Sherry Bomb

This fortified wine from southwestern Spain makes for a perfect food companion, especially with a rich mushroom risotto.


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.

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Reader Comments:
Feb 25, 2011 08:11 am
 Posted by  Sergio Oliveira

Dear Dick, your article got my attention firstly cause Im a fan of risotto and got curious about the association with sherry.
As to the Marsala, I agree, I do use Moscatel frequently which is also a fortified wine.
Anyway reason why Im posting is cause I disagree with something you said:"Like the minor grapes used to make another famous fortified wine, Port". Port wine isnt made with minor grapes. Its actually made with the finest varieties that the Douro region has to offer, like Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, etc., which are exactly the same used in the best table wines the region has to offer.

Feb 27, 2011 03:20 pm
 Posted by  warrenlp

I have to take exception to your information about sherry.
There are really only two principal styles, Fino and Oloroso, or more acurately, those that develope flor (the layer of yeast that grows in the barrel and sheilds the wine from air)and those that do not. Fino forms this flor, which accounts for paleness of the resultant wine. Manzanilla is merely a Fino produced in Sanlucar de Barrameda (although the must itself is slightly different), a seaside town which exerts a special influence upon the wines produced there. If the flor is not replenished, it eventually dies off, allowing the wine to interact with air, thus becoming Amontillado. This is somewhat an over-simplification, as there are gradations between Fino and Amontillado. Oloroso, on the other hand, does not develope flor, and therefore spend all its time in contact with air, producing wine with a deeper hue and more pronounced oxidative flavor.
Palomino Fino produces a grape must high in acidity with relatively low sugar. Sherry made from Palomino Fino is fermented dry (the yeast have consumed the sugar in the grape must) and fortified after the fermentation is complete, whereas Porto is fortified during the fermentation process, which, as you state, leaves an amount of residual sugar in the wine, causing it to be sweet. While it is true that some (but not all) Sherry for the American market is off-dry to medium-dry because, as a general rule, Americans like their wines with some sweetness in them, this is the result of sweetening the wine afterwards, usually with Pedro Ximenez, which has an unctuous quality. It, too, can be fermented dry, as evidenced by the wines of Montilla-Moriles which produces sherry-type wines using Pedro Ximenez as its base. Without the moderating influence of the Atlantic, the hot, dry region produces grapes with higher sugar content, thus higher potential alcohol. Amontillado actually means "in the Montilla style".

Mar 4, 2011 06:07 am
 Posted by  Sergio Oliveira

My post doesnt refer to the process of making either Sherry or Port. I just wanted to point out that unlike what you said, Port is made from the best grape varieties in the Douro region and not "minor grapes" as posted in your article.

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