Expressive and seductive, sherry is in the midst of a revival. Once known as the beverage of choice by your grandmother, the Spanish fortified wine has piqued the interest of modern mixologists who admire its versatility.
Sherry ranges from dry manzanilla and fino to aged oloroso. Its minerality allows bartenders to add a rich umamilike depth of flavor to cocktails. The earthy, oaky notes give a deep base tone to such spirits as whiskey, bourbon, mezcal and gin. The rounded sweetness is also a bonus. It's increasingly popping up as a mixer in refreshing summer cocktails.
Anne Marineau, bar manager at Black Bull, a Spanish tapas eatery in Wicker Park, has one of the largest sherry programs in Chicago, with more than 30 cocktails and 40 by-the-glass or bottle options. "I love working with sherry because it's so versatile," she says. "We use it to make syrups, as the modifying ingredient or as the base ingredient," Marineau says. "It's one category that gives you hundreds of options to work into a cocktail."
When she looks for a sweetening agent with more body and dimension than sugar, she uses Pedro Ximenez, the rich dessert sherry. Alternatively, to balance a sweet-leaning cocktail, Marineau reaches for manzanilla "because it will help dry out the sugar, while the briny, salty quality brings out the natural flavors of the other ingredients," she says. One of her favorites: The Sancho Panza.