Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sherry Is Cool!

My love of sherry is no secret. The fact that it's now actually quite cool to do so is a revelation. This is my piece on London's burgeoning sherry scene, written for Blue Tomato magazine. Hands off, Grandma!

For too long has the fortified nectar been reserved only for Grandmas and trifle bottoms. Though revered by wine enthusiasts, the British public have never quite caught on. At least, not until now. The sherry revolution has begun.

Acclaimed hip industry man Richard Bigg, owner of Spanish restaurant Camino and guru behind Shoreditch cool joints The Big Chill Bar and Cantaloupe is at the forefront of the movement. He set the ball rolling with the opening of Bar Pepito a little over a year ago. Based in what could only be described as a glorified shed in King’s Cross, Pepito was the UK’s first sherry bar, serving upwards of 15 sherries by the glass despite there being room for barely 15 customers at a time. 

Creating ripples of ecstasy for those already on the sherry bandwagon, Pepito has also given many their first opportunity to try authentic Spanish sherry in a bar environment in London. Too often in other venues would the only sherry choices be the likes of Croft’s Original or Harvey’s Bristol Cream. These sweetened versions of the drink made especially for the British market have their fans (mainly amongst oldies, it must be said) but are a poor representation of the many styles of sherry available.

From pale, bone dry Finos with a salty tang, to medium-sweet Olorosos or Amontillados which are deep in colour and rich in flavour, right round to treacle-like Pedro Ximenez; the spectrum of sherries available is unparalleled in the wine world and makes a mockery of anyone who says they don’t like sherry at all – there’s a style for everyone.

Pepito offers sherry flights made up of 3 taster portions in a bid to help people discover what they like, whilst a sherry cocktail of the week and specially matched tapas dishes to complement the different styles help make the drink accessible to beginners. Spreading the word is something close to Richard Bigg’s heart.

Now the ante is being upped. Abel Lusa, owner of Spanish restaurant Cambio de Tercio in South Kensington is heading up London’s summer of sherry with the launch of Capote Y Toros, a ham and sherry bar on Old Brompton Road. This extraordinary venue lists no fewer than 100 sherries, including a whopping 50 available by the glass – by far the most to be found anywhere in London. With Cambio de Tercio known for having London’s biggest selection of Spanish wines, Abel clearly isn’t someone who does things by halves.

Hot on his heels is José Pizzaro. The former chef at Tapas Brindisa in Borough Market has just opened the eponymous José on Bermondsey Street, and sherry is again a central theme. There’s no competing with Capote Y Toros in terms of quantity, but his industry reputation and cool location is already causing a stir and helping to propel sherry to its rightful spot in trendyville.

Paramount bar at the top of Centre Point, The Hide in Bermondsey and Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick are a few of the non-Spanish bars around London which have cottoned on to the sherry trend. Ganapati Indian restaurant in Peckham is even recommending a glass of Amontillado with popadums and pickles, so although there’s still funny looks to be had at the notion of drinking a glass of sherry in certain circles, the word is certainly spreading.

Compared to other wines, lack of international demand means sherry is relatively inexpensive. Make the most of it before the cool kids cause those prices to rise. Go grab a glass: now’s the time to jump aboard the sherry bandwagon.

>>originally published in Blue Tomato magazine

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