Over the past month or so, I have been laser-focused on preparing for my fortified wines exam for the WSET diploma. That has meant tasting lots of Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Vins Doux Naturels: all wines that pack a punch and wear out your palate. Many nights I found myself craving a glass of something crisp and refreshing to counteract all that alcohol and oxidation.
I often gravitated to high-acid white wines, especially if I was cooking seafood. One night I treated myself to a dinner of fresh sea scallops, mashed sweet potato, and salad paired with a lovely white Burgundy. I thought the Chardonnay would find common ground with the sweet, rich scallops, lifting my taste buds right out of their stupor.
My first sip of the wine, a 2017 Saint-Véran Les Pommards from Domaine des Vieilles Pierres, was a delight: flavors of lemon, apple, and pear, with zesty acidity. It was exactly what I wanted. I could hardly wait to sear the scallops, sit down, and enjoy the feast.
I took a bite of the creamy, sweet scallops in a buerre blanc sauce – so fresh I could almost taste the sea. And then I took a sip of the wine.
I felt like I was drinking the sea!
At first the briny sensation on my tongue was pleasant; as though the wine was enhancing the fresh nature of the scallops. A second bite and sip and the briny flavors became stronger, more like iodine. It was not pleasant.
And not an experience I wanted to continue through dinner. What else did I have that might work better, complementing the scallops without making them taste like sea kelp? The Saint- Véran was delicious and would certainly live to fight another day, with a dish better suited to it (or even by itself!) But I needed a glass of something right then.
Lustau Peninsula Palo Cortado Sherry
I was in luck!
My fridge happened to be stocked with bottles of Port, Sherry, and a few other things. I knew the Port would stay where it was – no way would that work with the delicate sea scallops. And the sweet cream sherry was another no-go.
And then I remembered the bottle of Palo Cortado: a dry sherry that begins its life as a Fino (dry, unoxidized white wine aged under a yeasty blanket called flor that imparts bread-like aromas) but is reclassified early in the aging process to an Oloroso style (one that is aged in neutral wood barrels and exposed to oxygen, giving rise to nutty aromas and flavors.)
Palo Cortado is often compared to Amontillado, which also undergoes a hybrid aging process. However, Palo Cortado spends less time in the Fino solera (aging system) than Amontillado does, meaning it is more full-bodied, with more intense flavors.
Having heard so much about dry Sherry’s affinity with food, I decided to try it for myself. What did I have to lose?
I admit I was skeptical at first: the delicately sweet scallops accompanied by a powerful, oxidatively aged (albeit dry) wine? It might not make the scallops taste like iodine but, then again, it might kill their flavor altogether.
I took a bite of scallop, followed by a tentative sip of the Palo Cortado. Hmmm, not bad. So I took another bite, and another sip. No overt briny flavors, no iodine. And, wouldn’t you know, the dry Sherry actually highlighted the sweetness of the scallops. It also was a big hit with the mashed sweet potatoes.
In turn, the scallops brought out the nutty almond and yeasty qualities of the Palo Cortado. What started out as a desperate experiment turned out to be a deliciously unexpected pairing; one that I will repeat.
International Sherry Week
Last week was International Sherry Week, a time for those of us who rarely crack open a bottle of the stuff to rethink its place on our tables. And for those who are already among the converted, well, they don’t need a designated week to indulge in the many delights of Sherry.
As with my experience, sometimes it’s good to re-evaluate your perceptions of a particular wine, or even a presumed classic food and wine pairing. Shake it up, try something new. Here’s some inspiration, if you’re so inclined.
And save that Saint-Véran for another night.