Tag Archives: sherry

Our Crush This Month: Feria de Jerez – Wine Enthusiast Magazine – September 2013

Our Crush This Month: Feria de Jerez – Wine Enthusiast Magazine – September 2013.

The über-short version of an article I wrote for Wine Enthusiast can be accessed in the link above. For images and the full story on visiting Feria de Jerez, Spain, keep reading.

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Soaring, twisted-iron gates welcome you to the entrance of Feria de Jerez, a festival thrown the second week of May in southwestern Spain.  From its humble start in the medieval ages as a horse and livestock show, Feria has morphed into a peerless spectacle to celebrate both its cultural and equine heritage.

For an outsider, participating in Feria evokes traveling back through centuries—gentleman and ladies don vintage finery, and the soundscape is dominated not by pop music but flamenco guitar. Locals quaff thousands of sherry casks and the city virtually shuts down to rejoice with fervor akin to religiosity.

Despite the scale of the event, Feria de Jerez remains a party attended largely by Spaniards. You’ll still compete for a room (book early), but hotels are filled with Madrileños not Americanos—the international travel-set remains, for now, preoccupied with the Feria de Abril in Seville.

Why else go? Jerez is the nerve-center of sherry production and the region’s elemental wine is enjoying a rekindled romance with beverage directors and restaurateurs.  London, for example, has seen a proliferation of dedicated sherry bars, and worldwide, it’s de riguer for any respectable cocktail den to offer sherry by the glass or in a drink.

Pouring Tio Pepe

The gastronomy of Jerez has also seen an international revival, infiltrating foreign kitchens via chefs borrowing ideas from its superlative cuisine. To sample regional fare, grab an umbrella-shaded table at La Cruz Blanca. This local favorite illustrates the brilliance of “simple and fresh” cooking. Dig into a revelatory bowl of salmorejo (gazpacho’s heartier cousin), the sort of dish you wake up for the next day – and the day after.  Follow that with platters of tender, paprika-spiked octopus; plump, grilled langoustines dressed in flakes of sea salt and olive oil; and washed down with buckets of fino while wandering guitarists serenade with soulful flamenco melodies.

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After lunch, stroll the atmospheric downtown, a jumble of architectural eras and crumbling bodegas painted gray by time. Once splendid monuments to the city’s wealth during the mid-19th century sherry boom, abandoned bodegas now shelter nesting birds and memories of that bygone era. Alternatively, take in “death in the afternoon” (as Hemingway would). The remaining sherry aristocracy still arrives by horse-and-carriage to daily bouts.

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The Feria itself lives inside an elaborate, pop-up town comprised of casetas. Casetas are the soul of the party; they are tents, generally open to the public, that offer drinks and music, and are sponsored by families, groups of friends and members of the sherry aristocracy. Step inside feria and undulating waves of twinkling colored lights descend from the sky as a heavenly shawl to greet you. Sunlit hours are the domain of elegantly dressed cowboys, parading horseback along the ersatz boulevard. At dusk, ladies born of every decade arrive dressed in candy-hued, polka-dotted gowns. They flirt coyly behind painted fans, while men strut in search of a nighttime dalliance. Packed with revelers, this mini-city can feel vast and unnavigable in the evening darkness.

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Spend the deepest hours of night flitting in-and-out of casetas crammed along the streets. Each tent hawks tapas and pitchers of rebujitos (fino and lemon-soda cocktail), the unofficial party fuel. If not for glowing cell-phones and electric lights, you just might believe you’re carousing back in time in the age of sherry shipping magnates.

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Travel and Lodging

Flights: Madrid and Barcelona both offer regional flights into Jerez; alternatively, fly into Sevilla and rent a car for the hour-drive south or take the train.  The RENFE train system in Spain is excellent and fairly inexpensive.

Hotels: For relaxing by the pool in the afternoon and close proximity to the festival, book the Hotel Jerez & Spa. Ask for a room facing the pool rather than the parking lot. Book several months in advance and expect three times the normal rate, about 250 Euros during the festival. If you prefer small and authentic, try the 8-room La Fonda Barranco. The owner David, originally from Ireland, spent a decade carefully restoring the circa 1865 merchant’s house, furnishing rooms with a nod to the town’s Islamic heritage. Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis checked-in here.  For the most inexpensive and unique lodging, check the listings on AirBnB. Last year, multiple apartments and homes were available as late as one week before the event; many appeared spacious with outdoor terraces, often located in charming 18th and 19th century buildings.

