Sherry Week in Portland

recapInternational Sherry Week could not have come at a better time to Portland. The week was so emotional leading up to the presidential election, and after with days of protest demonstrations. Without getting too political, I will say Tuesday and Wednesday were difficult days for me. I’ve never mourned for my country before now. Never before have I woken up feeling fearful of what lies ahead or how government decisions will impact the lives of my loved ones. If anything Tuesday’s results will not allow me to be complacent. In the midst of all this, my community paused to open its doors for healing conversations, good food and great sherry!

I know that my sherry journey has only been since 2013, but I really feel Portland is growing in its sherry interest, especially the cocktail scene. I kicked off my Sherry Week as a guest at the Super Sexy Sherry Party. John House of Ole Imports and Ovum Wines, bartender Angel Teta, and many industry friends piled into the Wine Cave on Monday, November 7 for old school vinyl, even older sherry, and karaoke. The Wine Cave was in an undisclosed location in northeast Portland, and certainly the coolest space for a private party. It was a balance of modern masculinity of wood and concrete with the softening touch of candles, lowly lit Edison bulbs and a cozy nook for those who want to sit and talk away from the crowd. The bar was stocked with amazing tapas. John and Chris Dorman, from Elk Cove, poured the drinks starting with glasses of Cava, then two Manzanillas, Sacristía AB and Orleans, followed by a flight of Osborne’s Amontillado 51-1ª, Sibarita Oloroso and Capuchino Palo Cortado. I truly enjoyed meeting more people in the food and wine scene in Portland. The best part was finishing the night with “Sherry-oke.” Who knew these new friends had amazing voices?! I even belted a little Adele before heading home.

Thursday was a great day to recharge. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Jordan Felix and Kyle Sanders at the Green Room. The two of them have created an amazing space for those waiting to go upstairs to the Multnomah Whiskey Library. Downstairs, their classic prohibition style sherry cocktails prepare the palate for the full menu upstairs, including the 1600 bottles of whiskey. Jordan prepared me Louis Eppinger’s famous Bamboo cocktail while I chatted with Kyle about their sherry interests. Predominantly they’ve chosen sherry from Gonzalez Byass, not only because their staff was so well educated by Christopher Canale-Parola, but also because they’ve found that Tío Pepe Fino encapsulates everything they need; salinity, dryness, floral + green apple notes. They do carry Hidalgo La Gitana Mananilla, and are expanding their library of Lustau sherry. Overall, the cocktails are a mix of classic inspirations as well as house originals. They also enjoy pairing whiskey and sherry side-by-side like Highland Park 12 year Scotch and Oloroso. Another fun tasting I hope to try when I return is the Tomatin Cuatro Series – single malt scotch with sherry inspiration from Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and PX butts.

Shortly after my visit at the Green Room, I finally got to check out the newly opened Bar Casa Vale for their sherry pairing dinner. It was an intimate setting with one-on-one sherry education with Front of House Manager Bryon Adams-Harford. Each dish prepared by chef Louis Martinez was perfectly matched to a sherry. First course was tapas of anchovy stuffed Manzanilla soaked olives, Halloumi cheese montadito on a crustini with delicious pear jam, and Moorish spiced pork belly that melted in my mouth. This was all paired with Fernando de Castilla’s Fino Antique. The second course almost was reminiscent of an Italian dish of fried bay shrimp, calamari and fennel along side a brightly dressed octopus salad with cherry tomatoes, olives and capers. Valdespino’s Manzanilla Deliciosa was a great choice for wine.

Third Course was by far my favorite of the night! I barely saved room for it all. I completely devoured the locally sourced braised rabbit, chanterelles and cipollini onions. The Amontillado Antique from Fernando de Castilla was the perfect choice. The other two components also paired well, but for me it was the rabbit that soared above the charred brussels covered in romesco + manchego or the New York Strip with chimichurri. Finally the evening ended with the Crema Catalana. Essentially a lovely crème brûlée paired with Hidalgo’s Faraon Oloroso. This pairing surprised me. The contrasting flavors actually worked well together despite the sweetness of the dessert and the dryness of the sherry. I really cannot wait to go back and try some of the sherry cocktails Daniel Parker-Guidry has created. The Trident, which combines Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado with Krogstad Aquavit, Punt e Mes and bitters, just might be my new Negroni.

Saturday I had the privilege to partner with one of my favorite wine shops Pairings Portland. Jeffrey invited me to share my passion for sherry with his patrons. It was a steady flow of about twenty or so people. Nearly all of them were brand new to sherry and so willing to taste and learn. We selected a great line up with simple pairings to really make the sherry pop! Guests started with Fino en Rama from Equipo Navazos and Marcona almonds, followed by Manzanilla La Cigarerra with olives. I loved how the olives brought out the Manzanilla’s fruity notes with a a bit of a smoky finish. Of course I chose to showcase my favorite Amontillado La Garrocha from Bodegas Grant. Jeffrey sautéed up some yellow trumpet mushrooms to go with the wine. I feel both enhanced the other! The favorite for most customers was El Maestro Sierra’s Oloroso. This was classically paired with slices of manchego cheese. Jumping from dry to sweet, we paired Cesar Florido’s Moscatel Pasas with dried black fig and El Maestro Sierra’s Pedro Ximénez with blue cheese. It really was a fun night and hope to do it again soon!

