Valentine's Day screams for sparkling wine, but it’s important to note that not all bubbles are created equal. When shopping around for the perfect bottle at the right price point, it is extremely helpful to know what the difference is between styles of sparkling wine and where they come from. Champagne – the O.G.This is it, the wine the world defers to as the best sparkling wine ever. The original bubbly, the standout sparkler, the very best. However, NOT all sparkling wine is Champagne; in fact, it can only be called Champagne if it comes from the specific region of Champagne in France. This can be confusing here in the U.S. where you will still see the term Champagne on labels of California sparkling wine, but make no mistake! Those are not the real deal. What makes real Champagne so unique and sought after is the place that it comes from and the way it is made. In Champagne, the wines undergo a second fermentation in a bottle – most often the one that you buy it in – to capture the CO2 and make it bubbly. This process is referred to as the Traditional Method, and while this method is used elsewhere to create similar styles of sparkling wine, Champagne is the hallmark. This is also why Champagne will usually cost you a pretty penny but is pretty much always worth it.Grapes used in making ChampagneAll Champagne is made using three main varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. These grapes, grown in chalky Champagne soil, are responsible for creating the unique aroma and flavor profiles of the wine. High quality Champagne will deliver wines with racy acidity, a creamy mousse (the feel of the bubbles on your palate), and a toasty quality often described as brioche, biscuit or pastry dough. The official terminology is that these wines display autolytic characteristics. These aromas and flavors come from extended contact with the lees (spent yeast cells) in the bottle during the second fermentation and are the calling card of any wine that is made using the Traditional Method. Which Champagne to buySo which Champagne should you buy? Depends on what fits into your budget, but I recommend going with a Champagne made from Premier or Grand Cru grapes. They may cost a little bit more, but over deliver on quality. Champagne Lallier makes exceptional Grand Cru champagne in both white and rosé style, but there are many others to be found as well.What is grower-producer ChampagneAnother hot trend in Champagne now is buying Grower-Producer Champagnes. Most of the Champagne sold is made by the big houses from grapes they buy from other growers, but there is more availability these days of Champagnes that the individual growers are making from their own grapes. You can tell which is which by looking for a little two letter code on the back label, followed by a string of numbers. If it says RM, it is a Grower-Producer Champagne; if it says NM, that means it comes from one of the big houses. "RM" stangs for récoltant manipulant, a grower who makes champagne out of their own grapes.Photo credit: http://culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.comVintage Champagne – The best of the bestAs discussed above, Champagne is associated with that delicious biscuit aroma and flavor that comes from the winemaking process, but most Champagne is made by blending multiple vintages, so normally the label will say NV, or non-vintage. This allows Champagne producers to make a consistent, high quality product year after year that their customers can rely on and easily recognize. However, in the very best years some producers will make Vintage Champagnes, using only grapes from that year. These wines will reflect the overarching style of the house, but also have unique characteristics influenced by vintage variation. They are also often aged much longer on the lees, sometimes up to eight years or more, developing even more of that autolytic character common to all Champagne. So if that is a quality you like, vintage Champagne will be right up your alley. It will definitely cost you so be ready to throw down some cash, but once you take a sip of, oh let’s say the Henriot Brut Millésimé 2008, you’ll likely be glad that you did.Crémant – Top notch, bottom dollarCrémants refer to traditional method sparkling wines made in France that are not from Champagne, and they represent an EXCELLENT value in the category. Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Loire (two other wine growing regions of France) will deliver excellent sparkling wines with a similar autolytic character at a fraction of the price. They can also be made with non-traditional Champagne varietals like Chenin Blanc or Riesling, adding intriguing layers of aromatics and flavors to these wines that differentiate them from Champagne. The Loire Valley actually produces the most traditional method sparkling wine in France after Champagne, so they know a thing or two about good bubbles, and you can find a great one that will knock your socks off for less than $20.Cava – Bang for your buckCava comes from Spain, and they have been making their bubbles there since the 1800’s. The traditional method is used here as well, but winemaking technology allows them to expedite the process and also lower the cost, meaning it is easy to find an excellent bottle of Cava for often much less than $25. Traditional Cava also uses the indigenous Spanish varietals Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Perellada, which can lend some more tropical Mediterranean notes like melon and peach to the aroma and flavor profile. Cava is, and always will be, a bargain for the traditional method junkie, but it's helpful to know your producers. Bottom shelf Cava from the grocery store will not show the same kind of elegance and complexity you will find from a more quality oriented producer like Juvé Y Camps.(Watch the recap to I like this grape's first SOMMX event? Kanye West's Music Interpreted Through Spanish Wine: Video recap.)New World Sparklers – Blow your mind, not your budgetWhen you leave Europe and enter the New World, you will still find sparkling wine made it all countries. This includes South America, Australia, the USA, South Africa, New Zealand, you name it. Sparkling wine is just that popular. It can be hard, though, to readily identify the quality sparkling wine since new world countries don’t have nearly the same number of regulations that old world wine regions do. Knowing your producers and terminology can help. For example, several large Champagne houses have set up shop in California, and produce traditional method sparkling wine in the states: Louis Roederer has Roederer Estate up in Anderson Valley and Domaine Chandon is owned by the powerhouse Moët & Chandon. Looking on the label for the term “Traditional Method” will also key you in to the style and quality of production. Some countries use a different name for it, like the term “Cap Classique” in South Africa. In fact, my recommendation to anyone who wants to blow their mind with a new world traditional method sparkling wine is to go out immediately and purchase a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Zero Cap Classique. It will be the best $25 you have spent all month.Prosecco – Sassy SparkleProsecco is the princess of Italian sparkling wines. This wildly popular wine can be found all over the world, but can only be made in the northeastern region of Italy. It is the aperitif of choice among locals and tourists alike. What makes Prosecco so specifically delicious is that it uses a different method of production from Champagne and all other traditional method sparkling wines. Prosecco does not have a second fermentation in the bottle or extended contact with lees, so the resulting wines are crisp, fresh and fruity without the nuance of biscuit or brioche. This makes it an incredible versatile option to drink on its own or mix in cocktails, and it is always refreshing and delightful. While some Prosecco’s may have a little bit of residual sugar and seem sweeter that other sparkling wines, drier versions are becoming more common and easy to find on the market. Again, these are also incredible value wines, offering up their sassy sparkle in a lower budget bracket. For an added bonus without much added cost, look for a DOCG Prosecco. A smaller category, but worth the investigation.Moscato d’Asti – Sweet and spectacularThis iconic dessert wine of Piemonte, Italy, is often underrated and underappreciated. These lightly sparkling sweet dessert wines are made from the aromatic Moscato grape and offer sublime elegance to any event. Unfortunately, its good name has been tarnished by the flood of syrupy sweet imitations labelled simply “Moscato” that can be found in the supermarket, but these carbonated sugar waters can’t hold a candle to the real thing. True Moscato d’Asti are delicate wines and excellent pairings with lighter desserts that aren’t overly sugary, like strawberries and Chantilly cream, or even as a delightful aperitif. Have any questions on Champagne? Just send us a message on Twitter or Instagram! Cheers!If you're still looking for that perfect Valentine's Day present for the wine lover in your life, then check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vivino.
All Stories in "sommelier"
