If sherry is an old person’s drink, than let me retire and send me to Florida. I’m ready to be old. Like most people, one of my first experiences with the drink was negative. My great aunt brought a bottle of the cheap stuff to dinner one day, and while I was far too young to drink at the time, everybody else’s negative reaction set the tone. If most of the people I know hate sherry, than it probably sucks, right? Years later, when I was living in D.C. and it was legal for me to drink, my feelings for sherry shifted to the ambivalent. If it was in a cocktail, I wouldn’t be upset about it, but I wasn’t going to seek it out like some sort of very specific alcoholic either.
After going to enough media dinners that ended with small sips of sherry, I came to have a steely appreciation for the drink. I always liked it enough to finish the glass, but I was mostly excited because seeing that tiny flute of amber colored liquor meant that dinner was almost over. I could finally go home and watch Netflix half drunk in my bed until I passed out to the sounds of The Great British Bake Off. It was more of a Pavlovian response than anything else.
Even though I had been introduced to good sherry paired with great food more than once, I didn’t fall in love with the drink until later. I was at one of those wine events, the kind that takes over an embassy and forces you to pay money so you can line up for little sips of very average wine. The kind of event where you have to hustle to get buzzed, because when you’ve been drinking, standing in a million different little lines is a fun friendship building experience, but when you’re sober it’s a reminder of everything that’s wrong in this world. Lucky for me, the Lustau sherry line was incredibly short and the person working the booth was nice enough to give me a few extra large pours. After downing a million different sugary rosés, the delicate, yet rich, sweetness of the sherry was overwhelming. It was such a sharp contrast to everything else I’d been drinking, I was hooked.
I spent the rest of that day drinking Moscato in the sunshine, but from that point on, I was excited when sherry on the menu. And not just because it meant I got to go home soon, but because that dark color and roast-y flavor seemed like the closest I could get to drinking the nectar of the gods. It’s a drink that calls for such delicate glasses and delicate pours, every part of the experience feels like a special ceremony. I can understand how some people would see that as bougie or stodgy, but it seems more like an otherworldly ritual to me. It’s something I cap my best meals off with, the ones I spend with the people I love, doing the thing I love the most, eating.
I’m not the only one. Sherry appreciation seems to be on the rise. Although all my evidence is anecdotal, I see it on more cocktail menus than I have before… And people grimace less when I bring it up. D.C.’s sherry community certainly lost a little ground with the closing of Mockingbird Hill, but plenty of other bars and restaurants have filled the void, including Estadio. They’ve been pushing sherry since the beginning and are finally starting to see some traction. One of the things that helped was upping their sherry pours. While they used to do a 2 oz pour, increasing it to 3 oz made ordering a sherry feel like getting a glass of wine. It’s a slight difference, but it came off a little less precious and a little more casual. Estadio is also hoping to indoctrinate people into the cult of sherry with their upcoming special. For the third time, the 14th Street restaurant is celebrating the cherry blossoms with a “sherry blossom” menu, and if you’re looking to dive into the deep end of the sherry pool, I can’t think of a better place.
Even as a sherry fan, I never considered pairing it with savory foods. I’d easily drink it solo or with dessert, but mixing it with lots of meat seemed like buying a one way ticket to a very specific type of nausea. But that’s exactly what we did and it turns out that if you have a team of professionals who have spent a real amount of time crafting a menu, it’s going to turn out good! The true winners for me included pairing the dry Manzanilla La Gitana with the pintxo Gilda, a popular bar snack in San Sebastian that includes anchovies, peppers and olives (and yes, it is name after the Rita Hayworth movie). The dry, bright drink and the salty spice of the snack made for an easy combination.
On the other hand, pairing the dark and boozy Oloroso Seco with crispy quail seemed so obvious I was mad I’d never considered it. Fried things and booze are a holy combination. While I’m not going to attempt to make a quail this delicious at home, there’s a KFC a few minutes away from my house and if you think I’m not going to buy a bottle of Oloroso at Calvery Woodly and then hit up the drive thru, you’ve clearly never met me.
Estadio finishes off their decadent tasting menu with a sherry float made with vanilla gelato. I don’t have to tell you it’s good because we’ve all been riding that boozy milkshake train for years. Everyone knows that ice cream and alcohol were made for each other, and in this instance, it really works.
If you want to hop on the sherry band wagon, but have no interest in a coursed meal, they’re also doing a 2 Birds 1 Stone style cocktail menu, featuring a few tiki sherry cocktails and two different sherry slushies (which I am 100% going back for). Plus, there’s going to be Pass the Porron parties every Monday until April 15, so if you’re looking to start your week off with a little bit of rowdiness (and a slightly damp shirt) they’ll be passing around free porrons filled with sherry and lemon soda, aka the ultimate summer highball. If your sick of Old Fashioneds and can’t stand the thought of having another bro at the bar judge your beer choice, come join me and the other old people. We’ll be in the corner pouring sherry down our face. There may or may not be KFC involved.
Words by Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Sherry Blossom Week kicks off on March 20 at Estadio.