Sherry, the underappreciated wine

Smoked Palomino cocktail
Smoked Palomino cocktail (For The Washington Post)
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 4:52 PM

Everybody's talking about sherry these days. At least everyone snugly inside the bubble where sommeliers, bartenders, wine educators and drink writers reside. It's the same place where grower champagne, mezcal and sour beers are really popular, and where ambergris (otherwise known as whale excretion) is used in cocktails.

The other 99 percent of the world usually doesn't get the memo, which is sometimes just as well.

In the case of sherry, however, the lack of awareness beyond the bubble is truly a shame. Sherry is one of the world's most versatile, best-value wines. You can almost always find high quality for under $20, and often for under $15.

Sherry matches perfectly with many difficult-to-pair foods such as olives, artichokes, nuts, asparagus, cured meats, sushi and wine-unfriendly Chinese food. Behind the bar, sherry has been a staple since cocktails first appeared in the 19th century. The sherry cobbler (sherry, fruit, ice) was the appletini of its day, and early-20th-century classics such as the Duke of Marlborough, the Bamboo, the East Indian and the Adonis - all of which are varying combinations of sherry, vermouth and bitters - wonderfully showcase the wine.

The two delicious recipes I offer this week show sherry's classic and contemporary sides. As a base spirit in the Dunaway, it mingles with Cynar (used here in place of vermouth) and maraschino liqueur to create a drink that would not have been out of place in a Gilded Age saloon. In the Smoked Palomino, it highlights what many bartenders today are discovering: Sherry loves agave-based spirits. In this case, it's mezcal, meaning the Smoked Palomino is a perfect inside-the-bubble, cocktail-geek libation.

Which brings me back to my central question here: Why doesn't sherry get more love outside the bubble? After all, the Laws of Wine Writing seem to dictate that one must proclaim sherry the most misunderstood/neglected/underappreciated wine in the world.

"Our goal is to be perceived as a wine," says Cesar Saldana, director general of the Jerez Consejo Regulador, sherry's governing trade council. That might seem a strange statement, considering that sherry is a wine that has existed for about 3,000 years. But here in the United States, there is much confusion caused by the misnamed "cooking sherry" that you see on supermarket shelves and that bears no relationship to the real thing.

"Sherry as a word has become badly used," Saldana says. Many producers have taken to calling the wine "Jerez" instead.

Jerez is the Andalusian city in the middle of Spain's demarcated Sherry Triangle (Jerez-Xeres-Sherry is the name of the Denominacion de Origen), the only place in the world where sherry can be made. "Sherry" is actually the anglicization of "Jerez."

I visited Jerez recently and experienced a fascinating world of wine and Brandy de Jerez that I will be reporting on over the next few weeks in my column and on the All We Can Eat blog.

Some brands to look for include Tio Pepe (in particular for its fino), Hidalgo La Gitana (in particular for its manzanilla and amontillado), Lustau and Gutierrez Colosia.

Even Harveys and William and Humbert (which made the Dry Sack that was another 1970s favorite) are putting more focus on the drier styles for the American market.

Wilson is the author of "Boozehound." He can be reached at

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