We're now well into the new year, which means everyone has been seeing resolutions blowing up social media feeds. The gym is packed, and we're all reconsidering our diet choices after the rich-and-sweet-holiday-super-funtime-food-bonanza. But what does that mean for your wine?Let’s consider the nutritional facts behind your wines to, at least, knock one worry off your plate and help you plan accordingly for the goals you’re setting. While wines (and other alcoholic beverages) are not required by the FDA to have nutritional labels, there are still some basic facts around calories, carbs, sugars, and dietary sensitivities we know that can help you make the best decision for you.What is a standard serving of wine?First things first: Though I’ve always been a liberal pour-er myself, a standard serving of wine is technically 5 oz (150 ml) and a standard bottle contains 25 oz (750 ml). So, in theory, you should be getting 5 glasses out of that standard bottle of wine you bought. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 glasses of alcohol a day for men, and 1 a day for women (::sob::). Stepping over those bounds on the occasion will not mean any guaranteed and/or severe health issues for you; but like in all things, moderation is key to ensuring you stay as healthy as possible. Does wine have calories?Oh, you mean “delicious points?” Yes, it certainly and unfortunately does. Wine Folly has an awesome article that sums all of the details behind wine calories for you, but the gist is this: a glass can have anywhere from 80 to 200 calories per 5 oz serving, depending on the wine’s alcohol content and sweetness level. The higher you go in either of those two categories, the higher the calorie count. In general, dry wines with lower alcohol content will have the fewest calories. Your sweet, fortified wines at 20% alcohol-by-volume (ABV, listed on the label) will be your most caloric at almost 200 calories for a 5 oz pour. If you’re sticking to a 1500 calorie/day (women) or 2000 calorie/day diet (men) to drop some pounds, sacrificing 10-13% of your precious calories on one glass can feel like a lot! But be not deterred, wine lovers - if you’re watching the calories, seek out a dry wine produced in a cooler wine region* as cooler wine regions typically produce lower alcohol wines. In general, keep the ABV below 12%. Then (hydrate, then) consider 30 minutes of a physical activity to put you back on track. *Some cool wine regions to shop from can include the Loire Valley, France; Marlborough, NZ; Rheingau, Germany; Oregon and Washington states, USA; and Northern Italy. Does wine have carbs?Good news: wine is typically low carb to begin with! Dry wines, in fact, have negligible carbs as “dry” means an absence of sugar. Carbs in wine come from unfermented sugars, so apologies again to my sweet wine lovers: the presence of sugars in your wines will mean more carbs. If you’re concerned about carbs (Keto dieters, I’m looking at you) but can’t do without that occasion wine sip, search for still (non-sparkling) wines labeled as bone-dry and sparkling wines labeled as brut nature.Does wine have sugar? This is a resounding yes, and in fact sugar is how the alcohol is produced from the grapes in the first place. As already mentioned, sugar plays a major role in defining the calorie count as well as carbohydrate presence in a wine. Unless you are drinking bone-dry wine, your wine is apt to contain sugar. However, consider this: Is the sugar-free diet you’re on letting you drink milk? Milk contains about 50 grams per liter (g/L) a.k.a. 12 grams per cup of sugar. To stay under that amount of sugar per glass of wine, dry and off-dry still wines and extra brut, brut, extra dry, and dry sparkling wines are now all available to you. However, to play it safest: stick to bone-dry and brut nature.Is wine vegan? Even though wine is made from grapes, most wines cannot be officially labeled as “vegan” or even “vegetarian". Wine naturally clarifies during the fermentation process, but that can take a long time. To meet demand, wineries may use animal-sourced byproducts like egg whites as “processing aids” during the fining process. If a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle is important to you, you can find a list of vegan wines HERE.Is wine gluten-free? Generally, YES! However, if you suffer from celiac disease it is still important to consult your doctor and perhaps consider contacting the winery directly to be super sure you can consume their wine.Summary: in general, stick to dry wines from cooler regions with lower ABV to have the least amount of impact on your dietary regime. But rest assured, matter how you’re choosing to get and stay healthy for 2019’s “New You” know that there’s a wine waiting for you!