If I hadn’t had my tasting scheduled at the same time, I wanted to participate in the Sherry Obstacle Course at Bar Vivant! Judging from the Instagram pictures, it was a huge success! Cheryl Wakerhauser said it was really steady without chaos, just how she likes it! Tables were set up around the restaurant with different stages for sherry learning. Even a venencia challenge was set up outside on the patio! The real challenge of course was choosing the perfect pairing from the buffet in the kitchen. Guests had fun AND learned about sherry, so mission accomplished!

What better way to end sherry week than with the people who started it off with me! I joined my friends at Ataula for a paired brunch with Gonzalez Byass sherry. It was no surprise that the place was packed! It’s always a pleasure to learn about sherry from Christopher Canale-Parola when he is in Portland. Once again, Chef José Chesa created amazing dishes to go alongside these delicious wines.

We were greeted with Angel Teta’s Welcome Punch (Gonzalez Byass Amontillado AB, Pampero Anniversario anejo, Grapefruit cordial, lime and Angostura). Since we were mostly seated in a family style, it was a nice way to end an emotional week eating and drinking with people from the community. First course was a lovely Sunday Salad of organic greens with a glass of Tío Pepe. Next was Spanish Tortilla with chorizo and a very large pour of Leonor Palo Cortado. The final dish was the fan favorite Sunday Brunch Paella of rice, chicken, jamon de bellota, bacon, and eggs on top. This was paired with Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso. To my shock, I was given seconds of that sherry without even asking. I happily accepted. Like all good brunches, we ended with something sweet with a little coffee. I love Chesa’s Xuixo de Crema. They’re so light and flaky and the cream isn’t heavy or too rich. Angel made a delicious Coffee Action using Gonzalez Byass Nectar PX, sous vide infused with cocoa nibs and espresso beans, strong brew coffee, Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Bitter Cube Corazon bitters, Banana brown sugar 2:1 and Matusalem 30 year Oloroso whip. I wish I could have that to start every day!

I am proud of my city and community. I love seeing it rally together. I love that Portland embraces culture and the sherry revolution! I wasn’t able to make it to every event listed for my city during International Sherry Week, but I’m making note of where to visit next!

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Tapeando with Angel Teta

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As I learn more about sherry, I’ve been eager to discover who in Portland has sherry on the menu or is including it in cocktails. Angel Teta is noted not only for her love of sherry and vermut, but also for her award winning sherry cocktails. I thought I was sitting down to an interview. Instead, the evening turned into something quite reminiscent of visiting a local tabanco in southern Spain.

Tuesday nights at 4:30pm are the best time to come into Ataula for a “neighborhood watering hole” experience. It’s like stepping out of Portland and into Spain. The kitchen staff is busy finishing last minute prep for the evening. But if you sit at the bar and engage with staff, they’ll include you in their conversations. They love to suggest their favorite bites and drinks, and will tell their stories of how they came to be at Ataula.

I’ve been following Angel’s Instagram feed for a while, and finally made an intentional visit to meet in person. As we chatted, she surprised me with the Gracias Señor Simo, a blend of rum, Hidalgo’s Napoleon Amontillado, apricot liqueur, bitters and citrus. It was so refreshing and well balanced. The sherry really comes through rather than become lost and muddled by other components.

Shaylee is brand new to Ataula, coming from a Portland’s coffee scene. Her favorite starter to pair with my cocktail is the Ataula Montadito – house cured salmon, mascarpone yogurt, on a coca bread cracker that’s drizzled with truffle honey that’s to die for! It’s a bit messy to eat as finger food, so don’t feel bad asking for a fork. I could not believe how the food enhanced the drink and vice versa. The flavors of Amontillado, apricot, truffle and honey really pop!

Lauren is from Puerto Rico and spent the entire conversation with me in Spanish. She raved about the Cojonudo – two bruschetta toasts topped with a fried quail egg, chorizo and piquillo pepper. Angel paired that with her favorite Oloroso style from Cesar Florido. Cesar Florido is the king of Moscatel production in Chipiona. His other sherry styles are refreshing and not too heavy on the palate. This Oloroso was perfect for cutting the richness of the egg and chorizo.

 

Chef is always moving, always thinking, always creating. Even he paused to come and chat at the counter. ¡Canta! I actually thought he wanted me to burst out in song. Thank goodness, this is just his way of saying, “what’s up?” As we talked about the sherry dinner event, he had me try a little dessert before heading home. Huevos Fritos – a fun play on fried eggs in a cold skillet using egg yolk sorbet with coconut foam and finished with Jacobsen’s flake salt.

