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Sherry Matching

by Natasha Hughes, 11/06

If the wine world can be said to have a new black, sherry is probably as dark as it comes right now. After years in the unfashionable doldrums, tainted by memories of granny's stale bottle of cream sherry, the stuff is now, apparently, newly fashionable.

This revival of interest can probably be ascribed, at least in part, to the role played by the opening of a number of trendy Spanish restaurants - notably Moro, Fino, Cigala, Salt Yard - and the influence of specialist food importer Brindisa, which has been promoting top-notch Iberian ingredients here in the UK for at least the past decade.

Another factor has been the efforts of the Sherry Institute to promote the wine as a great food match. True, sherry has always been considered - in its native Spain at least - to be a great partner to tapas, but would you want to drink sherry right the way through several courses of a meal?

A recent invitation to a sherry and food matching dinner hosted by Valdespino and Kensington's 'L' Restaurant provided me with the perfect opportunity to find out just how food-friendly sherry can be.
     

The meal opened with a Catalan dish of pan amb tomaquet - bread rubbed with garlic and tomato pulp - topped with a slice of Serrano ham and a padron pepper, which was teamed with a copita of Manzanilla Deliciosa. Delicious the manzanilla may well have been - it had both delicacy and depth - but to my mind it was swamped by the rich flavours of ham and tomato.


   More successful was the pairing of Fino Inocente with a salad of beetroots and grilled Torralbo cheese. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the salty tang of the cheese and the nutty walnut dressing harmonised beautifully with the flavours of the wine.

Less successful was a mini foie gras burger with a piquillo pepper ketchup partnered with the off-dry Contrabandista Amontillado. The touch of sweetness in the wine initially worked well with the mild spiciness of the ketchup and the richness of the foie gras, but ended up dominating the dish on the finish.

The next wine, the Oloroso Don Gonzalo, also had a touch of residual sugar, which jarred somewhat with an overly complicated dish of oxtail ravioli with fruit aioli. I also found the alcohol levels too high for a wine intended to be paired with food.

I was flagging somewhat by this stage, but was revived by the return of the fino, which refreshed my somewhat jaded palate in the same way that a beer, at the end of a long day's tasting, revives one's tastebuds. The fino was teamed, this time round, with a rich tomato- and anis-tinged seafood stew, and this was not only the most traditional match of the evening but the most successful one - although the next pairing, the Deliciosa with black rice and an immense, sweet Mozambique prawn, came close.
  


   But although that course was followed up by a selection of Spanish cheeses teamed with a delicious Oloroso Solera 1842 and then by a pairing of PX El Candado and a Guinness ice-cream with a cava foam, I found that my critical faculties had been dulled as a result of my ingestion of so many different sherries. Although no individual serving had been, in itself, particularly large, eight separate glasses of sherry had taken their toll.

And there's the rub of the sherry revival in a nutshell: while the wines (whether fino, manzanilla, amontillado or oloroso) work extremely well as a by-the-glass accompaniment to tapas, they tend to be too high in alcohol to partner an entire meal. Perhaps, after all, the new black is just a deep shade of grey.

You don't have to take my word for it. Test drive L Restaurant's Valdespino sherry and food pairing menu any time until the end of November 2006. The cost is 40 a head, and bookings can be made on 020 7795 6969.
  

L Restaurant, 2 Abingdon Road, London W8 6AF.


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