Just imagine the mouth-coating richness of a fatty Wagyu steak being cut by the grippy tannins of a powerful Barolo. It sets the stage for a contrasted dance between savory red meat and elegant cherries, coupled with dried roses. Similarly, picture a contrast between the brambly berry flavors of a Dry Creek Zinfandel and the aggressive gaminess of venison. Or perhaps the intensity of a strawberry-laden Willamette Pinot Noir against the acrid smokiness of cedar-planked salmon. Sometimes the dance is more compliment than contrast, like the harmony of fruit flavors between duck a l’orange and Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Or even the simple brininess of oysters and the chalky minerality of Chablis.In the best cases, the relationship between wine and food is a happy mix of both. But the stage doesn’t always have to be a ballroom, and the dance doesn’t always have to be a waltz - or in our case, the pairings not as fancy-shmancy. Sometimes the venue is little less classy...saaaay a Taco Bell, KFC, or maybe an In-N-Out (for those of you readers lucky enough to have one around). Rest assured, the pairings can be just as stellar, and that date night you have planned can still go off without a hitch, at least in the department of gastronomy. It is in this article that I hope to arm you with the knowledge I believe can make everyday meals outstanding. There’s enough information to flood pages, but I’ll keep it simple with this metaphor. Picture two salsa partners on the dance floor or perhaps two boxing opponents in a ring. Think of a scenario where these partners have similar builds, and another in which they have dramatically different ones. It’s safe to assume that the first scenario would yield a harmonious, thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing, coordinated interplay while the second results in an undesired black eye. That’s what pairing wine & food is like. The better the match, the better the interaction. Another thing to consider is a wine’s structure (I’ll spare you the metaphor for this one). Fat in any dish is quite an amazing thing. However, it takes up lots of space on our palates, and blocks the way for other things that SHOULD be making an appearance - most notably flavors. Luckily, wine’s answer to this is acidity & tannin, as both precipitate fat, thus clearing the path for all the other cool stuff to make their way to our taste buds (and for all the beer lovers out there, carbonation acts similarly). Using this as context, let’s dive into the delectable, guilt-ridden world of fast food and search for some stellar wine pairings. For the sake of practicality, I will discuss wines that you can find at your local grocery, rather than having to go to a specialty wine store (although if you have one within proximity, then by all means go).With the biggest, heaviest redsUsually the stuff that first comes to our minds. Cabs, Zins, Malbecs, Syrahs, Blends, and the like. They have the most flavor, the most body, the most tannin, and the most of a whole lot more. But just because they’re the most obvious doesn’t mean they should always be first choice. Remember that metaphor from earlier? Keep in mind that these reds represent the far end of the spectrum – the Schwarzeneggers of wine selections. More specifically, the tannins in these wines are extremely abundant, and their weights are all at the top of the (fast) food chain. To keep the interaction balanced & engaging, we must make sure we partner with take-out that’s just as substantial. The most obvious partners to these are heavy duty hamburgers. However, since were discussing the biggest reds available, think BIG like Carl’s Jr (Hardees) Six Dollar 1/3lb Burgers, the Five Guys Double Grilled Cheeseburger, and certainly In-N-Out’s Double-Doubles and 4x4s. Other drive-thru contenders, again, remembering to think big, would be chili cheese fries, Philly cheesesteaks, & fattier iterations of Mexican dishes like barbacoa or beef burritos with gratuitous cheese. In any of these cases, do be careful with anything spicy (jalapenos, red pepper flakes, etc) as tannins in wine, as well as alcohol, tend to exacerbate them for the worse. In the realm of barbeque sauce-slathered red meats, Syrahs (especially Australian Shiraz) & Zinfandels get a notable mention as they have inherent peppery/savory flavors that compliment meat, and fruit intensities that match the sweetness of the sauce. Regardless of which guilty pleasure you may choose, keep in mind that the interaction at play remains the same – your palate will be covered in fats from cheese, fats from meat, fats from rich sauces, you get the idea. When your tongue is coated in so much richness that you can no longer taste the nuances of other flavors, it’s actually those same rough, burly tannins (culprits of the bitterness we so vehemently avoid) that cleanse the palate and restore order to your taste buds - the best partners will bleed grease through the wrapper, clog the arteries, and most importantly give the wine’s structure something more substantial to spar with (although it wouldn’t hurt to schedule that checkup with your cardiologist).With reds that aren’t as bigThink Grenache, Gamays, Pinot Noirs, Sangioveses, and more. When going lighter we naturally become more flexible with our pairings as our drinks are less demanding & aggressive (in the best cases, with no sacrifice to flavor). We no longer need look for entrees that coat our