Despite the impression that Sherry is a drink consumed only by little old ladies, the finer versions of this wine are actually exquisite—and make perfect food companions. Put aside the cream Sherries and cheap versions that hawk the name as a fanciful beverage and steer toward the authentic product from Spain to discover the mesmerizing flavors.
Sherry hails from southwestern Spain, outside the town of Jerez de la Frontera. It is fortified with brandy when the fermenting juice is still slightly sweet, and is made in four principal styles: Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Amontillado.
Like the minor grapes used to make another famous fortified wine, Port, Sherry’s usual grapes—Palomino and Pedro Ximénez—probably wouldn’t make a very interesting still wine. But stopping the fermentation while some natural sugar remains and fortifying it with brandy transforms the wine into quite the libation.
The most common mistake when it comes to serving Sherry is waiting until after dinner, when other fortified wines and stronger drinks work best. The silky flavors and complex palate impression deserves a food companion. Sherry goes well with ham, chorizo sausage and many shellfish recipes, as well as post-prandial plates of dried fruits and nuts.
Here’s a rich mushroom risotto recipe that’s mouthwatering alongside Sherry:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small onion, diced
1½ cups Italian arborio rice
½ cup Marsala (can substitute white wine)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock
Dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
½ cup fresh Parmigiano cheese
To make the risotto: Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until golden. Stir in rice and mix until evenly coated with butter. Cook gently until rice kernels are sealed and a little browned. Pour in Marsala and add garlic, stirring frequently until almost all liquid evaporates. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, warm the chicken stock.
When wine is almost evaporated, add 1 cup of stock to the rice, stirring occasionally until liquid is absorbed. (The secret is to be patient: Wait until the liquid is absorbed and just starting to stick.) Repeat and add the remaining stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook until rice is tender.
When all the liquid is absorbed by rice, take the pan off the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, cheese and mushrooms. Makes 2 side servings.