Sherry's time to shine
Sherry is so much more than a sweet, old-fashioned drink, for older people, explains wine expert Kate Goodman. Paired with the right dish, it is a real star.
When I bring up the subject of sherry one thing is for certain - it always gets a reaction.
All I know is having hosted many sherry tastings and dinners I have witnessed many people converted into sherry lovers in just one evening.
Often the very mention of sherry conjures up images of something sweet and old-fashioned, but this could not be further from the truth.
Stir in some sherry:
In recent years we have seen the opening of dedicated sherry bars in the UK.
With its versatility, food friendliness and sheer variety I like to think it will soon be sherry's time to shine.
The UK has traditionally been the biggest market for sherry in the world and yes, I admit that traditionally this has been heavily focused on more commercial cream styles.
But the world of sherry has so much more to offer - from bone dry, tangy styles through to luscious dessert styles that will knock your socks off.
Sherry is a fortified wine made in and around Jerez in southern Spain.
Its origins date back as early as 1100 BC when the Greek geographer Strabo wrote in his book Geography about the first vines that were brought to Jerez.
The fact that it is fortified, and thus stable, saw it become extremely popular in the UK in the late 16th Century, as it easily survived long sea journeys.
However, UK sherry consumption peaked during the 1970s.
The vineyards are largely situated in the triangular area between the towns of Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria, where it is rather hot and the sun shines around 300 days a year.
The chalky white albariza soils in the area are absolutely key - they provide excellent drainage while allowing good retention of moisture in the baking sun.
The main grape variety is palomino, which loves both the soils and the sub-tropical conditions here.
Pedro Ximenez and moscatel are also grown and used for either sweetening purposes or wines in their own right.
The grapes are picked, pressed and fermented, and at the end of this process a natural yeast, known as flor, will appear on the surface of the wine.
The existence of this yeast has an important effect, preventing oxidation.
The winemaker will then decide on the future of the wine, choosing its "end style". There are two basic styles of sherry: fino and oloroso.
The lighter, more delicate wines will become finos, while the richer heavier wines olorosos.
The final style also determines the level of fortification.
Fino is normally fortified to 15% alcohol by volume (abv) enabling the flor to continue living, whereas oloroso is fortified to 17 or 18% abv, thus preventing the existence of flor, and allowing the oxidation process to start.
Sink your teeth in:
Food & Drink with Michel Roux Jnr and Kate Goodman is on Monday 25 Feb, on BBC Two at 20:30 GMT.
The wines are then stored in casks before entering the solera system, a process for aging liquids by fractional blending, in which old wine is constantly refreshed with younger wine.
This process may take anything from three years to more than 25 years for the finest wines.
The sherry is then bottled, and later drunk and enjoyed.
While UK sherry consumption has dropped markedly since the 1970s, a renewed sherry scene has recently emerged.
Eminent chefs and sommeliers are now pairing particular styles of sherry with both tapas-style food and main dishes.
And take my advice, when they get it right it can be a match made in heaven.
Watch more on BBC Two's Food & Drink on Monday 25 Feb at 20:30 GMT.