Friday, March 25, 2011

Miss Marple's Tipple is Hip!

As dusty old sherry finally shuffles off the shelf - I can reveal Miss Marple's tipple of choice is finally hip! Er, sort of, my dears...

How lucky I've been to write about two of my favourite dames in one week; first Lady Gaga and today Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, the super-ist sleuth who ever lived in The Vicarage...or nosy old busybody depending on who you're chatting to in St Mary's Mead.

The New York Times wrote last week that "fuddy duddy sherry is taking it's turn as the new hip thing." Apparently the drumbeat has been heard in small specialty shops, in restaurants "where ardent sommeliers hold sway and in bars mixing high-end cocktails...Not a fever, mind you, more of a mild warmth." That's New York - but what about the drinking Zeitgeist right here in Oakland?

My friend Mike and I headed out to two local tapas place to unravel this little mystery.

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain where it is called vino de Jerez. Sherry is an anglicization of Jerez. In Europe all wine labelled "sherry" must legally come from the Sherry Triangle. And most sherries are initially dry with any sweetness being added later.

According to some reports sherry has been pretty much "under-appreciated" since Shakespeare extolled its virtues 400 years ago. "It ascends me into the brain" he declared, affording him a "warming of the blood..." and "Illumineth the face". Much later it was Miss Marple's tipple of choice after a fox hunt or dribbled over a Christmas trifle. It remained a dusty alternative for reading by the library fire and descended into cheap plonk for Seventies households.

On Piedmont Avenue - a little village of tzotchke shops, vintage stores and hip eateries - Cesar Latino has a choice of 12 sherries. Matt, the bar manager, says it's not ordered that often as it's still seen as a drink for the older generation. "It has to be hand-sold by someone who knows about it as opposed to something like vodka that sells itself". Americans prefer dry drinks and by-pass supersticky sherries, though bartenders are beginning to use it in cocktails, he said.

First we tasted a 20 year-old NV Oloroso Corregido Sandeman from Spain ($10), the classic red dessert wine. Friend Mike said: "It has a sweetness that lingers but it's not icky sweet, more like a tawny post. It gets a little oakiness from the aging. I thought it tasted a little of dates.

Next we sipped a white Tio Pepe Jerex Xeres Palomino Fino. Bar manager Matt commented: "This is pretty esoteric, you've got to know this and mostly it will be used for cocktails"

Friend Mike thought this one was "cleaner, little minerally, almost like a grappa, leaves some heat on your mouth. " It smelled herbaceous, almost medicine-like. I could detect apples.

Matt, the bar manager used the Tio to make us a cocktail with mescal, smoked agave, cherry liqueur and orange rind which tasted fresh and complex.

We thought the red sherry would be good with blue cheese as a finish or aperitif while the white was too austere to drink by itself, more pleasant in a cocktail.

In the edgy Temescal area, Barlata offered five choices of sherries on the dinner menu which were drier and made to drink with tapas. There was also a range of sweet dessert sherries. We were recommended the white Tio Pepe fino ($6). After a huge serving of seafood Paella we found it dry and chalky but more interesting than the previous Tio.


In the end the two chalky whites sherries we tried were better used in smoky cocktails using darker liquors. The traditional red sweeter sherry  - dare I say the Miss Marple one - was still the most endearing. Well, quite.

I came home to uncover on the electronic typewriter the most wonderful sounding cocktail through LostPastRemembered. A mixology manual from 1869 (yes!) called Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks  instructs to mix sherry, cherry "shrub" (juice), soda (but try ginger ale), a squeeze of lemon and ice.

Just one sip and the mystery of sherry will be revealed, my dears. Case closed.


Read the edited version of this article in the East Bay Express


  1. Ooh. I love a cream sherry with a squeeze of orange. Good to know I no longer have to drink it alone, in shame. Just kidding. But I am glad to reference your post next time I get made fun of for ordering it.


  2. I have one of my Grandmother's Irish crystal bottles for sherry including a vintage "sherry" adornment. It's beautiful and reminds me of her but has been safely tucked away in a closet for YEARS. Up until this point, I never knew what to do w/sherry other than cook with it. Time for you guys to come over...let's break it out and toast to G-Ma! Slainte!

  3. I tried sherry once, and didn't fancy it. Obviously I should have tried more. ;)

  4. Here's a Sherry gift to you and your readers...Keep in mind it's from my grandmothers 1950's (lots of yucky packaged stuff) recipes. Most likely straight from the pages of Ladies Home Journal magazine. I'm a pie girl and not a fan of cake with the exception of Grandma's Sherry Cake.

    Sherry Cake
    1pkg deluxe yellow cake mix, 1 pkg (4 serving size) instant vanilla pudding mix, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 3/4 C sherry, 3/4 veg. oil, 4 eggs and Glaze.

    Combine dry ingredients - stir to blend. Add Sherry, oil, eggs and mix on high for 10 min. Pour into a greased floured bundt or tube cake pan and bake at 325 for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 hour.

    Prepare Glaze: blend 1 1/2 C powdered sugar and 1/2 C sherry. Let come to a boil and pour 1/3 over cake in pan. Do this slowly. Turn cake out and spoon remain glaze over cake.

  5. You look SO cute. What a fun investigation you were on

  6. Hi and thanks for visiting.... I like sherry - especially after a trip to the Jerez region a few years ago. I became a big fan of the 'Manzanilla' variety which tastes delicious. Sherry actually was becoming quite trendy a few years ago in London with tapas restaurants like 'Fino' - glad to see the Americans are catching up!

  7. I've never had sherry, but I have collected quite a few sherry glasses with all my vintage stemware collections. Perhaps it's time to give it a try.

  8. i fell in love with port and sherry while studying in france : ) it's perfect sipped fireside on a chilly fall afternoon...

  9. You're definitely teaching me a thing or two in the realm of booze... Thank you for that- I need it =). Must try Donna's sherry cake!! Sounds like a perfect "retro" dessert.

  10. I am a fan of port - but have never tried sherry. I must remedy this! Thank you for broadening my horizons, as always. :)

  11. Like Cailen, port and sherry were very much the drink of choice to assist in essay writing when I was at University in the 1980s in Cambridge. I'm not entirely sure they improved the content of said essay but the process was a lot more enjoyable!

  12. The tapas bars sound fun but somewhere in the dusty files of my memory I have the distinct feeling that sherry and I do not agree. I was in the market tonight trying to rack my brain for one of those great cheap reds that your wrote about but could not for the life of me remember. Next time I will be more prepared! Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

    xo Mary Jo

  13. Sherry did go out of fashion? I must have missed that. :-)

  14. My mother-in-law loves Miss husband found a tape of the show on ebay and bought it for her a few yrs ago!

    PS you always look great and have fun weekends! :) Hope you have a great day.

  15. Tnanks for commenting on my blog! :)

    Considering that France is bang next door to Spain, I am appalled that sherry is not available here, especially in the south. Really, there's no excuse!

    I have to wait until I go back to the UK to catch up on my sherry drinking. My favourite is the medium sweet amontillado as an aperitif. At Christmas, a heavy, sweet Bristol Cream (in its blue bottle) is great for warding off winter chills. It also goes well with Christmas cake and pudding.

    In cooking, I love sherry trifle, made properly from scratch, natch.

  16. Thanks for the mention.. may I say... Pedro Ximenez icecream is insanely good if you are on a sherry kick... but the cherry sherry is fun to say... and nothing can ever be wrong when you put sour cherry in it!!!


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