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The same Oloroso goes great with this as well. The aromas trick your mind to think you’ll be drinking something sweet, but it’s bone dry. The nutty nuances really sing with the dessert, both creating a satisfying savory sweetness.

For someone who has never tried sherry, but are open to it, here’s what Angel suggests:

I always pair something with what they’re eating. What they order gives me a glimpse into their palate preferences, which helps me put something in front of them that they will actually enjoy. For example, if they get the Bellota Jamon, I always pair it with the Valdespino Inocente, as they both enhance each other. If they seem a bit less adventurous, I’ll start with an Amontillado. If they seem like sherry is really not their gig at all, I’ll try the East India to finish with a Xuixo.

The team at Ataula really enjoys sharing the sherry love. Next time you’re in the mood for tapas, come early, sit at the bar and give sherry a try. You’ll be in excellent hands!

chef + Angel

 

 

Ataula Presents González Byass

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When it comes to pairing sherry with entrees, I owe a lot of my knowledge to Ataula, a Spanish and Catalan restaurant located in northwest Portland. Unlike the home-cooked Spanish comfort food of its sister restaurant CHESA, Ataula is where chef José Chesa and his team push gastronomic creativity and the dining experience to its fullest potential.

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Recently, they had a private ticketed event pairing Chef’s cuisine to the amazing sherries of González Byass. I was elated that my non-sherry loving husband would join me, and be sure to capture the experience. (I still have not mastered how to stay on task, capturing both pictures and conversation, whilst drinking my way through the sherry rainbow.)

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Emily Metivier, General and Beverage Manager for both restaurants, and Christopher Canale-Parola, Area Manager for González Byass. Christopher has been a wonderful mentor and networker for me since we first met at Ataula in 2015. His enthusiasm and knowledge for not only sherry, but for González Byass as well, is infectious!

cocktail + fino chaserTo start the night, we had a lovely Tío Pepe Fino based cocktail created by Angel Teta. I’ve always been cautious about the sherry cocktail trend, but Angel’s creations are on point! As she described it, she added Ontañón Moscato, a touch of Aveze Genitian Apertif, watermelon syrup, Pares Balta Cava and a touch of saline, all garnished with fresh flowers. It was so refreshing, and both the watermelon and Fino came through. It was specifically paired to the amuse course, but I drank mine way too quickly whilst mingling with other guests. I hope she adds it to their main menu!

Once seated, chef came out to greet us and explained that sherry was always used in his home for cooking and Tío Pepe was always the go-to bottle. Pairing five sherry wines to Jose’s wonderful creations from the kitchen, he would explain the entrees and Christopher would explain the sherry wine and history of González Byass.

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With a traditional tumbler of Tío Pepe Fino, we warmed up our palates with an amuse bouche of seared watermelon and fried anchovy or house cured boquerones. As Christopher explained, we’re in a time where sherry it taking a very important place in the world’s food and wine scene. And yet, it’s still a niche.

If you’re new to sherry, the important first thing to know is that the vast majority are bone dry. Some of them at the other end of the spectrum are intensely sweet. This is the reason why they are an absolute gift to gastronomy, chefs and sommeliers. You’re able pair some powerful flavors of the wine with powerful dishes without necessarily covering each other up, which is really something quite special. The potential, when paired correctly, is a flavor explosion!

First Course: Ajo Blanco – white gazpacho, marcona, red wine poached foie; Tío Pepe Fino en Rama, 2015 bottling

As Chef explained, tomato gazpacho is the most drinkable, fully vegetarian option in the summertime in Spain. In Malaga, they use ajo blanco the most. This dish used Marcona almonds with milk, sherry vinegar and a little salt and drops of olive oil. This particular dish, Chef has made for over 15 years. In the middle he added a slice of red wine poached foie gras – the four most beautiful words ever heard together! The dish was finished with olive oil pearl caviar from Spain and white currents underneath for texture. You know a dish is good when the room goes completely quiet!

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The wine paired with this was TĂ­o Pepe en Rama. This is award-winning wine is really quite new to the sherry world. Essentially, it is just the TĂ­o Pepe Fino sherry, using 100% Palomino grape, fortified to 15% alcohol and then aged in 600 liter American oak barrels. This style of this wine is really almondy, intensely savory, and has an oyster shell component that plays really well with the Marcona influence of the dish.

En Rama is local jargon meaning totally unfiltered. Typically like most white wines, a Fino goes through a stabilization and clarification process. But this is a sample pulled fresh from the barrel. The most exciting thing about this is it was bottled April 2015, so it had considerable time in bottle with the natural yeast as well. These wines age in barrel under a fluffy blanket of yeast because the wine is never filled up to the top of the barrel like most wines in the wine world. This yeast grows on top and gives it a really pungent yeasty nose. Even more so after a year in bottle!

