ximenes, €13.95 (Donnybrook Fair, Redmonds, Thomas's, Sweeneys, Bin No9).