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While in the Region

Can’t take feria all day, every day for a week? Spend a night or two in these charming towns:

Cadiz

Take the 40-minute train to Cadiz, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Spain. Once an important coastal city, particularly to the Phoenicians, the well-preserved barrios (neighborhoods) and narrow alleys are now filled with shops, small bars and cafes. Pop into a local seafood restaurant; choose one that looks packed—in Cadiz, if it’s crowded, it’s good. Order a plate of pescado de Cadiz to taste the big and small creatures pulled from the bay that morning, deep-fried, salty and addictive.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Sanlúcar doesn’t have a direct train, so rent a car to visit this seaside town, the only place in the world that produces Manzanilla, a type of fino sherry. The humidity and salty-sea air create a unique atmosphere for the growth of flor contributing to the wine’s delicate, briny and floral flavor profile. Hit the beach and spend the afternoon at one of the oceanfront cafes, toes in the sand.

Tasting at Sherry Bodegas:

Visiting the sherry bodegas in Jerez during feria can be a challenge. Book appointments well in-advance for the few available morning slots which generally start at 10 AM. One drawback of visiting the region during the festival is that locals treat the week like a religious holiday—very few of them work. However, the bodegas in the other two towns that complete the “sherry triangle,” Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, remain open—feria isn’t their party, so you can track down tastings in their local bodegas with ease. Try: Bodegas Barbadillo in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Gutierrez Colosía in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

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Cool Wine Aperitifs for the Fourth of July

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I have never been interested in wine-based concoctions. Maybe it’s the purist in me, but wine has natural balance, structure, and flavor–it’s the complete package–so why tinker with it? I am also lazy, and find making cocktails messy and tedious. However, I rediscovered two old friends that, though perfectly lovely on their own, improve tremendously when they’re served as sparkling aperitifs for summer sipping: fino sherry and white port.

Fino sherry is a fortified wine that comes from the southwest region of Spain near Jerez. Throughout Andalucía, both in spring and summer and especially during festivals, the Spaniards guzzle pitchers of a fino-based drink called a rebujito, a spritzer that’s light on alcohol, incredibly refreshing, and the drink of choice on hot afternoons. Bonus: It’s also easy to make.

Portuguese white port has very few followers in the U.S., and that’s a shame. It’s the otherport: a fortified wine made with white grapes instead of red. The Portuguese drink white port with tonic during the hottest months. It’s a cross-generational cocktail–both the hip kids swarming the outdoor cafés in July and older men whiling away time playing cards top off their pitchers with the mixture.

The rebujito and port-and-tonic are Iberia’s answers to heat-easing summer day-drinking. The NYC summer can feel as steamy as a wet T-shirt competition on Nassau Island, but summer on the the Iberian peninsula sees temperatures high enough to melt the landmass off the European continent. So let’s rejoice that we don’t have it that bad and head to Central Park with a few pitchers of our own.

Rebujito

Easy Recipe
Ice
2.5 ounces fino sherry (Tio Pepe is widely available and popular in Spain)
2.5 ounces chilled 7UP (try the Ten-version for calorie-counters)
lemon slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour sherry then 7UP into an ice cube-filled highball glass, stir gently, garnish.

Better Recipe
Ice
2.5 ounces fino sherry
1 to 1.5 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice (adjust for desired tartness)
1 Tbsp. simple syrup
soda water
lemon slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour sherry, lemon juice, and simple syrup into an ice-filled highball glass. Stir. Top with soda and stir again, gently. Add garnish. (This makes a fairly tart drink. Add more simple syrup for a sweeter version.)

Port and Tonic
Ice
2 ounces white port
4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree (though Schweppes will do in a pinch)
orange slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour white port, then tonic into an ice-filled highball glass, stir gently, and garnish.