palates in fats & protein, as these reds will be less substantial. Lighter items like deli sandwiches and protein + rice (or other grain) plates can find their way back to our passenger seats. First, Pinot Noir can indeed work with fast foods but a good number (often domestically made) are oaky, bearing notes of vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and more. While that does sound fantastic, flavors reminiscent of Grandma’s kitchen aren’t the most flexible for pairing. Sweet spices can tend to clash with the saltier, more savory tones of cured meat, or the lively flavors of condiments like ketchup or mustard, or the raw flavors of vegetables, and even peppery spices like cayenne and paprika. However, this same acrid character makes a perfect partner to the deeply charred flavors from grilling, searing, roasting, and so on. Thus, if your meal is just roasted chicken or pork, without excessive salt, spice, or vegetal tones Pinot works great, so long as there aren’t any of the aforementioned flavors to oppose. If you’re a devout Pinot follower, than opt for versions that don’t stress the usage of oak, and are therefore more flexible (“excuse me, I’m looking for a Pinot that isn’t oaky”). A bit more obscure, but a fantastic alternative, is to reach for a bottle of French Beaujolais, which is based from the Gamay varietal. This red has a structure and berry-tinged character like Pinot Noir, but is unencumbered by a copious amount of oak flavorings. With the primary flavors being red berry fruits, Beaujolais makes a great contrast to cured meats such as ham, roast beef, and pastrami, as well as a match for livelier sauces like mustards, ketchups, and spicy mayos. The applications of Beaujolais extend far beyond conventional sandwiches, as its vivacious fruit tones serve as a great match to strongly flavored and/or spicy foods like Cajun and Middle Eastern – just think of how notes of fresh strawberry & cherry would wonderfully contrast against a savory mouthful gyros from Halal Guys. Another French alternative for pairing would be a bottle of Cotes Du Rhone (based from Grenache) which is delivers loads of baked/dried red fruit flavors alongside secondary notes of herbs and spice, and a fuller body when compared to the former reds. Just like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone does well when matched with menu items that put the savory flavors of meat at the forefront, such as those deeply charred chicken & steak bowls from Chipotle or mixed piece meals from El Pollo Loco. Whether it’s Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone, you have wines that are not very tannic and have livelier red fruit flavors. With this in mind, Mexican dishes that dabble with red pepper flakes, cayenne, chilis, and the like become outstanding partners to either wine as their piquancy will not be offset by an excessively tannic structure (the structure of wines from the former category would make your palate feel like a flamethrower). I will also quickly note that Indian cuisines work with these reds by virtue of the same principle. From another part of the world, Italian Sangiovese, often in the form of a bottle of Tuscan “Chianti”, works great with tomato themed dishes, whose inherent flavors are often hard to pair with. Sangiovese’s own flavors of tart cherry and tomato make it a natural partner to anything that dabbles in marinara sauces – think of your favorite pizza place, or perhaps Subway’s flagship Meatball Marinara. Regardless of the choices in wine or food, lets remember to take the bird’s eye view and repeat our mantra of matching the overall weights & characters of both participants. After conceptually scaling both partners mentioned above, can we see how they make fine dance partners?With Whites & RoseAlthough not often our first thought to accompany fast food, the opportunity for a home-run pairing very much does exist in the realm of whites, and in many more ways than you think. For a good number of these wines, the dynamic is simple – the acidity in whites contrasts with the lighter flavors of white meats & seafood, emphasizing their simplistic character. As MS Evan Goldstein put it in his fantastic book “Perfect Pairings”, the acid in these wines act as “gastronomic highlighter”. Obvious examples of this are Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino, and lighter iterations of Pinot Gris/Grigio, which prominently feature a lively acidity as well as vibrant fruit tones. When pairing with lighter whites, Tex-Mex-themed joints like Baja Fresh, Rubio's, Wahoo's, and El Pollo Loco are perfect as much of their menu revolves around simply prepared poultry and/or seafood, with minimal intervention from spices or sauce. Again, simple with simple right? However, be advised that when entrees include grilled vegetables or tossed greens, Sauv Blanc usually takes the edge as