I don’t read The Wall Street Journal but my colleague Katrin does. When she reads an article she feels is worth sharing, she’ll tweet with a link. And so when she alerted all to Lettie Teague’s article about Sherry, I was immediately intrigued and then, after reading the piece, saddened – American wine drinkers just don’t drink sherry. Really, the news came as no surprise. I’ve been waiting years now for American wine drinkers to make the symbolic trek to Jerez. I became a convert to sherry when I had my first glass of fino at wine school – it was like drinking an elixir from an ancient stone-lined, mossy well. This was the gateway glass – I went on to find and enjoy the other expressions of this fortified wine.
But why this resistance to sherry? I thought that as American palates expanded, sherry would be embraced. In Eric Asimov’s column last week in The New York Times, I think I found a clue. As one who finds much wine writing overblown with seemingly implausible descriptors (really, “fried basil leaf” is an acceptable descriptor?), the article was refreshing. Asimov proposes describing wines as either sweet or savory. Sweet wines would be those oaked or fruit forward or both. Savory would be those more about minerality and acidity. I oversimplify, yet American wine drinkers prefer “sweet” wines which would include California Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels and Cabernets, certain vintages of ChateauNeuf du Pape and Australian Shirazes. “Savory” wines would include Fino Sherry, Cabernet-based Bordeaux, dry Reislings and Extra-Brut Champagnes. The taste profile of sherry just doesn’t fit the prevailing taste preference.
Yet, there is an up-side to Sherry’s unpopularity – it’s undervalued and thus the price remains low, disproportionate to the quality of the product. (An example of a wine that is overvalued would be champagne.) Like champagne, though, the individual Sherry houses blend to maintain a certain profile. Before the recession, I drank Lustau Sherries. Then with my income squeezed, these were outside my Plonk Patrol guidelines, selling for $13.99 and up. I decided to seek out a value-priced brand. And so I discovered Barbadillo. Barbadillo is an old sherry house founded in 1821 and still run by the same founding family. They are best known for there Manzanilla sherry yet offer a full line of sherries. They also produce unfortified white wines made from the Palomino Fino grape. My tastes in sherry are seasonal – in the summer, I prefer the lighter Fino; in winter, the weighty Oloroso; and in the shoulder seasons, Amontillado, mid-weight between the other two.
- Barbadillo Fino – Clear palest yellow; almonds, sweet herbs, wet stones; crisp, refreshing – perfect served chilled. Alc. 15%
- Barbadillo Amontillado – Russet, sparkling orange highlights; rich nose of baked apples stuffed with marzipan; off-dry. Alc. 17.5%
- Barbadillo Oloroso – Deep chestnut; a sweet, toasted hazelnut nose; finishing completely dry. Alc. 18%
This isn’t a primer on Sherry nor an exhortation to discover Sherry. I’m through prosletyzing. In fact, Sherry’s lack of appeal keeps the price low, just where I want it.
Barbadillo Sherries are available at Kappy’s, Wellington Circle, Medford and Whole Foods, River St., Cambridge for $9.99.