Second Course: Pulpito – spanish baby octopus escabeche, tomato sofrito, confit, marrow bone; Viña AB 12-year Amontillado

Chef cooked the baby octopus escabeche with vegetables, extra olive oil and sherry vinegar. Under the marrowbone was tomato sofrito – onions and tomatoes cooked for five hours. The maltodextrin powder was made using the marrowbone fat.

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This was paired with Viña AB, an Amontillado style sherry. This side-by-side tasting from Tío Pepe Fino en Rama to Viña AB Amontillado is one of Christopher’s favorites in the wine world simply because of tasting exactly the same wine at two completely different stages in its life. The Tío Pepe en Rama is bottled around four years average, where as the Viña AB has been in the solera blending system for up to an average of twelve years.

That nice fluffy duvet cover of yeast on top of the wine is an organism coming to the end of its lifecycle, and is breaking away and floating down to the bottom of the barrel. So for the first time the wine breathes. This oxidation process turns the color slightly browner, the flavors more intense, the alcohol starts to creep up a bit to 16.5%, but my goodness does it concentrate all those phenolic compounds. That almond character concentrates into more of a hazelnut character now. That oxidation gives you a slight sensation of sweetness, which is tricky because it’s not really sweetness, but just oxidation playing with your palate. Because it’s more structured, it goes well with more structured dishes.

Third Course: Pato – seared muscovy duck breast, corn, quicos, foie; Leonor 12-year Palo Cortado

By this course, the sherry was flowing and the conversation volumes growing. It was getting harder to catch Chef’s detailed technique explanations. To compensate, Christopher began speaking louder and faster. From what I gathered, the Muscovy duck breast was seared and placed on a bed of corn puree and foie gras.

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The wine paired with this was Leonor Palo Cortado. It is a very special style that starts off like a Fino and quickly redirected into a life of oxidation. It’s actually fortified up to 18% alcohol in the very beginning so that the yeast is never protecting the wine. You get a light style in the beginning, but with oxidation over time, you get something much more intense. The wine is aged a minimum of 12 years, similar to the Viña AB Amontillado, but this time a totally different expression. It’s made for these types of meats. Still bone dry, but oxidized to trick your brain to expect sweetness when it isn’t there.

Fourth Course: Bou – painted hills ribeye, charred torpedo onion puree, vegetable menestra; Apostoles VORS 30-year Palo Cortado

The ribeye was nicely charred on the bottom and plated with jus and chanterelles. It was paired with the very special “very old rare sherry” Apostoles. Similar to tasting Tío Pepe much later on in its life, this began as the 12-year Leonor Palo Cortado, but instead of bottling it, it was removed from the solera and placed in another to age for a minimum of 30 years! These wines are often referred to the sacred wines. Nearly all the blend is the Leonor with a little addition of 13% of Pedro Ximénez – another white grape, dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars. Just a touch of PX to the blend adds a natural richness, which creates a very special pairing for red meats.

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Once America realizes the flavor potential between Palo Cortado and red meats, I’m going to go on vacation because it’s going to take over! But we’re not quite there yet, so I hope to win over a few hearts every step of the way.

Final Course: Textures – valdeon cheese, strawberries, chocolate; Noé VORS 30-year Pedro Ximénez

Sadly, I don’t think I’m the only one who completely missed the description. By dessert we were very “happy” and dove right in. It was light and refreshing. The classic pairing for Pedro Ximénez is ice cream or cheese. Chef was smart to combine both to conclude this amazing dining experience!

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Noé is very simply 100% Pedro Ximénez showcasing the rich sweetness of the greatest dessert wine of the world. Hand harvested, these grapes are dried in the sun for two weeks. This VORS is nearly 40 years old. It is incredibly sweet, yet dark and savory at the same time with a lot of smoky cigar elements and strong aromas of fig.

Noé has around four times the sugar content of Coca Cola, so it’s not a diet wine.

What a fantastic evening that truly delivered and went beyond expectations. I’m still surprised that I ate baby octopus. It only took three glasses of sherry to overcome my aversions. I truly appreciated not only the passion and detailed execution, but also the down-to-earth kindness of everyone involved. It is very rare to find a place like this that truly makes you feel at home time and time again.

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CHESA

CHESA doorLately, I’ve had the desire to learn more about who’s doing sherry cocktails around Portland. What better way to start than by visiting the newly opened CHESA. Chef JosĂ© Chesa has truly made his mark on Portland with the Spanish cuisine of Ataula in the northwest. Not only am I excited to have CHESA on my side of the river, but also excited to try dishes near and dear to his heart ~ home cooking inspired by his father and grandmother.

solera drawingThe layout is clean and modern with iconic images of Spain around the room. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I was happy to see my table sat under a large print of a man refreshing the solera. If you hope to catch Chef Chesa, be sure to come right when they open before he dashes back over the river to Ataula. My goal was to meet with beverage manager, Emily Metevier and bar manager, Tony Gurdian to discuss their sherry selection and cocktails.