it has an intrinsic vegetal/herbaceous character that is complimentary. For those of you making New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, yes you should certainly pair Sauv Blanc with your salads. Beyond said varietals, there are a few that have a modest amount of sweetness to them – what is known as “off-dry”. While sugar isn’t always desired in our whites, and a lot of us prefer dry (supposedly), sugar does have its niche in the world of pairing – a prime example being German Riesling (look for “kabinett” or ‘spatlese” on the label when available). Its sugar nullifies heat, thus calming the palate and allowing us to enjoy the other wonderful flavors of a dish without breaking a sweat. Ethnic items that emphasize exotic flavors, like Tikka Masala and Chicken Curry, work great with Riesling as it has plenty of its own perfumed aromas to match the flavor intensity, as well as ample sugar to tame the heat. Another example of this dynamic would be a partnership with Szechuan entrees like Kung Pao Chicken or Mapo Tofu – for those of you who don’t have a local authentic Szechuan joint nearby, much of Panda Express’s menu offers items that dabble in both spice & sugar to dance perfectly with Riesling. Another fast food/wine niche that you might not have thought of (unless you’re German) would be pairing Riesling with hot dogs as the interaction becomes a playful contrast of salty against sweet. The ubiquitous Chardonnay, contrary to its popularity, is actually not as flexible as the other whites mentioned – at least not the oaky, butter-laden iterations from California that we all know and love. Just as in the case of Pinot Noir from earlier, Chard’s hedonistic character of oak driven spices cause it to clash with the saltier and/or vegetal tones often found in drive-thrus (although it should be noted that the case is quite the opposite when discussing dishes in the arena of fine dining). When Chardonnay in unoaked however, it can be treated just like drier whites mentioned before; with simple recipes that put protein at the forefront. Lastly we have Rose to consider. While it is indeed lighter, it's sort of an “in between” style – from its assertiveness & intensity of flavors, to its fullness in texture, and even having a small presence of tannin. The style is characteristically a vino middle ground, never fully committing to either side, and therefore yielding implications in pairing that are synonymously “in between”. Any meal that hearkens to one color of wine, but flirts with another makes a perfect candidate - lighter variations of the items in the earlier sections work swimmingly such as single patty cheeseburgers, sandwiches with chicken or charcuterie, and most ethnic cuisines when the proteins are leaner cuts (like white meat & seafood). Even BBQ sauce items match well against Rose’s sweeter impressions of fruit, again so long as the proteins aren’t big slabs of red meat. More contemporarily, many of the vegetarian themed fast-casual spots that have rightly gained much popularity (like Veggie Grill & Native Foods) are also very much “in between” as they are based on vegetables, grains, and alternative proteins, but aslo have a ramped-up weight & flavor profile, due to their often generous, additions of sauce & seasonings. As we exit the drive-thru As a parting note, the knowledge presented above represents a foundational approach to pairing food and wine - much of these theories are long honored and time tested. However, the world of wine (and food of course) is dizziyingly immense. When attempting to pair our meals & beverages remember that, like a game of chess, there are many moving pieces, and our logical minds may often oversee exactly how intertwined even one piece may be in relation to the rest of the board, leading to minor, and even monumental blunders (last metaphor, I promise!). What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the pairing may not always work out, despite our best calculations. Inevitably our food will be much fattier than we anticipated, or the wine not structured enough, or the flavors just won’t play well together. Regardless of the hiccup, asking why a pairing failed to work teaches us just as much (if not more) than why something did – with the often-crippling amount of choice available, this approach will serve you well (it certainly has for me). Lastly, remember wine should always be, above all else, the fun part of our day, and we mustn’t let the ever-expanding abundance of information impede our enjoyment - or inebriation. Much like tone of this article, keep in mind to approach the subject of vino - and gastronomy for that matter - with a healthy degree of merriment. Don't forget to check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. The quickest and coolest way to learn about Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vinvo.
