Numerous articles keep telling me Sherry is 'back', and whilst much of Leicestershire apparently remains to be convinced of this, I'm celebrating. The good news for those of us who recognise a good thing when we see it is that the easily available range of Sherry is increasing to include some very good things indeed, and that Sherry isn't yet so fashionable that prices are prohibitive. Another good thing is that better bottles come in smaller sizes, because fortified wines do not keep as well as we sometimes think they do.
My introduction to Sherry came courtesy of my godparents. They observed a certain old world stateliness about dinner, much as their parents generation must have (and that would have been a pre war standard), so it was dry Sherry before dinner. A polite glass of Tio Pepe was not what most of my teenage contemporaries were drinking, but it's a sensible thing to give a 16 year old because the chances are they won't overdo it (Port with its deceptive sweetness is another matter). I didn't disgrace myself either by drinking to much, or by being unable to drink that bone dry fino, and even now the taste of it takes me back to that house.
It's one reason that I consider Sherry such a very civilised drink, suitable to go with any civilised book.
Jocelyn Playfair's 'A House in the Country' was one of the first a Persephone books I bought, written in 1943, set in 1942, the outcome of the war was not only not certain, but looking pretty grim for the allied forces. It focuses on Cressida as she makes do and mends on the home front, opening her home, Brede Manor, to paying guests, and generally trying to do her bit, and her husband, Charles, injured and lost at sea. It's a world full of sacrifices large and small, and where there are also battles to maintain or reject old standards.
It's definitely a world where the luxury of sitting at ease, lights blazing, in a well heated room, with a glass of old Sherry to hand would be something to both look back on, and look forward to again. Something civilised.
Sherry comes in a whole range of styles from very dry, pale, fino, through to thick, treacly, sweet, Pedro Ximénez. Oloroso is fortified early which stops a protective layer of yeast forming in it (called flor) which keeps oxygen from getting to fino styles. It's the oxidation that gives this wine its distinctive character - nutty (walnuts?) and very complex with raisin, coffee, hints of chocolate, lemon, something almost briney, and fig notes - amongst others. It's pretty incredible for something that costs about £13 for 50cl. That oxidised character also means that it'll keep relatively well - a month or more in the fridge, serve at 12-14 degrees (cool room temp rather than fridge temp). Food wise it works really well with game, a handful of dried nuts, or cheese.
People (in Leicestershire at least) can be a bit funny about Sherry, but honestly, start exploring it with an open mind - it's a whole world of excitement beyond the Christmas familiars of Harvey's Bristol Cream or Croft original.