Emily went to culinary school with Chesa’s wife, and has partnered with them since the beginning. Her choices of sherry are simply from tasting through several and selecting which pair the best. One of the newest additions is La Guita Manzanilla En Rama bottled in October 2015. I was amazed by its dark golden color and complexity for only having slight filtration. I made sure to have my friends at Great Wine Buys order me a couple for my shelves.

Tony moved to Portland four years ago from Tennessee. He was the bar manager at Imperial before CHESA, and brings a lot of creativity to the table. Working with sherry is relatively new for him, but he does have a soft spot for Spanish vermut. The design of the current cocktail menu includes several tried and true classics that showcase both sherry and vermut. His intention is to have time to create a rotating seasonal menu.

The cocktails listed under THERE are classic cocktails with a Spanish twist. I learned that Spaniards are crazy for Gin & Tonic, and this one will make them proud. If you’re in the mood for a Negroni, try the Preparando. The THEN list is full of classic tried and true sherry cocktails. The NOW list are CHESA creations Tony and his team have put together. My favorite was the signature CHESA – an incredible balance of Spanish flavor – sweet citrus notes with a savory pimentón finish. If you want a palette cleanser, but not feeling like a glass of Mazanilla, definitely go for the Montoya Hotel Special. It’s like a mimosa on steroids. If you really want to go bold, there’s always the Ponche en Porrón. Don’t know what a porrón is? Just look up at the light fixtures along the bar.

For my meal, I chose a couple THEN classic sherry cocktails. The Flamenco was a little too sweet for me, but the star was the La Garrocha Amontillado from Bodegas Grant. It really comes through in the finish. When La Garrocha isn’t available, Tony will use Amontillado Viña AB from Gonzalez Byass. Like any wine, as with all sherry styles, each has their own character based on the winery, so the cocktail will also vary slightly. After the Flamenco, I tried the Artist’s Special. The El Maestro Sierra Oloroso didn’t shine through like the Amontillado in my last drink, but its delicacy softened the masculinity of the scotch.

When it comes to food, their servers are full of suggestions. I’ve learned it’s best to bring someone along who will order for me and keep me on task. Whether from nervous excitement or low blood sugar starvation, I couldn’t make up my mind. If you choose to order paella at CHESA, which you certainly should, put in the ticket right away. They are cooked to order and can take awhile. The size and richness can easily serve two. We discovered the pacing of the tapas is really quick, so order about three or four while you wait.

The Croquetas came out + piping hot, but lord, they were delicious! Be sure to dip them in the aioli! The Bravas are nicely fried potatoes topped with a rich, smokey sauce. Chef was sweet to treat us to their Corteza house-made pork rinds topped with mussels. I loved the contrast of textures. A must-have on the list is the Costilla! To have Iberico pork ribs is quite rare in the States. Confit style and rubbed with cumin, thyme, moja verde and white wine vinegar; these are by far the most tender and flavorful ribs I’ve ever had! By the time our paella arrived, I decided to go with a glass of the Wellington Palo Cortado. The CHESA house paella was so rich with the sherry marinated rabbit and jamon iberico. The acidity of this Palo Cortado cut through perfectly.

We managed to save room for dessert. These portion sizes are clearly meant for sharing. The Xocolata was drier than I prefer, but the cassis sorbet was the star on the plate. My Torta de Aceite was not a cake as I imagined, but more like a fried crepe with marmalade and cream and ice cream. It was difficult to eat with a fork, so I picked it up like dessert nachos. I do like coffee to end a meal, but they didn’t have decaf, so I chose to have the Palabra de Sabio hot chocolate drink. It is delicious and rich if you like hot boozy drinking chocolate. But I wouldn’t recommend it on a full stomach.

I do love how JosĂ© Chesa has given Portland a little taste of Spain when I miss it most. CHESA is not trying to copy the molecular gastronomy wow factor of Ataula. That’s not the intention. In every detail at CHESA from food, to cocktail, to dĂ©cor, you will find a taste of HOME.

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Reconsidering Sherry Cocktails

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I’ll admit, it’s taken me some time to warm to the idea of mixing sherry in cocktails. On its own, the wine is so well aged and perfect for any food combination. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would add it to other ingredients. In my mind it would be like taking a beautiful Bordeaux and blending it into sangria. However, if I want others to be open to trying sherry, I too should be open to trying sherry cocktails.

 

Photo Credit: vinetur.comRecently, I met up with Ian J. Adams from 15 Romolo in San Francisco, California. Since winning the Copa Jerez, I’ve been cyber-stalking his Instagram feeds for inspiration. Not only is he a fellow sherry nerd, but also a real creative when it comes to sherry inspired cocktails.

I sat down with him to learn how he maintains the fine balance in his restaurant between serving sherry on its own as well as mixed in a cocktail.