Sherry - it's more than your grandmother's beverageWhile on the rise in popularity with some inner circles of imbibers, Sherry is still a relative mystery to most drinkers. A lot of people associate Sherry with a sweet beverage sipped by grandmothers or used for cooking or as a vinegar. The reality of this exceptionally diverse and unique beverage, while complicated, is well worth diving in to. From where it originates to how it’s made to why you should try it, Sherry is a definitely a drink you should get to know.What is Sherry wine?So what exactly is Sherry? Sherry is a fortified wine. Sherry producers first make a base wine and then add 96% abv neutral spirit to the finished product, raising the alcohol level of the wine before aging it. The aging process is the hallmark of Sherry, but before we get to that let’s talk about where it comes from.Where can Sherry wine be made? Sherry can only be made in Spain, specifically in the DO of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Geographically this area is located in the in the southwest corner of the country anchored by the three cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, commonly referred to as the Sherry Triangle. Jerez has the distinction of being one of the oldest wine-producing towns in Spain. The whole region of Andalucía was actually the base of exploration for Christopher Columbus, and the port town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda became of great importance to the new trans-Atlantic trade in the late 15th and early 16th century. It is not unlikely that Sherry was the first wine to enter North America.It’s hot in this region, and dry. Proximity to the Atlantic does offer mitigating climatic assistance, but that help doesn’t reach very far inland. The main varietal grown here and used to make Sherry is Palomino Fino. It’s a neutral grape with moderate acidity; not much to shout about on its own, but perfect for creating a neutral base for the process of Sherry-making. The process is really the star of the Sherry show.Process of making SherryAs mentioned earlier, Sherry starts its life as a base wine, most made from the Palomino grape. Depending on where the grapes were grown for the wine and how it evolves during fermentation, the base wines are classified in one of two ways: as a Fino or as an Oloroso. After this classification the wines are fortified and begin the aging process in their designated solera.What? This is the key right here: solera. Solera is both a system and the elements which physically makeup that system. The solera system is one of fractional blending over time, one that defines the characteristics of every Sherry made; the solera is also the name for the grouping of barrels that the wine is aged in. Think of the newly fortified wine entering the top of a pyramid made up of barrels with many layers, and the wine finishing aging at the bottom layer of the pyramid. The finished wine is drawn from the bottom layer to be bottled, but whatever amount of wine is removed from the bottom layer is replaced with the same amount from the layer of wine above it; so on and so forth all the way up to the top of the pyramid, where newly fortified wine is continuously being introduced. In this way a little bit of every addition every harvest is in every layer and constantly being blended.Type of Sherry & alcohol percentage So what does this process do besides blend and age the wine? This depends on whether the Sherry is a Fino or an Oloroso. Lighter colored, more delicate wines classified as Fino Sherries and only fortified to 15% ABV before entering their solera. The richer, heavier wines are categorized as Oloroso and fortified too. In both cases, the barrels are only filled 5/6 of the way full capturing air inside. In the Fino Sherry solera, this extra space of air at the top allows for a thin film of yeast known as “flor” to form over the wine, protecting the wine from the oxygen in the barrel, and feeding off of the alcohol and glycerol in the wine. Aging in solera with the presence of flor is known as “biological aging”, and this process creates lighter colored wines with delicate, nutty flavors and aromas, along with a very lean mouthfeel from reducing the amount of glycerol (glycerol is an odorless, tasteless substance naturally occurring in wine that lends a smoothness to the mouthfeel) and introducing acetaldehydes. Acetaldehydes are naturally occurring chemical compounds also found in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit, and are imparted to biologically aged Sherry through the presence of flor. The flavor profile of these wines is usually savory, austere and very surprising to someone who has never tasted it before; there is nothing quite like it, and people can be taken aback or dislike it at first. I say give it a chance. 