Would you like a glass of sherry?
I know what you’re thinking, drawing rooms, cardigans, slippers, perhaps a pipe stand, and a decanter (if you’re posh) filled with a brownish, sticky, sweet liquid and a small glass to sip from.
Or maybe you’re reminded of your maiden aunt with the bottle of sherry warming nicely, permanently on display, on the mantle over the fire? Or perhaps you have memories of those very elegant (er, not really) country weddings of your youth. Remember the invitation: ‘John and Mary request the pleasure of your company as they celebrate the holy sacrament of marriage at the Church of the Immaculate Contraception, Ballymackilthomas, followed by a Sherry Reception and Wedding Breakfast at the Ballymackilthomas Court Hotel.’
And what was a Sherry Reception exactly? The same brownish, sticky, sweet liquid and a small glass to sip from while your country cousins began to remove their ties and jackets, roll up their sleeves, down a few pints of stout and prepare for the main event – the ‘dinner’.
I remember seeing rows of sherry glasses, sitting filled and abandoned on a long table as all but one or two of the wedding guests made a beeline for the bar and the ‘proper drinks’ while we awaited the arrival of the bride and groom.
So, if your thoughts turn to maiden aunts, rural weddings or a brownish, sticky, sweet liquid and a small glass to sip from, then I am here today to tell you that Sherry, Real Sherry, is a revelation. I am also here to tell you that I am a sherry lover and I have come to this astounding conclusion not on the road to Cádiz but on the road to Ballylickey in West Cork.
First let me set the scene. You will be aware, I am certain, that West Cork has a reputation both at home and abroad, for good locally produced food. Cheese, meat, seafood, you name it, there is someone in West Cork using said local produce and making delicious food. While these producers are spread from the rugged coastline to the beautiful mountains, there is an oasis where you can go and not only enjoy a plate full of local cheeses, or fill your basket with locally reared meats, smoked salmon, or freshly baked breads and cakes, but you can also have a glass (or two) of specially selected wines from some of the best French, Spanish or Italian vineyards.
You can find all this on the shores of Bantry Bay at the renowned Manning’s Emporium in Ballylickey.
And it was at Manning’s that we recently celebrated World Sherry Day 2013.
This worldwide event is held to celebrate fine sherry and good food and it was only right and proper that Andrew, Laura, Val and the team at Manning’s represent West Cork on World Sherry Day or ‘WSD’ as we hip, cool, sherry aficionados say.
Of course, there is no point in going to an event such as WSD and sitting on the sidelines. I decided to immerse myself (not literally, well, almost) in the sherry on offer. Somebody had to, in the interest of accurate reporting you understand.
I began with a sherry that was served ice-cold, was bone dry and full of flavour. This was an immediate shock to my system as I had prepared myself for a warm, sweet liquid. Another shock was that this particular sherry has an Irish connection.
There seems to be two stories as to how a Waterford man ended up in Spain making sherry in the latter part of the 18th century.
The first one goes something like this. William Garvey left Waterford in 1780 on his way to Rome. As his ship sailed into the Mediterranean, a sudden storm off the coast of Spain led to Mr. Garvey’s trip to Rome being interrupted when the ship sank and the survivors found themselves ship wrecked not far from Cádiz. Not one to miss an opportunity, Mr. Garvey took one look at the vineyards in the area, the beautiful Spanish ladies, and the fact that half the country wasn’t under water for most of the year and decided, ‘To hell with Rome, I’m staying here’.
And that’s exactly what he did. He married one of the beautiful Spanish ladies and started shipping sherry to London under his own label ‘Fino San Patricio’ or St. Patrick Sherry. Now, over 200 years later, Bodega de San Patricio exports not only really good sherry but brandy as well.
Then there’s the other story. This one tells of William Garvey leaving Waterford looking for sheep and finding sherry. I think I prefer the first one.
Anyway, with the Fino San Patricio, we nibbled on locally produced Gubbeen Chorizo and some olives.
Next, it was time to sample a Manzanilla. Again, this sherry was served ice-cold and while dry like the Garvey this sherry has a slight saline taste. The location of the vineyards and bodegas, along the coast to the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda gives the sherry a real taste of the sea. We sipped this Manzanilla with some fantastic smoked salmon from Ummera Smokehouse just down the road in Timoleague. The smoky, oily salmon was perfect with the sherry.
Now it was on to the next sherry and we were beginning to get a little closer, in looks at least, to the sherry of my childhood. However, this is where the comparison stopped.
Served ‘à la’ red wine, the Amontillado is to taste not unlike a fruity, perhaps dry, cabernet. This sherry is a lovely, nut-brown colour and after the San Patricio is my favourite to match with food. With the Amontillado, which was a match made in heaven, we sampled some spicy black pudding |(that’s blood pudding for all the vegetarians out there) from the wonderful Ballyvourney pudding makers.
At this point I know what you’re all thinking. This is where he took a break, relaxed, had some water, maybe a little nap?
So, it was on to the next sherry. While things had become a little blurry at this point, the next sherry was a complete eye-opener, an Oloroso. Even darker than the Amontillado, this sherry was aged much longer in oak casks. It was amazing. Dark, rich, nutty, and I could be wrong but I got a distinct taste of butterscotch. This went perfectly with a selection of Gubbeen and Durrus cheeses.
There was one more sherry left to try. And this one came in a bottle with a lock and key attached. As dark as stout and with a consistency not unlike watery honey, this Pedro Ximenez is not for those who are without a sweet tooth. This sherry came with its very own handmade sherry truffle from master chocolatier Benoit Lorge and, in honour of WSD, an up-and-coming food producer (an incredibly good looking one as well) Caroline Crowley, crafted a Pedro Ximenez-infused carrageen moss pudding, using milk and seaweed.
After the final sherry, as far as I remember, I called it a day.
WSD was a wonderful event and I would recommend exploring the world of sherry and, for those planning a visit to West Cork, head for Manning’s before you go anywhere else. A trip here will set you up nicely for the rest of your West Cork adventure.
Now does anyone know when World Whiskey Day is?