When Heston Blumenthal, one of the world’s most recognised chefs, starts to recommend sherry as the ideal match to food, it’s time to stand-up and reassess this fortified wine.
In Australia, we have a ready supply of imported sherries, but also locally made wines in the sherry style. These are now called “apera”, a branding invented because Australia needed a new term for sherry after the signing of the international wine agreement, which outlaws outside countries from naming their products after traditional European terms and wine-producing regions.
Blumenthal started matching sherry and food after discovering, with Professor Don Mottram of UK’s Reading University, that sherry contains a series of compounds known as diketopiperazines or DKPs, which enhance the savoury characteristics of foods rich in umami.
Umami itself was discovered in the early 20th century in Japan and is the mysterious fifth taste that is most easily described as savoury.
The taste is easily found in meats, cheese (especially parmesan and blue varieties), most meats, salami, shiitake mushrooms and many fish. It is also present in those magic Mediterranean ingredients, such as tomato sauce (or paste), olives, capers and anchovies, that taste so delicious.
“There is pretty much a sherry that you can match to any dish on a menu,” says Scott Wasley of Spanish wine importer The Spanish Acquisition. But, as with many food matches, opinions are diverse as to what goes well with what.
“If you don’t want to spend $25 on a glass of proper champagne, manzanilla is the best wine in the world to match with oysters,” Wasley says. Manzanilla also cuts through the oiliness of sardines.
Pale Cream wine with quail eggs and Scotch eggs.
Pale Cream is also excellent with mango.
Sherries including Fino, Amontillado and Palo Cortado go particularly well with small tapas-style dishes.
Amontillado sherry is a great match with a creamy soup, such as pumpkin.
Fino, Amontillado and Manzanilla go well with soups, and dried and cured meats and braises.
Fino is great with walnuts.
Oloroso with oxtail stew.
Possibly the best cheese match is a cold cream sherry.
Blumenthal matches it to Stilton and Eccles cakes.
Pedro Ximénez, the dark rich sherry, often is paired with chocolate dishes, but Wasley says that’s not a good match. He prefers to pair a lighter muscatel with rich desserts.
Pedro Ximénez pairs with sherry trifle.