A Quest for Sherry: Part 2

Wine Predator Sherry

When I heard that the July Wine Pairing Weekend challenge was Sherry Wine, at first I thought: Sherry? Sherry? Really?

What do you pair with SHERRY other than dessert or a fire?

Little did I know! Turns out, there’s quite a lot you can pair with sherry wine, because, like Champagne, Sherry isn’t just a wine for an occasion, it’s a wine to combine with food.

But the fact that Sherry does indeed pair well with food–and not just dessert!– is NOT what got me going on this Wine Pairing Weekend.

Because honestly, when I decided I wanted to do it I had no idea how well it paired and with what until I participated in the Saturday morning #WinePW tweet chat and checked out everyone’s blog posts! (links below)


So what made me decide to participate?

When I thought about Sherry, and I thought about participating, I thought about the stories I have with Sherry, stories I wanted to share.

Like the stories that I published in the previous post, about being encouraged to explore Sherry at a dinner with my good friend and mentor as well as Senior thesis advisor in Creative e Writing from UCSC, Al Young, who was then California’s Poet Laureate. (What was my thesis about you ask? A novel titled Switchbacks about a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in one season in the mid-80s… which is something I did!) So even though I didn’t taste Sherry that night, just the though of it reminds me of the fabulous poetry of Al Young, (which certainly is enhanced with by a nice Sherry!), and by the warmth of Bill, and the Earth knowledge of Glenna in her poetry. And plus the lovely story from John Nichols about his search for Sherry.

Sherry reminds me of Portugal: of the crazy, surreal middle of the night Sherry lesson and tasting I experienced with Esteban Cabeza. Of building life-long memories with Jo Diaz. And of sharing the Sherry with my Enoforum host, Delfim Costa.

And finally Sherry reminds me of my grandfather…

…because I found a bottle of Sherry in his cellar after my mom died, a bottle that I imagine was a housewarming present when they moved in in 1962 (read more about my grandfather and his cellar here). Manny, as he was called, never drank Sherry as far as I know. Instead, he drank Gallo “Hearty Burgundy”  or gallon bottles of Carlo Rossi while my grandmother mostly drank Beringer white zinfandel (after I turned her on to Ridge white zinfandel!).

Wine can do this– wine is a time machine that can take us back to special moments. For me an older wine reminds me even more of time’s gone past. Wine locks away its own stories, and the stories of the world through its lifetime, as well as your own stories.

Because of the special way that Sherry is made, where one vintage is integrated into the next and the next, it transports us back much further in time for a less expensive price than you might expect: for $25 I was transported back to 1927, when my grandpa was a teen, living at the Ventura volunteer fire department after his parents had died when he was 14.

In the 50s, my grandpa built a wine cellar at his house because he always wanted to make wine; he even planted a few grape vines but as far as I know, that’s as far as it went. His cellar was quite the fascination for us kids, and anyone else who visited the house. Of course in the 50s when he was building the house, everyone thought it was a bomb shelter!

My grandpa was quite the chef, having been the main cook for 40 years in the fire station. Guests often brought wine for dinner or as a gift, and the most interesting bottles he proudly kept in the wine cellar to show off on tours. And of course everyone wanted a tour!

No surprise that I would become someone who paid attention to food and wine.

As I began collecting wine and joining wine clubs, I naturally stored my wine in his cellar. For years I lived in the Bay Area or Nevada, so the wine had time to age since I wasn’t close enough to raid the cellar! While he would at times tease me about drinking my stash, my grandfather was very happy to share his cellar with my wine; fill it up, he said.

And of course when I applied for the “Murphy-Goode” job in 2009, I used the cellar as a backdrop as you can see in this video:

And when a Brooks Photography student, Gabe Romero, was looking for a model for an interior shot, I thought of the cellar where we did the series of photos featured in Quest for Sherry Part 1 and 2.

Cheers from Wine Predator


On my regular trips to the cellar one of the bottles that often caught my eye was this silvery Sherry bottle, which was properly stored standing up.

Why store Sherry standing up and not on its side like other wines? Because Sherry’s high alcohol content can destroy the cork.

So when I realized I should be drinking wine for the photo, I decided it was time to open the Sherry which had probably been in that cellar 50 years. I wondered whether it would be any good, but lo and behold, it was beautiful in color, and texture.




While Sherry is made to be enjoyed within a year or two of purchase, fortunately this 50 year old bottle was just fine! After the photo shoot, I kept it in the refrigerator and as no one else seemed interested in trying it (sherry? they’d wrinkle their nose) I decided to keep it for myself, a special treat for the next few months.

Like other fortified wines, Sherry can keep in the fridge for 2-4 months; keep it as closed as possible and even temperature.

Then as now, I have searched for more information about this wine but come up short. The only reference I found is in From Kansas to Keny: An Uncommon Road for Wine Lovers
by Wayne R. Schreiner who found a cache of eight bottles of this “delicious, nutty Diego Narvaez medium sherry” amongst several cases of sauterne, liquor, and mostly unsalvaeagable beer and wine (page 178).