Where to Try:Macao Trading Co., 311 Church Street, 212-431-8750
Where to Buy: Manley’s Wine & Spirits, 35 Eighth Avenue, 212-242-3712

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Pairing Wine and Food: Why Burnt Ends and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Will Stoke Your Palate

Manzanilla and Fino Sherry with Iberian tapas from Tertulia, NYC

Last week, I opened a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to drink with takeout from Fletcher’s BBQ. I wasn’t really thinking about the pairing, although perhaps “big red and big food” subliminally guided me to pair the Southern Rhône with charred hunks of meat. I’ll leave the review of Fletcher’s to our food experts, but I can say authoritatively that a bite into a burnt end after sipping that wine resulted in a heavenly smoke-and-spice combo reminiscent of a campfire crackling with fat drippings.

This got me thinking about food pairings, which don’t have to be complicated and shouldn’t evoke sitting for the New York Bar Exam. Ignore all those articles offering recipes with esoteric ingredients and overly precise pairings with wines you can’t find. Instead, arm yourself with a few easy concepts to elevate your daily dining from mundane to divine — because eating BBQ should always be a transcendent experience.

Here are the basics:

Match Weight and Body

Heavy foods like a lamb stew or rib roast call for a full-bodied wine, so reds are the usual choice. But the key here is body, so a big white like an oaked California Chardonnay, might be a better match than a daintier red such as Zweigelt from Austria. The same rule applies to lighter foods. Generally, fish is complemented by more delicate wines, so many whites fit the profile, but so can light-bodied, low-tannin reds, thereby debunking the myth “white with fish, red with meat.” Also consider your sauce: fish smothered in lobster and cream is no longer delicate (nor low-fat.) Example: Dolcetto and Cioppino (fish stew with tomatoes)

Marry Flavor to Flavor
Flavor intensity is not the same as weight. A potato is heavy but low on flavor, whereas asparagus is pungent but not hefty. Chardonnay can be full-bodied but low in flavor; Riesling is a lightweight wine with intense flavor. Intensity in both the wine and food should be equivalent, or else one will overpower the other. The cooking method also plays a role in flavor intensity; for instance, steaming versus roasting versus smoking. Example: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Burnt Ends/BBQ

Pair Acid with Acid
Drink a tannic red wine with a salad dressed in vinaigrette to experience the ultimate food-and-wine clash. Sadly, this combo often leads people to think they don’t like the wine, when in fact the pairing was the problem. Sour flavors in food dull the wine, so you need a lot of acid in your vino to keep things refreshing. When dining, be mindful of acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, limes, apples and vinegar. Example: Sauvignon Blanc and Ceviche

Try Sweet with Sweet
Dry wines can become mouth-puckering and tart when paired with food that possesses even a smidgen of sweetness. Sweet food is best with wines of similar sweetness, whether it be a honey-baked ham with sweet-potato mash or pears poached in red wine. Example: Moscato d’Asti and French Toast with Fruit

Fat and Protein Like Tannin
Most of us non-vegetarians are familiar with the mouthful of magic that occurs when combining a meaty, marbled steak and a powerful, highly tannic red wine. The tannic effect softens when it reacts with the protein and cuts the fat. However, leaner cuts with high protein content, like a tri-tip, don’t need as aggressive a wine; try a Malbec instead. Example: California Cabernet Sauvignon and Grilled Ribeye

Oily and Salty Dislike Tannin
Tannic red wine and an oily fish like mackerel can result in a metallic taste, while tannins turn bitter with really salty foods. Acid cuts through oil (think of an oil and vinegar salad dressing), and salt benefits from the refreshing zip of acidic wines. Salty foods also work well with sweet wines; consider how well pretzels dipped in chocolate or prosciutto and melon go together. Example: Champagne and Potato Chips or Truffle Salt Popcorn

Heat and Sweet
Spicy food is a category ripe for disaster when paired with a high-alcohol or dry, tannic red wine. You’ll start a five-alarm fire in your mouth as alcohol fuels the effect of spice. Instead, lower-alcohol wines with a touch of sweetness keep the heat in check. Example: Off-Dry German Riesling and Sichuan Cuisine

Regional Wine with Regional Food
Try pairing wine and food from the same countries/regions. The locals probably spent centuries perfecting their cuisine, so follow their lead. Example: Manzanilla Sherry and Spanish Tapas

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