By Alex Fondren
These days, the only thing that seems dated about sherry is the seemingly mandatory reference to “your grandmother” that until recently headlined the top of almost every post on the category. Hopefully we are all on the same page now – sherry has never been hotter, whether or not your grandmother used to sip its sweet cream cousin.
And why shouldn’t it be? With our increasingly foodie focused culture, few beverages pair better with such a wide array of cuisines. And with so many high-quality, complex and downright affordable options now available, the only bang-for-the-buck rival these days might be craft beer (at least when it comes to QPR by-the-glass).
Sherry lovers like us are thrilled about the quality and availability surge over the last few years, and we can thank (and perhaps pledge allegiance to) Sherryfest co-founder, Peter Liem. Recognized primarily for his Champagne books and website, www.champagneguide.net, Liem has dedicated 20 years to studying his other great passion, sherry and its potential as a serious food wine. He has since authored Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, and four years ago, Liem took a huge leap of faith and organized Sherryfest in New York City – the very first large-scale tasting of its kind outside of sherry’s native Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
The event has since enjoyed sold-out crowds in Toronto, Portland and San Francisco – which speaks to the bi-coastal, even international explosion of demand for the category - but Sherryfest returns home to NYC in 2015. Next week thus marks the fourth annual Sherryfest, with events, seminars, dinners and a Grand Tasting taking place June 23rd -25th.
Featuring over 150 sherries, the Grand Tasting on June 25th at City Winery will include over 20 representatives from the region’s top bodegas, offering trade and consumers alike a rare opportunity to learn more about sherry and its diverse array of styles.
Perhaps the most noticeable boon for sherry-lovers over the last few years has been the rise in popularity of sherry-based cocktails. Sherryfest 2015 pays homage to this trend, with a dedicated seminar on the History of Sherry in Cocktails, hosted by David Wondrich, one of the foremost cocktail experts in the world, as well as a special cocktail table at the Grand Tasting, with top bartenders mixing up a different sherry-based drink every hour.
In addition to the bartenders on duty, Sherryfest’s added cocktail component has attracted the bona fides of two of the country’s top mixology talents who specialize in complex sherry concoctions: Chantal Tseng who built the sherry and cocktail program at Washington DC’s famed Mockingbird Hill and Caitlin Laman of San Francisco’s revered craft cocktail mecca, Trick Dog.
Tseng calls fino sherry her ‘spirit drink’ and cites a sherry Manhattan with a dry Amontillado as the base as the drink that made her a permanent convert: “I had never tasted any drink like it. Over time, however, I would gravitate to just craving the Amontillado rather than the cocktail. It was all already in there: Spice, fruit, herb, sweet, spirit, bitter...sherry is already a bottled cocktail.” Tseng likes to say that you know you love something when, as a bartender after a long shift, you reach for it to close your night. Sherry is that for her. She even named her cat Monty, short for Amontillado - her first love.
Liem, and his talented Sherryfest co-founder Rosemary Gray (of Flatiron Wine & Spirits), have managed to tap into this level of passion for sherry – a thirst that seems unmatched by any other single wine category in its ability to make even the most persnickety of wine industry insiders swoon. Sherry reigns supreme in its trifecta of complexity, versatility and affordability – hopefully after four years of Sherryfest, we can soon start laying the ‘grandmother’ sherry trope to rest!
But you don’t have to be in New York to experience Sherryfest – wine retailers around the country will be getting sherry fans ‘flor’ed’ on Saturday, June 20th in honor of next week’s events. I know I’ll be at my local wine shop, Oakland’s Bay Grape, celebrating appropriately, Fino in hand!
All the Swirl is a collections of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting www.charlescomm.com.