"A lot of people try sherry in the wrong context."
We're in the backyard of the bar Threes Brewing in Brooklyn, and Houston sommelier Justin Vann is preaching about his beloved fortified wine.
"A lot of times, it's a sherry that's been open for a long time when it should have been served fresh. Or it's room temperature when it should have been served cold. Or it's been sitting on top of the refrigerator for the past six months. It's really important, especially with the younger sherries—the lighter styles—that you drink them cold and you drink them fresh."
Vann is the owner of Public Services, a bar that carries an eclectic selection of wines and whiskeys, and, according to Vann, places the largest order for Taiwanese whiskey in the state of Texas. But we're here to talk about sherry, the often-misunderstood wine from Andalucía, Spain.
Vann takes the stuff seriously and can discuss its merits and how he got into it for hours. "It started off as a geeky-cool wine style that I was interested in as a curiosity. There's a lot of wine styles I like, and for some reason, sherry just stuck," he says. "It's this ancient wine that's undervalued."
He argues that when you consider the cost of fine spirits and wine, sherry is a steal—even the high-end bottles.
"Think about what you pay for drinks," he says. "Think about what you pay for a 10-year-old Scotch. A 10-year-old Macallan is at least 15 dollars a shot in a bar. The Valdespino is a 14-year sherry, and it costs about 25 dollars a bottle on the shelf."
Vann's sherry tasting at Threes Brewing
The 2014 Valdespino "En Rama" Manzanilla is one of the three sherries he's pouring at Threes, where we've set up a Sherry Shack (well, we hung a cardboard sign that says "Sherry Shack" on Threes' outdoor bar, but it's a Sherry Shack nonetheless). Vann is also sampling Emilio Hidalgo "Gobernador" Oloroso and Valdespino "Tio Diego" Amontillado, as well as Threes' house-made sherry, a "Katas" Manzanilla served on tap.
Unlike the sweet varieties most people associate with sherry, all four that Vann is pouring are dry and made from the Palomino grape. He suggests more oxidative dry sherries like Oloroso and Amontillado for beginners and lighter, fresh sherries like finos or Manzanilla for more advanced studies.
Vann is especially enthusiastic about the future of the fortified wine: "Sherry has changed dramatically in the 10 years I've been in the industry. The notion that we would have Manzanilla on tap in a bar is incredible to me. That signals that sherry has entered the mainstream. It's still a little bit of a challenge to sell sometimes, because it's not something people organically reach for. But I think that it deserves to be defended."
As guest after guest steps up to the Sherry Shack, Vann greets each one with open arms and a glass of golden deliciousness. They sip, and Vann proselytizes, urging them to reconsider the wine. Most of them are sherry novices, and they seem impressed.
As the sun sets on the Sherry Shack, a happy Vann has won over many buzzed disciples.
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