If, like Frasier Crane, your grandmother ended her evenings with sips of sweet cream sherry, she would be sad to learn this area of the Spanish wine market is in decline.
The booming area is fine sherry: The dry, aged -- yet remarkably affordable -- wine is blowing up New York's wine bars and hottest restaurant wine lists. And, since the beloved Seattle psychiatrist had a penchant for fine wines, we remain hopeful that he was swirling fino and manzanilla in at least half of those "Frasier" episodes.
However, modern credit for sherry's upswing might actually belong to a Champagne guy. Peter Liem, a former editor at Wine & Spirits magazine and founder of www.champagneguide.net, fell in love with sherry's complexity and food-friendliness about 20 years ago.
Like many in the wine cognoscenti, Liem would declare, year after year, that this great forgotten wine was finally going to experience its due renaissance. Two years ago, Liem took a chance and organized Sherryfest, the first large-scale sherry tasting outside of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
Sherryfest blew up New York City and later, Toronto and Portland, Oregon. With imports increasing -- big houses such as González Byass say shipments to the U.S. have increased threefold in the past decade -- sherry has finally arrived. Now Sherryfest is heading to San Francisco for the first time, with a free grand tasting of more than 100 sherries June 18 and seminars and bodega-themed dinners sprinkled throughout the week. Wait -- free?
"We want to make sherry accessible to as many people as we can," Liem says. "The best possible way to experience sherry is to pair it with food, and we think that our sherry dinners represent tremendous value, particularly considering the caliber of the restaurants involved, like Bar Agricole and Central Kitchen. However, we also want to encourage people to taste a wide and diverse variety of sherries, and we're pleased to offer an unparalleled opportunity to do this in the form of the grand tasting."
Liem says in the past two years sherry has risen to become "the hottest wine in New York" thanks to forward-thinking sommeliers and restaurant wine directors looking for something different to entice young, wine-curious customers. San Francisco could be next.
"For so long, sherry, if it's been thought of at all, has been an accompaniment to Spanish food, sort of like sake in Japanese restaurants," says Liem, co-author of 2012's "Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla" (Manutius). He launched www.sherryguide.net that same year. "This is the first time it has found a foothold with sommeliers and wine directors who don't own Spanish restaurants. You can get ridiculously complex wine of old age for a fraction of the price of other fine wines. And that allows people to really explore."
Don't know what to pair with tonight's fish special? When in doubt, fino and manzanilla go with almost everything, even so-called wine killers, such as artichokes and asparagus, Liem says. That's because of the flor, a film of yeast that lies on top of the wine during fermentation and transforms it in specific ways, he explains.
"It consumes a lot of elements in the wine, including glycerin, volatile acidity and alcohol," he says. "It also imparts particular flavors, so you get very little fruit and much more savory umami. And that becomes amplified with the right foods." Even when a sherry ticks up to 15 percent alcohol, it can still be light, refreshing and lovely with food: "something chilled that you can sip on a hot summer day," Liem says.
If you attend Sherryfest and delve into the old and established world of Jerez de la Frontera, you might pick up on new trends, too, such as the increasingly popular practice of producing sherries en rama, or raw, with minimal filtration and clarification.
"Commercial finos and manzanillas are filtered heavily, but these are richer in aroma and deeper in color," Liem says. "They taste more like what they do in cask."
Barbadillo, a bodega that has been producing sherry since 1821, was the first to release a sherry en rama in 1999. But the style has caught on in a big way in the past five years, Liem says. "It relates to an overriding trend in the wine world to offer a wine that has preserved its authenticity of character and tastes closer to its roots."
Contact Jessica Yadegaran at email@example.com.
The free Grand Tasting will be from 2 to 4 p.m. on June 18 at Bluxome Street Winery in San Francisco, where representatives from 21 bodegas will be pouring more than 100 sherries. Over the course of four days (June 17 to 20), you can also attend bodega-hosted dinners featuring Bar Agricole and Central Kitchen or seminars on sherry history and production. Tickets for those events can be purchased at www.sherryfest.com.