There’s this misconception that only old people drink sherry. Why? Frankly, there were—and still are—lots of old people who drink sherry. But how sherry skipped two generations in the U.S. is another matter entirely. The very short answer is that as wine became more of a part of the American table, sherry struggled to be considered part of that category. Part of it is because many of the sherries imported to the U.S. were blended sherries—dry styles that have sweet wine added to them, like pale cream, cream, medium—not the dry styles like fino, manzanilla, amontillado palo cortado, or oloroso. This is only starting to change now. So when dry table wines came into fashion, sherry, which had largely been branded as sweet, was stashed away in the attic of drink history.
So why is it popular again? It’s a confluence of many things: the evangelism of sommeliers, retailers, and importers, many of whom are discovering this 3,000-year-old wine for the first time. And I think there’s been a general revolution in taste. People seem to be moving away from fruity and sweet to savory and bitter, high acid.
If I’m looking to buy a bottle, what are some of the things I need to look for at the wine store? Well, you certainly want to make sure that the sherries haven’t been marinating on the bottom shelf for a decade. While that’s far less common than it was just a few years ago, you still run into it. Beyond that, the hope is that there’s someone there who can help guide you. But—and this may seem like a cop-out—the sherry region is small and frankly it’s much harder to find low-quality sherry than it is to find high-quality sherry. Names to look for great, inexpensive bottles: La Guita, El Maestro Sierra, Valdespino, Hidalgo-La Gitana, Gutierrez Colosia, Lustau.
What are some good mixers? Some of the most iconic sherry aperitif drinks call for a marriage of sherry and vermouth, whether it’s sweet Italian vermouth and fino sherry in the late-19th-century drink the Adonis [read on for a recipe] or fino, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters in the early-20th-century Coronation cocktail. One thing that has really been a revelation in the 21st century, however, is the compatibility of a number of sherry styles with agave spirits, like tequila and mezcal. Also: citrus, particularly orange, is always a reliable mate.
OK, so what should I avoid? Since sherry comes in such a range of styles, there isn’t anything that stands out as a big no-no, at least aside from the things that are no-nos in any circumstance—Midori, Pucker, anything super sweet that’s guaranteed to make you vomit.
1 oz. sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica
2 oz. fino, preferably Lustau La Ina
2 dashes orange bitters
orange peel, for garnish
Add the vermouth, sherry, and bitters to a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir quickly. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the orange peel.
Makes 1 drink.