Welcome to Wine Pairing Weekend! Each month a group of wine and food writers collaborate to explore how specific wines work with different foods. Our theme this month is Sherry, and what an adventure that has been! Join our Twitter chat Saturday morning at 11 am EDT using #WinePW. It’s always fun and there’s always lots to learn. See you there!
Dateline: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain
This is Sherry country, or Jerez, as they say in Andalucía, the balmy, hypnotic region that stretches languorously across Southern Spain. As you walk the streets you feel yourself slipping backward in time, coming to rest in a place where life is simpler: work, play, eat, drink, and family are the pillars of daily existence. All are taken seriously, but you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that eating and drinking create a structure for the rest of what happens in life. What else would we expect of a town perched on the Atlantic coast, where the ocean and Guadalquivir River become one?
A perfect foil to the flashier resort towns on the Costa del Sol, Sanlúcar de Barrameda boasts its own kind of wealth – the bounty of seafood lavished on the tables of local cafés, and the rich wine-making tradition of Manzanilla. This delicate, bone-dry white wine is special, just because it is produced here.
Fino vs Manzanilla
With respect to production methods and grape varieties used (Palomino Fino, only) there’s no difference between Manzanilla and Fino Sherry. Both are aged biologically for two years, under a coating of flor, a fine layer of yeast that forms naturally on top of the wine. The flor acts to prevent oxygen from influencing the wine (oxidative aging), and contributes unique flavor and texture elements. And both styles are products of the solera system, in which younger wines are systematically added to older barrels of wine over time, resulting in a consistent, multi-year blend.
The fundamental difference between a Fino and a Manzanilla is location: the wines of Manzanilla spend their formative years by the sea, where the climate is more moderate and more humid than in Jerez proper, where Fino is produced. And the species of flor native to each area is different, resulting in slight variations of aroma and taste. Well, that’s what the experts say! I find it hard to make a meaningful distinction between the two styles – both are light, crisp, and delightful in the relentless heat of an Andalucían summer. I suppose, if I concentrate, I can imagine a bit more salt on the Manzanilla’s nose. It does come from the beach, after all. Bottom line? They’re both super-delicious!
I had never heard of Manzanilla Pasada until I started researching potential subjects for this post and saw a bottle at my local wine shop. In fact, I’m not much of a Sherry drinker at all, so this proved to be a fun wine adventure. Maybe participating in this Wine Pairing Weekend will convince me to drink more of it.
Basically, a Pasada is a Manzanilla that has been aged a bit and shows the first signs of oxidation. In her book, “A Modern Guide to Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret,” Talia Baiocchi calls Pasada a “stylistic purgatory” between Manzanilla and Amontillado, in which the fresh, briny flavors of the former complement the newly-emerging nutty flavors we love in the latter. While I was unfamiliar with the style, I was totally intrigued by the idea!
I decided to include a bottle of Manzanilla in the tasting and pairing experiment, in the hopes it would underscore the unique flavor elements of the Pasada. It resulted in some interesting observations.
Bodegas La Cigarrera, Manzanilla Pasada (375 ml), minimum age 20 years
Founded in 1758, this bodega takes its name and label image from the women who once strolled through Sanlúcar selling hand-rolled cigarettes. Production is extremely limited, coming as it does from just three barrels, which the family has tapped on just a few occasions since 1990. La Cigarrera also produces Manzanilla, Amontillado, and Oloroso.
Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, La Guita Manzanilla (750ml), bottled July, 2015
Founded in 1852, this bodega crafts only two products: La Guita Manzanilla, each bottle of which has a string attached to the label (symbolizing the guitar its name calls to mind); and a sherry vinegar. In 2007 the bodega joined the Grupo Estévez, home to the brands Valdespino and Marqués del Real Tesoro.
Instinctively I knew the Manzanilla would pair beautifully with seafood, olives, and almonds, all the dishes you’d typically associate with Southern Spain. But the Pasada presented more of a challenge. From my research I’d gathered that the depth of flavor contributed by the onset of oxidation called for foods with an earthier profile. Say, mushrooms, strong cheeses, or salty ham perhaps. My first experiment called for adapting an old favorite recipe for roasted veal chops with grapes and sherry vinegar. To help it meet the Pasada half-way, I topped the chops with a crumble of Cabrales blue cheese and Jamón de Serrano. It definitely punched up the flavor quotient, which made for an interesting pairing exercise. (For recipe, see below.)
I first tried the veal with a sip of the Manzanilla. Not bad! But ultimately, the Manzanilla couldn’t stand up to the salty, funky flavors of the ham and cheese topping. It was just too much. However a second bite, one with more grapes than cheese, made the Manzanilla sing. It highlighted the citrus notes of the wine, which I hadn’t noticed before, and even the veal tasted sweeter. I look forward to trying this pairing again, with my original veal chop recipe.
Next up, Pasada. It couldn’t have looked more different than the Manzanilla in the glass. Where the Manzanilla was the slightest pale green-gold, the Pasada reminded me of Sauternes, the famous sweet wine from Bordeaux. It was deep, dense gold. The scents wafting out of the glass were floral, a sensation I didn’t expect. Then there were notes of hazelnut and a barely-there whiff of sea breeze. Tasting it, I wasn’t disappointed. It was luscious, with more body and a smoother mouth-feel. There was citrus but also honey and those hazelnuts again. This wine seemed to have a split personality! But it was intriguing.
How was it with the veal? Sublime! Its subtle sweetness provided the perfect counterpoint to the salty ham and the slightly funky cheese. It even worked as a contrast to the grapes, which tasted more tangy in comparison. All the layers of flavor in the dish shone individually with this wine, and the whole really was greater than the sum of its parts.
This wine-pairing exercise really challenged me, not just to try a wine I’d never heard of, but to change the way I choose a wine for dinner. Until now I had associated Sherry with tapas; something to enjoy but not contemplate. I’d certainly never considered serving one as an accompaniment to dinner. Seeing how the two Sherries interacted differently with the food encouraged me to broaden my horizons a little. And I look forward to hearing how my fellow food and wine writers fared in their pairings: especially what worked for them and why.
Check out what my fellow food and wine writers created for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW). They always have delicious ideas!
- David at Cooking Chat will share “Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa”
- Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog will share “An Exploration of Sherry; In the Glass And At The Table”
- Christy at Confessions of a Culinary Diva will share “Ajoblanco & Amontillado”
- Jade at Tasting Pour will share “Fino and Fennel”
- Nancy at Pull that Cork will share “Oloroso Pairings for #winePW: What Worked and What Didn’t“
- Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator is working on her post….
- Jeff at FoodWineClick will share “A Sherry Pairing Mnemonic”
And here’s my recipe:
Roasted Veal Chops with Grapes, Cabrales, and Jamón de Serrano (adapted from Food and Wine)
- 1 pound seedless red grapes
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup Cabrales or other mild blue cheese, crumbled
- 4 slices Jamon de Serrano or prosciutto, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Four 1-inch-thick veal rib chops (about 1/2 pound each)
- Preheat the oven to 500°. On a sturdy rimmed baking sheet, toss the grapes with the vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and the sugar; season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes, shaking the baking sheet halfway through, until the grapes are hot and the pan is sizzling.
- Rub the veal chops with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and season with salt and pepper. Push the grapes to one side of the baking sheet. Add the veal chops and roast for about 5 minutes, or until sizzling underneath. Turn the chops and roast for 5 minutes longer for medium-rare meat. Top each chop with a mix of the cheese and jamon and broil for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the veal chops to a platter, scrape the grapes and juices on top and serve.