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Pairing Fino Sherry With Food

I think it’s fair to say that when most us think of think of pairing wine with food, our visions turns to classic reds and whites.  But when was the last time (or perhaps any time) that you’ve given over to the thought of pairing Sherry with food?  And perhaps the first question to put to rest is:  is sherry a wine or not?

Sherry is indeed a class of wine, a fortified wine.  Depending upon the style you choose, the level of alcohol lies between 15-20%.  And while the alcohol level surpasses that of all traditional wines, make no mistake that this class is perhaps the single finest and most diverse wine for food pairing.  That’s right, sherry, due to its diversity in style, offers the most options in food pairing.

So if we’re exploring pairing options, let’s start with fino.  Fino is the most pale and lowest alcohol concentration (15.5%) style of sherry, aging under the yeast cap called the flor.  It’s the flor that provokes impactful biochemical changes, resulting in the final character of fino.  The yeast cap feeds upon oxygen, thus protecting the underlying wine from its influence and maintaining that classic pale yellow color.  The metabolic action of the flor utilizes glycerol and volatile acidity, thus reducing their levels, and reduces the alcohol level by some 1.5%.  But more importantly, it’s the increase in acetaldehydes, lactones and various other compounds that ultimately determines the final aromatic profile of fino.

Acetaldehydes evoke aromas of walnuts, green apple and Spanish ham while lactones emit fragrances of apricot, coconut and peach and vanilla.  One of the lactones, a relative to sotolon, emits aromatics reminiscent of dried figs, dates and smoky Lapsang Souchong tea.  As well, acetaldehydes are precursors of several volatile compounds that are present in apricots and some strains of cherry.  In turn, they react with other compounds and alcohol to generate still additional aromatic compounds.  Autolysis (spontaneous rupture) of dead yeast cells also adds aromatic nuances as their released compounds interact with the lees.  Other contributing compounds are acetoins which impart a buttery, creamy flavor and terpenes imparting a citrus fruit and flowery fragrance.

But what’s most revealing in understanding fino and food pairing strategies are the foods in which these compounds are found.  For example, acetaldehydes are found in green apples, walnuts and Spanish ham while acetoins can be found in butter, yogurt, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, roasted coffee beans, strawberry, quinces, cantaloupe, corn syrup, some teas, butter, yogurt and milk.  Sherry lactones can be found in apricot, peach and coconut.  Some other complimentary accents include lavender, sweet basil, green apples, leeks, mint, mushrooms, pork, quinces, and roasted coffee  beans.  Once you understand the aromatic profiles of fino and certain foods, you can jump off and begin to explore fun and creative pairings.

One of the most harmonious pairings is fino sherry with figs or a fig based dish.  Part of this harmony is based in the molecular composition of both.   Solerone, a lactone commonly shared by wines raised under a yeast cap, is found in both sherry and figs.  But this is only the start of a “common bond” as both also share key aldehydes and phenols.  As well, floral terpenes in sherry are also components of a number of foods and spices such as cinnamon, coriander, figs, ginger, nutmeg, olives, rosemary, saffron and citrus fruits.

So with all this mind, let’s look at some possible fino sherry and cuisine pairings.  As mentioned, any fig based dish would work, such as one incorporating Spanish ham with its common acetaldehyde compound.  A dry and refreshing fino pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the Iberico ham and is a signature match.  Or how about a soft cheese garnished with Rosemary, both carrying the floral influence of terpenes?  I love scallop, shrimp and baked fish dishes so why not accent them with (grilled) coconut and ginger, finish it with a citrus or citrus infused yogurt sauec, pair the dish with an asparagus side and pour yourself a glass of fino?

Manzanilla style sherry pairs very well with the same dishes as fino,  not surprising as it’s a regional variant of fino and made from the same Palomino grapes, cultivated in the village of Sanlucar de Barrameda.  This style is usually a bit more bitter with iodine aromatics.  Don’t confuse this with a Manzanilla pasada style, an amontillado sherry from the same region.

Manzanilla works beautifully with a rice and shellfish (paella) styled dish or cured salt tuna. A Tapas is a wonderful match, using seafood or cured meats and some of the array of accents and spices detailed above.   And if you’re game for a unique pairing dish, cook up some salmorejo, a southern Spain cold cream like soup with tomatos, bread, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and garnished with Spanish ham or diced hard boiled eggs.  Fried fish is simply delicious with Manzanilla, the iodine notes in the wine picking up on those in the oily and delicate fish.  Both fino and manzanilla are very low in acidity, thus allowing them to pair well with salads, marinated fish and cold soups dressed with vinegar.  Finally, either style of sherry will work well with some styles of sushi, especially those in incorporating fish, ginger, coconut and citrus notes.  For best results, serve fino well chilled.

Next up, pairing oloroso and amontillado with cusine.

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