--Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine by Francois Chartier (p.69)
As I previously explained, there are no absolute rules in wine and food pairing but there are scientific and logical reasons why some wines and foods pair better together than others. What is the most versatile wine for food pairings? In what I am sure will be a surprise to many, it appears to be Fino Sherry, a dry, fortified wine from Spain that is under-appreciated in the U.S., partially as most of the Sherry that Americans drink tends to be sweet rather than dry. It is time that Fino Sherry takes front stage in the U.S., that it ends up on more restaurant wine lists and shows up on the shelves of more wine stores.
Fino Sherry undergoes what is known as biological aging, where the wine sits in the barrel under a layer of yeast called flor. for the entire length of its aging. This flor feeds off oxygen, forming a barrier that prevents the wine from oxidation. It is an important element of Sherry production and the flor is generally unique to the Sherry region of Spain. This flor contributes to the dryness, texture and flavor of Fino and Manzanilla Sherry.
There are four basic strains of Saccharomyces yeast that create this flor, including beticus, montuliensis cheresiensis, and rouxii. Beticus is the most common yeast, accounting for about 75% of all yeast found in the flor, especially in younger Sherries. Montuliensis is the next common, accounting for 15% of the yeast in flor, and it gets more prevalent in aged Sherries. In addition, it tends to lead to increased acetaldehyde, a volatile compound, which causes increased aromatics. Acetaldehyde's are also present in foods including walnuts, green apples, and Spanish ham.
A key to food pairing is through these volatile compounds and there are approximately 307 volatile compounds found in the different types of sherry. food. Few, if any, other wines have as many volatile compounds. Because of all these volatile compounds, sherry thus has an affinity for many different foods, which share the same aromatic family. No other single wine has an affinity for as many different aromatic families. As some examples, Fino and Manzanilla have dominant volatile compounds such as acetaldehydes, acetoin (fatty, creamy & buttery flavors), lactones (apricot, peach, coconut), diacetyls (butter and cheese), solerone (dried figs), and terpenes (citrus fruits and flowers).
The main takeaway? Drink more Fino Sherry with your food.
And let me give you one specific recommendation.
Alexander Russan, the founder of Alexander Jules, is similar in some respects to a negociant, visiting Sherry producers and cellar owners and carefully selecting some of their barrels to create a special Sherry. I previously reviewed the first three of his Sherries, as well as provided more info about his company and you should check out my article for additional background on Alexander Jules. Those three Sherries made my 2014 list of Top Ten Wines Over $15. Last year, I reviewed his new Los Abandonados 6/8 Oloroso and it made my 2015 list of Top Wines Over $50. One of his newest Sherries is the Fino 4/65, of which I received a media sample, and I sampled it over the course of two days.
The Fino 4/65 (about $40/750ml) was bottled in May 2015, only 1000 bottles were produced. and it has a 15% ABV. The solera was started in 1940 by an almacenista named Angel Zambrano, who has also supplied Sherry to Bodegas Lustau. San Francisco Javier, the bodega which housed this solera, was constructed in 1910 and almost a hundred years later was bought by Juan Piñero. The 65-barrel solera is rarely used, despite the fact the grapes come from two of the best vineyards in Jerez, 70% from Pago Macharnudo and 30% from Pago Añina.
The average age of the Fino is about nine to ten years but which makes this Fino really special is Alexander's selection of the specific barrels. Though most of the solera contains flor from the beticus yeast, a small amount of the barrels are dominated instead by montulienses yeast and that is where Alexander concentrated his blend. He selected three barrels with montulienses and one of beticus. An intriguing blend for sure and it could be the first Sherry specifically selected for its flor.
In addition, when the wine was ready for bottling, he didn't add any sulfites and the Fino was not fined or cold stabilized, though it was moderately filtered. As such, this Fino could likely qualify as en rama, raw sherry, which is as close to sherry out of the cask as you will find.
Over the course of two days, I enjoyed a bottle of this Fino, drinking it on its own as well as pairing it with a number of different foods. I found this Fino to be aromatic, bone-dry, intense and briny. It is one of the most muscular Fino Sherries I have tasted, yet its power is still restrained and well balanced. There is some umami savoriness in its taste and it is intriguing on its own, though it might be even better when paired with food.
I started drinking some of the Fino with an Irish cheddar and salted cashews, and it went well together, especially the saltiness of the cashews. I moved onto some Thai food, from a fried chicken appetizer to a chicken, pork & garlic dish, and once again the pairing worked great. I even paired it with a spoon roast and spicy, roast potatoes, and it was strong enough to hold up to the beef and it also helped to mute some of the spicy heat in the potatoes. A white wine with beef? Yes, it can work with the right wine, such as a powerful Fino. With its dry, briny taste, this would also be a superb match for oysters.
Alexander Russan has created another winner, an intense Fino which showcases a different type of flor yeast. And with only 1000 bottles available, you better seek it out now before it is gone. Even if Russan bottles another Fino from this solera, it is unlikely he will use the same barrels as the fino changes so much all the time. So, if there is another Fino from this solera, it may taste very different from this bottling.
Americans need to understand the wonders of dry Sherry and must expand their palates beyond the sweet Sherries that too many people think is the norm. Sherry lovers are going to be enthralled with this Fino and hopefully it will also convince other wine lovers that Sherry is a fascinating wine deserving of their attention.