Tradicion Sherry and Tapas with Honest Grapes:
I’d like to think that I am part of a new wave of sherry drinkers. I remember from childhood how my father would refill our beautiful Mappin silver and engraved glass decanter set; sweet sherry on one side, cream sherry on the other. It was something that happened no more than once a year. The content was offered to visiting elderly friends and relatives and very occasionally to my mother, though she much preferred wine or that staple of the seventies, Dubonnet and lemonade. For the most part, the decanter set just sat on the table in our formal dining room. As it happens, that room also housed my piano, so from the age of 10 or so I used to surreptitiously sneak a taste when the weather was particularly cold. I never topped the liquid up with water so my Dad must have just thought it was the angel share – evaporation. The taste, as I remember was a kind of musty sweet liquid that was really quite pleasant.
Times have changed – many of London’s tapas bars do offer a good selection of sherry by the glass and I’ve developed a liking for Fino and Amontillado in particular. I know very little about sherry, so I was delighted to be invited along to a recent sherry and tapas evening with Honest Grapes. I didn’t expect to be quite so overwhelmed by the quality of what we were tasting though.
Our host for the evening, Eduardo David comes from Bodegas Tradición, a winery in Jerez that was founded in 1998 to continue the family business of the Rivero family who had previously owned Bodega CZ, J.M. Rivero. The founder of Tradición, Joaquín Rivero, acquired old soleras from defunct bodegas and restored a 19th-century bodega to bring them together with the idea of producing fine Jerez wines using traditional methods.
Of course, a glass of something fizzy to start the evening is always welcome, in this case, Quim Vila Babot Cava Brut. I had arrived at the venue, art gallery Edel Assanti, straight from afternoon tea at the Langham Hotel where I’d been drinking Laurent Perrier Champagne. That’s definitely not a good precursor to tasting Cava, but the Quim Vila Babot held up nicely.
Our first taste of Tradición was the fino, a limited production ‘en rama’ sherry using new American Oak casks and aging for well over 10 years under the flor (yeast). En Rama means that the sherry is bottled almost straight from the barrel with little or no filtration. While we sipped the dry, minerally sherry and nibbled on delicious prawns in garlic and lemon, Eduardo attempted to describe how the Solera system worked. It was a new concept for me and I have to admit that I’ve resorted to fact checking on the internet.
Solera aged sherry relies on a rack system of casks. Each layer of the rack comprises one vintage, with the newest vintages being added to the top of the solera. There’s a good explanation here (and a neat diagram). How then does Tradición, a winery founded in 1998, manage to create wines that are VORS ( ‘Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum’-30 years old average age) and VOS (over 20 years old) which contain wines dating back to the 1850s as part of the blend? Right now they are using the sherries from the old soleras they bought while their own wines mature.
We went on to taste three dry VORS sherries – different expressions of the Palomino Fino grape. The Amontillado Tradición was paired with Endive and Marinated anchovies. Complex, refined, slightly salty and dry, the average age of the grapes in the bottle is 45 years (though, as with each of the dry sherries, the sherry contains some wines dating back to the mid 19th century. Palo Cortado Tradición was served with confit chicken and romesco sauce, and there were trays of Padron peppers around, ostensibly for the vegetarians, though I might just have stolen one or more. The Oloroso, another VORS sherry was served with Oxtail, creamed carrots and butter beans. All three sherries were high in alcohol – around 19.5% and were complex and rich. I was hooked and ended up finding an excuse to buy a bottle (currently with The-Hedonist and his wife, waiting for me to visit!). They retail at around £60 a bottle while the Fino is just over £30. Although they are all from a single grape variety, subtle nuances in the production result in different sherries.
Ready to move onto from the dry sherries, a blind bottle was brought out and shared. I sipped. I’d been drinking wonderful, intense and complex dry sherries and this was a much simpler mouthful. It did remind me of something. That sherry I used to drink when I growing up – Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Indeed, it was the very same – brought out to help contrast and compare with the Tradición Cream, served with Jamon and Manchego. Cream sherries are a hybrid, sweetened with a little PX but never TOO sweet.
Our final taste was of the Pedro Ximenez Tradición, which retails at £67.20 and which was paired with Grilled Figs and Serrano ham.
Food for the event was provided by Kitchen Secrets. Delicious and moreish without in any way overwhelming the Sherries, it was a beautifully managed pairing that I thoroughly enjoyed. And, I did eat most of the vegetarian options too. I loved looking around the exhibitions at Edel Assanti too – you can find more on their website about futue events – I was particularly intrigued by the Ad Minolti exhibition, some of which you can see in the picture below.
I left the evening a fully paid up member of the Premier Crew, the Honest Grapes wine subscription club, clutching my precious bottle of Amontillado. It’s rare for me to commit to this kind of scheme – I have something of an itinerant lifestyle which already involves quite a lot of food and wine. But, I genuinely appreciated the way the evening operated. I left with a basic understanding of Sherry, with an appreciation of these particularly fine sherries and with a thirst for more.
Honest Grapes have tasting and wine matching events running several times a month usually at around £35pp and they also run a small online wine shop with a curated list of wines. For a wine to make the Honest Grape wine list, first the founders of the company produce a short-list and then members of the Premier Crew are invited to taste and select their favourites. A monthly subscription to the wine club gets you free tickets to some of the tasting events and a special tasting kit, along with a whole range of other benefits. And, the money you pay is for you to spend on the wines of your choice from their shop.
I’m really looking forward to the next event – in May, a La Giaretta Tasting with Winemaker Francesca Nicoli. If you’d like to find out more about Honest Grapes events do check their website.
Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the sherry and tapas event, but all views are my own