Day 42: Sherry and a serious misunderstanding of a 3000 year old tradition

Wonderful Wednesday this week featured cheese (mainly cheddar), canapés and hors d’oeuvre (a morning demonstration of delicious mouthfuls) and then our last (sob) wine lecture in the afternoon.

The morning demonstration on small bites was so great. We whistled through hot canapés, cold canapés, bites you can prepare-ahead vs. those which need more elaborate construction just before serving. Cocktail party service advice, the importance of napkins, serving platters… it was full of delicious food and useful tips.

Darina and Rory lead us through the demo and their brother / sister banter was almost as good as the food. Two such talented and passionate chefs; it was amazing to have them up in front of us – so much to absorb.

The Rory and Darina dream team

“I like quails eggs. I feel like people see a quails egg and know there’s really a party going on…these are not your average Monday night fare” – Rory

In the afternoon we had Colm back in for can-you-believe-it our last wine lecture. Well, it won’t be the last of him as we’ve got a course recap class next week and a trip to the Ballymaloe House wine cellars to go… but this was our last class of new material.

We finished off the Champagne and sparkling wine notes from last week, and tasted the most delicious rose sparkling wine from the Wiston Estate in Sussex. It was so fresh and sparkly; the south of England is being recognised as a very exciting new area producing sparkling wines. It’s in a vague neighbourhood of London – can’t wait to go and check it out! Ha -any excuse.

The English sparking wine

But I have to say the part of the day I found the most fascinating was the last topic – all about Sherry.

Sherry is fortified wine from the ‘Sherry Triangle’ area in Andalusia, Southern Spain. It’s one of the oldest, most traditional methods of wine making – mainly unchanged after thousands of years.

Before a few years ago if someone had said the word Sherry to me, I would have thought of old people. Because it was (as everyone knew) a drink for grandparents that tasted a bit like soap and was drunk out of very weird tiny glasses. There may have been a dusty old bottle hidden lurking in the back of mum and dad’s liquor cupboard, but it was untouched by most people. (And certainly by me in my underage ‘reviews’ of their alcohol supply).

Recently in London, Sherry has become more of a thing. Bars like Jose and Barrafina do amazing tapas and Sherry, but my lack of knowledge about the stuff means I’ve been, eaten and loved the food but largely left the unknown of the ‘sweet wine’ well alone. In fact it’s only been on two occasions in the last year or so that I’ve actually had a glass of sherry and realised there’s something more to it.

Which, as it turns out is a total tragedy! I’ve missed out on so much potential Sherry drinking time! I’ve even travelled to this region and failed to even register I was in the home of this actually pretty amazing drink.


Sherry became very popular in the UK and subsequently a lot of Sherry has specifically been developed for export markets. But these (such as Pale Cream or Winters Tale) are often artificially sweetened and bear little resemblance to the original product. Basically not real Sherry at all.

In fact as Colm said:

“We commonly serve Sherry when it’s well past its best (most people keep a bottle for well over a year, when in fact it is just like wine and needs to be treated similarly), at the wrong temperature and in completely the wrong glass… in other words we’ve  done a good job of ruining a 3000  year old tradition”


We talked through production methods and key notes about the main Sherry styles:

  • Finos, the light, dry (some are bone dry) sherry’s that need to be served very chilled and don’t keep for more than a few days once opened)
  • To the honey coloured Oloroso’s, darker in colour and higher in alcohol content
  • To the naturally sweet styles, such as the famous Pedro Ximenez, made from sun dried grapes and with a sweet, treacly, figgy flavour. (And which is amazing served drizzled over vanilla ice-cream as a sauce)

Sherry should be served with food and the range of styles means you could easily pair a whole menu with different Sherrys. We get to try all of this for ourselves next week, as Colm is taking us through a full Sherry tasting to accompany our Wednesday afternoon tapas demonstration.

Can’t wait!





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