Wednesday, 2 April 2014

When, How and Why to Drink Sherry

This fascinating and amusing little discourse comes from the wonderful book “Diccionario del Vino de Jerez”, published in 1965 by Julian Pemartin. Among many other headings in the chapter “El Vino de Jerez”, there are two amusing ones: “Uses” and “Abuses”. Let’s look at “Uses” - it’s more fun.

“It could be said without accusation of partiality or flattery that Sherry is suitable for drinking with pleasure and enjoyment during the whole day, and in any circumstances, which is not surprising given the great diversity of its varieties.  During meals, Fino can accompany to perfection a plate of fish, and then with desserts, a very old Oloroso competes in a dignified manner with the best Ports or Marsalas.

Thus, Sherry has been included in places of unalloyed refinement, such as the houses of English gentlemen, on whose tables – once the ladies have retired - the Old Sherry is obliged by ritual to circulate frequently, always following the orbit of the sun…

Sherry is drunk at certain indisputable times: aperitif times - those before lunch and before dinner. The most suitable wines for these great occasions depend, naturally on personal preferences, but one piece of pretty safe advice would suggest Olorosos during the day and Finos in the evening. How to drink them has always been important. You always need to have a glass of fine quality, best shaped like a tasting glass, and never filled more than two thirds, in order best to perceive the wine’s aroma. Always avoid large sips which, in normal people, can reduce the pleasure and even be harmful.

With both styles of wine, and especially during the evening, it is a common custom to accompany the drink with little portions of cold meat, fried food, even stewed, which are known as tapas, and just as suitable are shellfish. The best gift you can give a friend is to taste succulent just - caught langoustines sprinkled with Manzanilla Pasada or Amontillado at sunset in Sanlucar. There are those who enjoy a glass of Sherry in the afternoon with cake or a biscuit. Here, it is always preferable to drink a sweet or semi-sweet wine.

In some parts of Spain, particularly in the mountains, it is customary to have a glass of Sherry at elevenses; indeed in the bodegas of Jerez it is common for senior staff to have a morning “torito” (little bull) which consists of a glass of Oloroso mixed with some Vino de Color or Vino Dulce. On many occasions, such as family parties, weddings or baptisms, the most solemnly happy moment is when the Sherry is uncorked.

It should not be forgotten that Sherry is a wonderful condiment, especially Oloroso. It is particularly efficacious in consommé, invented by the monks of the monastery of Alcantara from whose recipe book it passed by the hand of Mme. Junot, Duquesa de Abrantes, into the bibles of French cuisine. Oloroso is also magnificent in diverse meat stews, poultry such as chicken and pheasant, and in various desserts such as cakes sweetened with syrup and soaked in Sherry.

There is another very important use for Sherry. It is a medicine.  It is one of the elements of a tonic called “Vinum Xericum”, or in its natural state its prescription is obligatory for not a few illnesses, and in almost all convalescences.  It was proclaimed at the International Medical Congress held in Sevilla in 1882 that Sherry not only contains nutritive elements but is an important therapeutic agent. Soon afterwards, in 1883, a group of doctors belonging to the Medical Academy of Surgery of Jerez published a paper in which they declared that Sherry has a rapid tonic effect on neurasthenia (fatigue, a feeling of out of sorts) and awakens the appetite, facilitates digestion and invigorates both physical and mental exercise. They recommended daily use of Sherry for all those reasons, and especially in the case of epidemics, since it acts as a tonic to the body, creates relative immunity and is capable at times of curing these diseases. This was proved in 1834 during a cholera epidemic.

Another no less eloquent confirmation of these immunising virtues of Sherry comes to us from abroad. According to “The Times” of the 25th January 1892, during the plague of 1665 which decimated London in the reign of Charles II, only one doctor was left standing, and in his memoirs he attributes his immunity to daily doses of “Sherris Sack”, which not only gave him resistance, but also the optimism necessary to attend to so many victims and dispense a cure – or at least some happiness – to them.

Top medical authorities such as Don Federico Rubio, Don Nicasio Mariscal,Don Gregorio Marañon, Dr. Decref and Don Fermin Aranda have recognised and published the health-giving properties of Sherry, which in varying quantities can help with anaemia (especially chlorosis), depression, breakdown, bone disorders and more, as well as in most convalescences.

After all that has been said, let us round off this chapter with an aphorism on the delights of sherry composed by the Jesuit Father Jaime Sirmond:

Si bene commemini, causae sunt quinque bibendi
(If I remember correctly, there are five reasons to drink,)
Hospitis adventus, praesens sitis atque futura,
(The arrival of a guest, the present thirst and that of the future,)
Et vini bonitas, et quaelibet altera causa.
(The goodness of the wine, and any other reason.)

Hear Hear!!

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