😊Now for Oloroso Sherry, no flor develops in the barrels of the solera because flor cannot survive at 17% ABV. This means that throughout the entirety of the blending and aging process, Oloroso Sherry is exposed to and interacts with oxygen. This process is therefore known as “oxidative aging”. These wines take on deeply nutty and rich characteristics, are darker in color and have a fuller mouthfeel.A third category of Sherry is Amontillado. These wines begin the same way as Fino Sherry, aging biologically under flor. However, if somewhere along the way the flor begins to die off and the wine begins to be exposed to oxygen, the wine will be re-classified as an Amontilldo, and finish the aging process oxidatively like an Oloroso. Because it sees both types of aging processes, Amontillado Sherry contains qualities from both: some of the bready, yeasty acetaldehyde aroma of a Fino with a richer, fuller mouthfeel, landing the final wine characteristically between a Fino and Oloroso.Lastly, a rather elusive and highly prized category known as Palo Cortado is said to have the elegance of Amontillado and the power and richness of an Oloroso. This intermediary style occurs when flor fails to develop properly in a Fino solera, and the wine begins aging oxidatively. Typically a high quality Sherry, the production process is natural but based on a fluke, and can be very difficult to replicate intentionally. Pairing Sherry with food & sweet SherryAll of these wine styles are naturally dry at the end of the solera process, and these dry styles of Sherry are made to pair with all types of food. The general rule for which style to drink with what food is “If it swims – Fino, if it flies – Amontillado and if it walks – Oloroso”. While this is of course not a hard and fast rule, it is a good way to start thinking about how you might introduce a Sherry to your next meal. A classic pairing is Marcona almonds and Manzanilla (a Fino Sherry made only in the city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda) which also happens to be a great pre-cursor to just about any dinner.Now, some Sherry is definitely sweet. Sweet Sherry comes in two classifications:Naturally sweet Sherry made from fermentation stopping early, either by fortification or because there is just so much sugar in the must the yeast die off, usually made with the other two varietal of Jerez: Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel.Dry Sherry as discussed previously sweetened by the addition of naturally sweet Sherry or grape must. Sweetened sherries are known as cream sherries, named for the insanely popular Bristol Cream, a thick and sweet blended Sherry developed in Bristol around 1860. The category, however, varies in style and levels of sweetness:Pale Cream Sherry is made with a biologically aged wine – Fino or Manzanilla. Will contain between 45 and 115 grams per liter of sugar.Medium Sherry will have between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter, so therefore the range is quite wider in level of sweetness. Often based on Amontillado.Cream Sherry will contain between 115–140 grams of sugar per liter, the sweetest style of the three, usually made with Oloroso and sometimes Amontillado.Sweet Sherry, like dry Sherry, can be exceedingly complex and of high quality, and it makes an excellent dessert beverage. That being said, there are many cheap, syrupy sweet knock offs that can easily turn you away from your potential new favorite after dinner drink. Why I love SherryWhy do I love Sherry? I love its versatility and uniqueness. For me, the nuttiness and austerity make it an excellent food pairing wine in all categories. It is not a shy beverage, it is bold and complex and either you love it or you hate it. The most important takeaway is not to be scared of it. The best way to sample it is the way it was made to be enjoyed: with food of the region. More up and coming restaurants are beginning to revive interest in Sherry through dedicated and thoughtful beverage programs. Vaca Restaurant is a great example in Orange County where the knowledgeable staff can guide you through a Sherry tasting experience with your meal. Sherry use in cocktails is also on the rise. Many new opportunities to try Sherry are popping up in our ever-progressive dining culture, and I encourage to give it a shot the next time you see it on the menu. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised.Want some more detailed information on Sherry? There is a ton of info out there. In fact, the region’s website https://www.sherry.wine/ can answer pretty much any question you may have about Sherry. The website Sherry Notes is also a site full of great resources and information: https://www.sherrynotes.com/. Of course, if you prefer a hard copy of something to read, I would recommend investing in the book Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem.Salud!Photo credit: Deb Harkness