Recently my grandmother turned 90. It’s not easy to choose a present for a ninety-year-old, as they tend to have more or less everything they need (what my grandparents need most of all is one another: when my grandmother was in hospital with a heart condition a few years back she remarked that she missed my grandfather at night because she had no-one to put her cold feet on. “I don’t mind,” my grandfather replied, “because at least I know she’s there.” They’ve been married for almost seventy years.). But in a moment of inspiration my sister and I hit on the idea of a bottle of sherry.
Our family didn’t drink much when I was growing up, but one thing which was a bit of a family tradition was a glass of sherry before the Sunday roast, and my parents’ sherry of choice was Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Like port, sherry is a fortified wine, but the spirits used to fortify it are added after fermentation rather than part-way through, so sherry is dry unless it has been sweetened after fortification. ‘Sherry’ is an anglicised version of the Spanish ‘Jerez’, and true sherry comes from the Andalusia region of Spain, in the area surrounding the town of Jerez de la Frontera. Fortified wines also used to be known in England as ‘sack’, so if you come across a reference to sack in Shakespeare now you know what they’re talking about. Sherry is made primarily from a white grape, the Palomina, along with others such as Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. The wine can be processed in a number of ways, producing (in order from lightest to darkest) Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso sherries.
Harvey’s Bristol Cream is a complex sherry blended from aged Amontillado and Oloroso, plus Pedro Ximinez for sweetness. It is blended in England by the company John Harvey and Sons (est. 1796), and the basic recipe hasn’t changed much since the 1880s. So it has history.
It also has about 17.5% ABV, a gorgeous amber colour, and a lovely viscosity which makes it a pleasure to drink. It has a sweet, fruity flavour: raisins with a hint of peel, nuts and caramel. So it’s technically a desert wine for enjoying with sweet stuff like flans and cheesecakes. But it works fine as an aperitif as well, as my parents well knew.
Sherry has an old fashioned image, and yes, I did give it to my Nana, but the truth is I like it too. Who knows, perhaps I’ll snaffle a drop for myself the next time I’m round there.
Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.