I was recently invited to a ‘Sherry lunch’, where each course of a meal would be matched to a different Sherry style. I have attended such a lunch once before, and confess that I emerged unconvinced about the wisdom of trying to match Sherry to three courses of British cuisine.
Sherry can be an absolutely wonderful wine, but its ability to satisfactorily wash down food though a whole meal is severely limited in my opinion. Sherry’s strength is one problem. Though many table wines are up at 14 or 15% alcohol of course, I wouldn’t choose to drink those throughout a meal. I find Sherry at 15 to 22% alcohol is just too strong to drink in the half bottle quantity I’d normally enjoy as a minimum with a serious dinner.
But it is the concentrated flavour character of Sherry that presents the biggest food-matching challenge. This is exactly what makes Sherry a great wine, but these wines – sometimes intensely dry, sometimes extraordinarily sweet and always in an oxidised style – pack so much flavour into the glass that palate fatigue and clashes with food are, for me, almost inevitable.
This dinner stood more of a fighting chance perhaps, as it was held at the Spanish restaurant Igg’s in Edinburgh. Here, the Sherries matched well, with dishes like Seared King Scallops and grilled Morcilla washed down by a Manzanilla, and mature Manchego and membrillo with Pedro Ximenez. Still, my doubts about enjoying these terrific Sherries as ‘food wines’ remain. For an alternative view, see Natasha Hughes’ report on a Sherry-matching lunch.
Williams & Humbert
Williams & Humbert was founded in 1877 by Alexander Williams, who later married Amy Humbert. They began making a delicate fino – a wine being pioneered on the British market – and soon established ties to the large London department stores, meaning Williams & Humbert prospered, and began a strong association with the UK wine trade that flourishes to this day.
Sherry is a wine matured almost exclusively in the Solera System, in which older wines are regularly refreshed with younger wines of the same style so that the characteristics of the wine varies very little from year to year. Since 1920 however, Williams & Humbert has set aside one butt (500 litres) of every vintage from a single vineyard. The barrels are never refreshed, and through evaporation the wines gradually concentrate. In 1999 Christie’s auction house came across the vintage collection and persuaded W&H to put up part of this family reserve for sale, and the wine now sell for between £300 and £600 per bottle.
William Craven Bartlett of Williams & Humbert introduced two extremely rare bottles before lunch, the 1972 and 1952 vintages. “People have the perception that Sherry is dark, sweet and Christmassy,” he said, “but Sherry should be perceived as a wine”.
Following the success of the first Christie sale, the company has started to lay down not one, but 50 barrels. It is now a commercial product, which means more Sherry fans than ever before have a chance to taste these remarkable wines.
See all stockists of Williams & Humbert on wine-searcher.com
Williams & Humbert Amontillado Sherry 1972
Beautiful burnished gold/caramel colour. Huge nose, flooded with sweet wood, walnuts, a burnt orange and flood of caramel. There’s also a note of iodine or something briny and medicinal. Massively toasty palate, with a burnt toast, charry richness and massive orange palate. There is huge acidity too, with a searing lemon core, but the chocolate and toffee sweetness, a grainy, nutty texture, add up to a hugely concentrated, intense wine experience. 94
Williams & Humbert Oloroso Sherry 1952
Slightly darker caramel/gold with a hint of ruby. Intense, more raisined nose, with still that iodine and deeply mineral note, and a background of dusty walnut husks and vanilla. On the palate this is searingly dry, with a massively concentrated palate. The dark Seville orange fruit broadens slightly on the palate, and there’s even a hint of sweetness in there somewhere, but the huge, dry, nutty character and firm acidity drives through the long, nuanced, very concentrated and decisive finish. 96
Williams & Humbert Alegria Manzanilla Sherry
Very salty, mineral, with a cool hint of white fruit. Slightly underpowered palate, in a softer style of Manzanilla. 86
Williams & Humbert Collection Fino Sherry
Very fine, racy, almond and lemon nose, with that sea-breezy ozone character and lovely nuttiness. The palate is very bright and breezy, with fine, tangy, mouth-watering flavours. Very tangy, distinctive Fino. 89
Williams & Humbert 12-year-old Oloroso Sherry
The nose shows lots of caramel and Seville orange, and a warming character. The palate has very nice fruit, with a bready flavour and more raisin and plump sultana, though bone dry with a pithy core of acidity. 90
Williams & Humbert 12-year-old Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Intense rum-soaked and chocolate raisins. A balsamic note, and hints of coffee. Thick, syrupy, liquidised raisin flavour and texture, with extremely sweet fruit like Maraschino cherry and stewed black fruits. Liquoricy notes too in a very powerful, complex wine. 89