While he enjoyed his in the 90s, I opened mine another 10-20 years later and it was still deliciously nutty! And such a beautiful color! Doing this photo shoot took a lot of time, and that’s what sherry has to offer: time and contemplation. It was very complicated for the photographer to set up his lights and other equipment in the somewhat cramped space of the cellar.

I had plenty of time to stop and smell the sherry!

Learn more about sherry here in Catavino’s blog post

So what sherry did Sue and I taste for Wine Pairing Weekend? And what did we pair it with?

Since I didn’t have much of a selection to choose from, I asked the resident expert at the Ventura Wine Company, Zac Welch, a somm in training. He suggested we go for the Pedro Ximenez dessert sherry, and pour it over ice cream. At $25 for a split, it was 4x as expensive as the other choices, but I went for it anyway.


Ice cream seemed just too simple, and Sue and I had grand plans, and we even discussed making ice cream, but life interrupted and so I kept it simple: first, a custard (recipe) with dried cherry with sherry drizzled on it, and a hazelnut cookie. The cookie was brilliant with the sherry but the custard only ho-hum.

So then I tried raisin bread pudding with cranberries. Something was still missing so I made a hard sherry sauce which I had never made or even had before –it just seemed the right thing to do! And it was!


Alvear – Solera 1927 – Pedro Ximenez -16% alcohol – $25 (Ventura Wine Co)

This wine began in 1927–that’s almost 80 years ago! As explained elsewhere, sherry uses wine from previous vintages in the “Solera” method.

In color, it looks like coca-cola without the bubbles– a rich oily brown or dark amber color.

The nose has the burnt sugar of a creme brule custard dessert, roasted nuts, maple syrup, raisins and other dried fruit.

On the palette, it has lots of sweetness, lots of molasses, lots of syrup flavors like maple and caramel. Compared to other types of sherry I have tasted, this is very sweet and not as complex. The acidity is racy and keeps it from being cloying or too syrupy sweet. The texture in the mouth is viscous, with an umami feel; it has a lot of body and a long finish with a hint of tangerine.

We tried this with blue cheese as suggested, there was a yin and yang thing going on with the salty sweet, however it was not our favorite  pairing.

This is definitely a dessert sherry. It went well with the custard, better with the dried cherries, best wth a little hazelnut cookie as garnish. On my second dessert attempt, the bread pudding was a much better match, the sherry sauce is killer, and I was amazed that the Sherry wine could handle the sherry hard sauce!

Shortbread, dried fruit and raisins work well with this sherry. If I was going to serve it at the end of a meal with friends, I think I’d stick to a simple sugar or shortbread cookie.

This is a special wine so it should shine and not have to compete with some fancy dessert–although I bet it would be fabulous with Cafe Zack pie which is a nut crust with chocolate ganache and whip cream…


Vanilla custard was the very first thing I ever cooked! While I wouldn’t pair it again with sherry, it’s a great custard. Here’s the recipe I use:

Vanilla Custard

Preheat oven to 350.
6 eggs, whipped by hand
add in slowly:
3 cups milk, scalded
pour in while stirring:
1/2 cup sugar
1 T vanilla
Grate nutmeg on top and place egg mixture over a second bowl of very hot water.
Cook for 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Custard is done when knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Bread pudding is so easy!! If you like custard or french toast, you will love this.

Bread Pudding

Preheat the over to 350. Butter an 8 x 8 pan (preferably glass)
6 eggs, whipped
add in this order:
3 cups lowfat milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
dunk into egg mixture:
1 (1-pound) loaf cinnamon raisin bread, cut into (1-inch) cubes
(minus 2 slices and the ends)
Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Take off foil and bake for 15 minutes. Custard is done when knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

I had no idea sherry hard sauce was so easy to make. And so good. And I didn’t know why it was called hard sauce when I made it, but because it has liquor and it’s a sauce, it’s “hard” — even though ti is actually soft!

Sherry Hard Sauce

Combine until smooth:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
(I only had salted butter at room temperature and yes it was a bit salty of a sauce!)
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
(I didn’t bother sifting)
⅛ teaspoon salt
(I didn’t add this since I had salted butter)
Slowly add:
2 tablespoons sherry
(the magic ingredient!!)

Cut the bread pudding and plate (it’s firm). Drizzle sherry hard sauce over pudding.

For more sherry and food pairings, check out:

3 thoughts on “A Quest for Sherry: Part 2

  1. Beautifully written and a glimpse into a accompaniment to food that I’d never considered. Thanks! Wine is, indeed, a time machine.

    Now, since I’ve read this, I’m seriously considering trying to get my hands on some of Rancho de Philo’s renowned triple cream sherry that is only released once a year in November.



  2. A mouth-watering post Gwendolyn. I’ve been wanting to try this one! It sounds like a winner. I had another wine from Alvear that was vintage, but I didn’t use it for me post because it was from Montilla-Moriles rather than the Sherry DO. Also like Sherry in Andalucia,but not part of the Sherry DO, Same grape too. Love the pairing idea. I also like it drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

    Liked by 1 person

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