Ian has been bar tending and managing bars and restaurants for a little over a decade. When he moved back to San Francisco, he had the opportunity to work with some really great wine folks who turned him onto the category of fortified wines and their practical applications in cocktails. He explained that when you get into dry, still wine with so much age and complexity, there’s really just nothing like it.

double fistingAs we discussed sherry cocktails, he admited that working with sherry is a current trend in cocktail culture. He would go so far to say that the vast majority of sherry cocktails merely include sherry for the sake of including sherry. Most of the time, one can’t even taste the sherry, because it’s blended with a bunch of other stuff with a complete lack of balance. It’s just being included for the sake of being included, rather than being included because of the nuance that it provides. Sherry has an astounding amount of potential as a cocktail ingredient when it’s utilized to its potential. For that reason, cocktails can be a great gateway to introduce others to sherry who otherwise wouldn’t give it a second glance.

He explained that’s not specific to sherry, but to anything that becomes fashionable in cocktail culture to have on a menu; anything that people aren’t terribly familiar with, but now have to work with or want to work with because it’s trending.

It is an additional challenge, which I think is fun! The cocktails that are coming out everywhere are getting better and better. People are actually starting to make a note of the style of sherry that they’re using on the menu, instead of just writing sherry, making everyone assume it’s probably a cream sherry. It’s still trending upwards and the quality is getting better and better.

flightsIan’s also seen a big surge in the amount of people ordering 15 Romolo’s sherry flights, both the standard Tour de Jerez and the Old + Rare flights. They’re created for two different demographics: the former is for those who have never had sherry before and want to sample the spectrum, and the latter for people who know sherry really well and can’t / don’t want to decide on just one. (That’s exactly what I did when I first visited last year.)

For everyone in between, they’ve also seen a big spike in people who order sherry by the glass. It helps that the menu at 15 Romolo lists their suggested sherry pairings for each dish. Also, as Ian pointed out, it’s nice that half bottles are only 500 ml, which is very easy for a couple to split at the bar with a shared appetizer.

The cocktails at 15 Romolo will always be king. The team has a lot of fun coming up with ideas to keep sherry cocktails on the menu year-round. A comment Ian made has stayed with me as a reminder to remain open to the potential sherry brings to the glass, whether on its own or in a cocktail:

I love sherry and always have a few bottles in my fridge, if not dozens, but it’s also not the only thing I drink. One thing that you have to impress on people new to sherry is that it’s very different; it takes some time getting used to, but it also doesn’t have to be your ONLY thing.

The Toro Bravo Experience

I love it when I connect with other sherry lovers in my hometown! Portland, Oregon’s food and wine scene is slowly gaining a northern Spanish influence. One chef in particular is John Gorham. His five restaurants (and growing) each bring a unique flavor and influence around the city. I had the pleasure of meeting with Mindy Cook, the beverage director at Toro Bravo, to talk about sherry and the perfect pairings.

AmontilladoWe toasted our conversation with a glass of Amontillado Napoleon, which has a lovely toasted almond nose with a hint of sea salt on the clean finish.

I refuse to give to our guests anything that’s bad.

Mindy Cook originally started as the bar manager for the cocktail program. As Toro Bravo evolved, she became the sherry and wine buyer, which is now three times the size it was when it first started. Now she manages the wine program for all five locations: M.E.C. (Mediterranean Exploration Company), Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder, Plaza del Toro and Toro Bravo.

She explained that she really got into sherry when she started working at Toro Bravo. She researched, she read, she tasted. She’ll find a winery she really loves and bring in samples for the restaurants. She also teaches sherry classes to the Toro Bravo staff. She said you must educate the staff to really get sherry into the hands of customers, especially those who know a lot about wine.

Every little piece of meticulous detail matters to Mindy. It’s all about integrity. She refuses to give to their guests anything that’s bad. She went onto explain that grapes are number two on the dirty dozen list for pesticides. They hold more pesticides and chemicals than any other fruit other than apples. For that reason, about 90-95% of every wine on all five of their wine lists are either organic or farmed organically, biodynamic, sustainable, family run or small production. It has taken her two years to get the program where it is today. Mindy admits that it will always be a work in progress, but for now it is at a place that makes her happy.

sherry line up

Sherry and food are one of the versatile and dynamic pairings you’ll ever have.

As with most sherry lovers, Mindy feels people don’t understand that sherry is wine. For a lot of people, it’s this misconception that all sherry is sweet. It’s your grandma’s sherry. It’s Cream sherry. Sherry and food are one of the versatile and dynamic pairings you’ll ever have.

When it comes to pairing, it really depends on the food. For example with Tasty n Alder, they only have a couple on the menu. She offers a Palo Cortado and a very rich Oloroso, because those pair really well the meats at Alder’s steakhouse scene.

Their whole culture is in your glass!

