Back in the late 1980s, I was out on the town with college friends. We stopped at a bar/restaurant for some drinks and a bite to eat. My friends ordered beer or mixed drinks. I ordered sherry.
I pause this story to note that sherry–real sherry, made in Sherry/Jerez/Xeres, Spain–has a not insignificant global market. If you add the sherry copycats, such as Taylor Wine Company, the business is even larger.
When I ordered the sherry, the server was momentarily speechless. As if I was speaking in a language they did not understand. As if I had asked to take them outside for a quick bam-a-lamma before we got our drinks.
The flummoxed server said, “What, you mean like cooking sherry?”
I pause the story again to say that cooking sherry is an abomination created by a misanthrope who wants all people to be miserable. It is some sherry-like substance adulterated with so much salt that if one were to drink it, one would swear off the stuff for eternity.
I said, “No, like sherry. You know, the drink?” I wasn’t sure I was getting through.
The server had to excuse themselves and disappear for a bit, I guess to find out if sherry is actually a thing.
Sherry is indeed a thing. It is the product of a complex process that involves old wine, new wine, distilled wine, and a fermentation and oxidation process that brings out complex flavors rarely found elsewhere. And the good stuff is made exclusively in Spain.
Somewhere along the line, sherry obtained a reputation, and not a good one. It was what old ladies drink. And not just any old lady. Rather, the old lady who claims to never drink but somehow has a (large) glass of sherry every night. Thus, hypocritical, sanctimonious old ladies. (Hypocritical, sanctimonious old men, I guess, are supposed to drink scotch.)
Case in point:
I thought, “SHERRY?! Isn’t that what grandmas drink and cook with?” But here Karen [MacNeil] was, this established wine genius, purporting sherry to undoubtedly be some of “the most underrated wines (and therefore best values) in the world.” It blew my 21-year-old mind. — Nikki Pallesen, winemaker
I wish I knew where this reputation came from because it is undeserved. Sherry has several forms, from very sweet to bone dry. My favorite style is medium amontillado (yes, that amontillado, of the Edgar Allen Poe fame – something one would die for, yes?).
Back to my friends in the restaurant: the server eventually returned and served me a glass of something. It was not cooking sherry because it was drinkable. But I have to wonder: if sherry was not something that this establishment normally served–judging by the server’s blank reaction– where did it come from? Did someone run out an buy a bottle just because of me? I was not shown the bottle it came from, so I will never know for sure.
Undeterred, I continue to have sherry in my repertoire to this day. But I do wonder about the server. Are they still pondering over what sherry is? Or have they come to accept that it is a legitimate, non-stodgy staple of any well-stocked bar?
[Updated Oct. 24, 2022; May 29, 2023]