Trends in spirits can move fast or slow, depending on which alcoholic beverage you're talking about. When some people think of sherry, for instance, the associations might be dated, even unkind. One friend describes her parents' drink of choice from the late 1970s as “cheap [expletive], which they then poured into one of those fancy cut-crystal decanters with the little engraved silver tag that read sherry in some fancy script — all to make it look better than it was.”
Yet spend a few minutes with Beverage Director Lucas Paya at The Bazaar, and all those stigmas will instantly vanish. A fervent sherry apologist (and Barcelona native, far from sherry country), Paya stepped away from the bar and the maze of sprawling rooms at SLS Hotel to school some folks on these fortified wines inside the sound-proofed walls of Saam, the restaurant's intimate dining room.
Beverage directors can convey an incredible amount of information in a short amount of time when armed with an easel, marker, and depth of knowledge. Expertly chosen examples of the subject matter to share and beautifully paired food certainly helps, too.
The classic Rebujito cocktail was a fine way to start, since according to Paya, it shows off some of the characteristics that make Fino sherry attractive to mixologists in particular. “It's less alcoholic, but also fortified so has a kick,” he said, and works with citrus and soda to be a “refreshing, summer, healthy” spritzer that's popular in Spain, particularly in the Andalucía region. In the relatively puritanical U.S., however, one of those adjectives is likely to be considered debatable.
From the light zesty cocktail, things got much more complex. Paya drew maps illustrating Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, i.e. the towns that comprise the sherry triangle in the province of Cádiz; explained why it gained such popularity in Britain (hence combo of Stilton cheese and rich Pedro Ximénez sherry); the nuances of the chalky albariza soil in which the palomino grapes grow; the pyramid-shaped solera aging system; and the fortification process.
After more dissection of the distinctions between dry vs. sweet, Palomino vs. Pedro Ximénez vs. Moscatel grapes, and Jerez vs. Monitlla-Moriles classifications, Paya more than made his ultimate point. Namely that sherry is among the best values in the wine world, given its complexity, the aging time required, overall quality, proud traditions, and relatively fair prices. Flavors of practically all the nuts and dried fruits produced in southern Spain were represented alone in the samples of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, and aged Pedro Ximénez sherries that were tasted.
Organizations such as the Secret Sherry Society and the Sherry Council of America are working to changing sherry's image and promote Sherry propaganda, albeit with less stirring graphics than those from other eras of Spain's tumultuous, fascinating history. No matter. We've already downed the (sherry-spiked) Kool-Aid.