Some of Mindy’s favorite sherry comes from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana. Javier Hidalgo is a sixth generation sherry maker. Founded in 1792, they are one of the only sherry houses that own their own estate and vineyards, and are farmed organically as well. Toro Bravo carries most of their bottles in addition to their famous La Gitana Manzanilla. About three years ago, they had the honor to host Javier Hidalgo at Toro Bravo. It was a small group that had dinner with him and enjoyed all his sherries.

Manzanilla + Fino

She was clear that we wouldn’t taste through all the sherry they offer, but she certainly gave me an amazing experience. For starters, she poured La Guita Manzanilla, a Fino from Bodegas Cesar Florido (who is famous for their Moscatel from Chipiona), La Gitana Manzanilla en Rama from Hidalgo, and an aged Fino Antique from Fernando de Castilla.

saladThe first dish was so much more than just a radicchio salad! The green olive toast could pair with La Guita or Cesar Florido Fino. For me, the Fino was by far the best with the dish. The others become a bit muted, but the Fino really shined through.

For you to be able to get the fruitiness off that Manzanilla by eating olives, radicchio and manchego cheese, I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Ironically, La Guita almost had a fruitiness against the acidity of the olive, which I’ve experienced before with other dry wines. Mindy was impressed and confirmed that’s a really great pairing! At first, I said that I thought the Manzanilla was sweet. She explained that it’s a common misperception that people’s palates think something is sweet when really its tasting the fruit. There’s no residual sugar in the Manzanilla, so it can’t be sweet.

octopus a la planchaIt was hard for me to save a little Manzanilla or Fino for the Octopus al la Plancha. Poached octopus on olive oil poached potatoes, topped with cooked tomato. The Manzanilla en Rama’s age and acidity work really well when a dish is overwhelming for the palate. The tomato really came to life with La Gitana Manzanilla en Rama. It has nice almond notes, hasn’t been filtered, and aged five years instead of the average three years. Aging it allows it to take on more flavors and texture.

I was given the OK to start sipping my Fino Antique when the fried Spanish anchovies with fennel and Romesco sauce appeared. The almond notes from the Fino pair amazingly with its garlicky and salty richness.

The second beautiful pairing for the Fino Antique was the Grilled Flat Bread with black truffle cheese and arugula. It wouldn’t be bad with other Fino or Manzanilla, but the Antique marries well with the richness and finish. Mindy pointed out that it looks like a light dish, but it’s actually very rich in flavor. So you want something that’s not rich like an Oloroso, but a little bit richer than your average Fino. Mindy would also pair this with the Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon that we first toasted with.

For an entry-level sherry, this is one of the most beautiful on the market!

We moved onto my favorite style, Palo Cortado, to be paired with the Barcelona Kisses. House-made manchego crackers filled with cheese, topped with jamón, foam and olive oil pearls. The buttery cracker, the saltiness of the meat and the cheese really go well with the salinity of Hidalgo’s Wellington Palo Cortado VOS. It’s light, it’s delicate, and elegantly aged twenty years.

Mindy reminded me that Oloroso is really meant to be with rich, fatty meat, so it’s perfect for charcuterie. Cesar Florido’s Oloroso made in Chipiona goes best with their house-made chorizo, the Sherry Chicken Liver Mousse, and the Duck Liver Mousse Terrine with morel mushrooms. It’s slight salinity helps cut through the richness of all three.

The glass of El Maestro Sierra’s Oloroso 1/14 VORS was saved for just one bite – the French Kiss. It’s a brandy soaked prune stuffed with foie gras. Out of any pairing thus far, that was the best and well worth the wait. What a wonderful precursor to dessert!

It’s a non-traditional pairing for dessert, but it’s a beautiful thing!

Palo Cortado VOSMindy chose to pair Hidalgo’s Wellington Palo Cortado with their Caramel Panna Cotta dessert. It tastes like a salted caramel. It’s a non-traditional pairing for dessert, but she doesn’t like really sweet things with really sweet things. Yes, most pair sweet with sweet, but it’s only good if it lifts with good acid.

This would also work well with Amontillado Contrabandista, which is 97% Amontillado blended with 3% Pedro Ximénez, or Hidalgo’s Cream Alameda. But this pairing was a beautiful thing! I couldn’t stop drinking the Wellington to help cut the sweetness of the dessert.

Mindy asked if I had ever had the Alvear PX Solera 1927. It was a first for me. It has a wonderful lift in acidity that paired really nicely with their Dark Chocolate Semifreddo and Hazelnut Turron. The Cream Alameda also went well with this dessert. Mindy also recommended Bodegas Tradición’s Cream VOS, which is a little savorier and has a hint of an herbaceous finish. The bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the sweetness of the wines.

Before ending our time together, I had the chance to speak with John’s wife Renee Gorham, to shed light on the vision they have for the new restaurant Pollo Bravo. She shared that they already have two locations in the works! The first Pollo Bravo will be in the Pine Street Market on 2nd and SW Pine. It’s really an exciting project that reminds her and John so much of that European style market similar to the San Miguel Market in Madrid. They feel Pollo Bravo will be a natural fit.

