Tio Pepe is a great sherry producer. They have a wonderful range, and are producing some exceptional wines from their base in Jerez, Spain. Yet unlike Harvey’s or Crofts, they’re more well known for their savoury wines. That’s great if you prefer salted almonds to trifle, as savoury sherry can make salty, savoury, umami flavours more intense.
A Different Grape With A Very Different Character
Savoury sherry is dominated by the Palomino grape. It has a completely different character to the Pedro Ximenez grape that produces sweet sherry, and its so thin skinned that it has to be harvested by hand, while being collected in small boxes. It grows on blinding white soil with a high limestone content. This creates the finest grapes in the Jerez region, and it allows the Palomino to come into its element as a sherry, which is the only wine style that the grape suits.
The Savoury Kinds of Sherry:
These are the savoury sherry styles which Tio Pepe has become so well known for, from bone dry to verging on the sweet side:
- Fino. This is a very pale, gold coloured wine, which can have flavours of fermenting banana and melon. This is a light bodied style of wine. When I enjoyed a glass of the Tio Pepe version, there was also a delightful biscuity retronasal smell. They are meant to be drunk young and fresh, as their flavours rapidly fade out of the barrel. We sell several Fino, but the best is arguably Fino La Ina, which scored 95 points with Guía Peñín.
- Manzanilla. This is a fino which has been created in the seaside town of Manzanilla. The cooling effect of the seabreeze allows the yeast to keep working on the sherry throughout the year, giving it a salty edge. Here’s a great example in the form of Manzanilla La Guita, which has rave reviews from Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator and Guía Peñín.
- Palo Cortado. This sherry is available in much smaller quantities. It develops when a Fino suddenly and inexplicably loses the layer of yeast or ‘flor’ that was growing on its surface while it ages in the barrel. Without the protective layer of flor, it goes through oxidative aging. This gives the wine nutty flavours and aromas, while gaining a thicker body like an Oloroso. Because of its rarity, it isn’t cheap, but Juan Piñero Palo Cortado is exceptionally good value.
- Amontillado. With this style, a fino is purposefully allowed to lose its layer of yeast after seven years of aging, when the flor will have consumed all the food available to it. Similarly, it gains nutty flavours. The process means that Amontillados tend to be older than Finos. They’re also more expensive, and they’re fortified to a higher strength. While their brown colour comes from the oxidative aging, they are also sometimes slightly sweetened. Though we have far pricier versions on our books, Gran Barquero Amontillado manages a good balance of quality to cost.
- Oloroso. Here, oxidisation has taken place throughout the aging process. The sherry has nutty and meaty, savoury flavours, while being very full bodied. Its colour is a reddish brown. It is often sweetened with Pedro Ximenez, or grape juice as well. Again, Gran Barquero Oloroso is another good bottle, with 92 points from Robert Parker, and 90 from Guía Peñín.
Some Great Food Combinations:
The classic combination with Fino is salted almonds. If the sherry is a Manzanilla, its own salty tang will pair well with the nuts, and its fruit flavours will go with the almonds like muesli.
Try Amontillado with asparagus. Both have a wonderful nutty quality, and mushrooms are a good match as well.
Oloroso pairs well with hung meat. Roast lamb is also a great combination, and smoked meats would add to the nutty character of the wine.
For further culinary inspiration with savoury sherry, read ‘3 Foods to Eat with Dry Sherry’.