This will bridge both restaurant and food cart culture!

The second will open right across from Tasty and Alder. It will be a small space, like a commissary kitchen and small bar program, serving Spanish style rotisserie chicken and tapas to go. It will be quality take-away, but also a space to sit and have a quick drink and snack with great service. It will appeal to a broad market. Pollo Bravo will help bridge the gap between Portland’s identity of restaurant and food cart culture. Mindy’s husband Jeremy will be consulting the cocktail bar program along with Mindy’s sherry and wine influence. So, he will be definitely blending sherry into the mix, which is a great gateway for future sherry lovers!

Portland is very lucky to have key players spreading not only the love of great food, but also the love of great sherry!

Sevilla Tapas Tour Extreme

ShawnRecently, the Certified Sherry Educator graduates were celebrated all over social media streams. I was so proud and excited for my sherry-loving Twitter friends. I’ll admit I was also feeling extremely envious. I too want to join my friends as a Certified Sherry Educator. I wish I could toast them in person with a celebratory copita for their achievement!

One such friend and graduate is Shawn Hennessey of Azahar Sevilla Tapas Tours. I had the privilege of meeting her last spring. Her blog about our visit is far more concise, so I’ll do my best to recount my experience without too many details.

setas1It was my last weekend in Jerez, and only by pure luck I had a last minute cancellation to squeeze in a trip up to Sevilla. Using my GPS and WhatsApp with Shawn, I was able to navigate from my train to the bus that would take me to the Metropol Parasol, also known as the Setas, the Mushrooms.

Let me be clear that my private tour with Shawn was far from the norm. Once we discovered we felt like two reconnecting friends, the entire day played out exactly that way! Having a one-on-one visit with Shawn gave me the chance to see Sevilla from her insider perspective, as well as learn her courageous story of beating stage-four colon cancer, and creating her ever-growing walking tourism business.

setas2We went up to the top of the Setas for a beautiful view of the city. Shawn shared how she moved from Toronto, Canada to Spain without knowing any Spanish. She just knew that’s where she was supposed to be. I told her that despite studying for four months in Sevilla and studying flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera, I truly had never been tapa barhopping. Shawn was the perfect friend to make that experience happen to the extreme!

We started in La Azotea in Barrio Santa Cruz, where a blonde Italian pixie greeted us. She helped kick off the day with a glass of cava and tostadas with tomato.

The next stop was to the iconic Las Teresas, a classicly old bar with wooden floors, tiled walls and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling. We sipped the most delicious glass of Lustau Botaina Amontillado – served in a white wine glass upon Shawn’s request. The little nibbles of meat and cheese were all that was needed before moving onward.

We popped in Casa Morales into its back bar. Shawn asked barman Diego for something special. He pour us a very cold glass of SacristĂ­a AB Manzanilla Pasada to go with our bite of lomo en manteca. It was here when I felt our conversation go from casual chitchat to a level of transparency only friends can share. At one point we both went from teary eyes to sarcastic teasing and laughter.

It was the perfect transition as Shawn led me her table in her “family’s” place, Bodeguita Romero, for the best pringá montadito in town! It was a packed Sunday brunch crowd and so loud, we had to practically shout to each other over our glass of Alfonso Oloroso from Gonzalez Byass. Shawn also ordered the famous papas aliñas, as well as braised pork cheeks to go with a glass of Palo Cortado Leonor from Gonalez Byass. When we left, I was already quite satisfied, but we had to make one more stop at La Brunilda. We were too full for their “crackburger,” so we enjoyed a Manzanilla Bota 55 from Equipos Navazos and some queso payoyo.

As with many experiences in Spain, there’s always room for just one more! We wandered over to El Corte Ingles for a special treat at the Gourmet Experience! I was introduced to Silvia Flores. She is absolutely the sweetest, and has made a name and wine reputation for herself, despite being the daughter of Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass. She poured us glasses of the newest 2015 Tio Pepe en Rama. It was so refreshing! Then she spoiled us with glasses of Apostoles VORS Palo Cortado with a couple bites of Michel Cluizel dark chocolate.

After that wonderful visit, I was ready for a break. Shawn invited me to her flat, where I met her flat-mate and her three adorable cats. A sherry lover AND a cat lover?! This day just kept getting better! I felt right at home.

flamenco2By the evening, I joined her Flamenco & Tapas Tour for the flamenco show at the Museo de Baile Flamenco. (I think I was the only one calling out jaleos in the crowd of tourists. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the flamenco peñas in Jerez.) After the show, we kissed our goodbyes, and I caught my train. I dozed off and nearly missed my stop. Thankful Shawn sent a text saying WAKE UP!!

From start to finish, this day was perfectly orchestrated and meant to be. It makes me so happy to know Shawn is officially a Certified Sherry Educator. It is well deserved! Next time you’re in Sevilla, be sure to take her tour and tell her @SherrySips sent you!