When José Pizarro opened a tiny tapas bar on London’s Bermondsey Street in 2011, many in the industry viewed his decision to focus on sherry as a misstep. “They told me that British people don’t get it and that it would not be popular at José. I was confident that once customers tried it they would fall in love, and that has proved to be the case. Restaurants simply need to get it into people’s hands.”
Over the last decade or so the Spanish-born chef has expanded his empire in the capital and beyond, and in doing so has played a key role in encouraging the British public to reappraise Spain’s most famous fortified wine.
“There has been huge progress but it remains misunderstood and completely underrated. Some people in the UK still see sherry as something that old ladies drink at Christmas,” he continues.
Sherry - which is a Designation of Origin wine that can only be produced in Spain’s south-western Andalusia region - is made in a variety of styles that range from bone dry to very sweet.
While the UK did once prefer sweeter styles - most notably cream sherries - dryer styles are now growing in popularity as people broaden their horizons and seek out authentic products with a rich cultural heritage.
Sherry owes its existence to the region’s complex history, specifically the marks left on the land by the diverse cultures that have inhabited it. The production, trading and enjoyment of sherries is key to Andalusia’s history and the cultural identity of its people.
What is Fino?
Fino is the driest style of sherry and has helped drive the category’s growth in recent years. With a colour that ranges from bright straw yellow to pale gold, Fino is a dry white wine made from Palomino grapes which is aged under a layer of yeasts for at least two years.
It is stored and aged in American oak butts using the traditional solera y criaderas system in the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa María. The layer of yeast under which the wine ages is called the flor is central to Fino’s character, creating a distinctive wine with a sharp, delicate bouquet reminiscent of almonds with a hint of fresh dough and wild herbs. The drink is light, dry and delicate on the palate leaving a pleasant, fresh aftertaste of almonds.
Fino wine has the extraordinary ability to stimulate tastebuds. Due to this, it’s an ideal aperitif wine. But while it does work beautifully before a meal - especially when partnered with salty items such as almonds and jamón ibérico - it should not be overlooked by restaurants as an accompaniment to dishes served later in the meal.
More than an aperitif
“It’s a shame to confine Fino to being just an aperitif or something that’s served with snacks since it works so well with all sorts of different savoury foods,” continues Pizarro. “For example, Fino En Rama (an unfiltered Fino with more pronounced bready notes) is an especially good match with fish and vegetable main courses.”
Rob Maynard, co-founder of specialist wine restaurant Wild Flor in Hove, is in complete agreement. “At our restaurant most Fino is consumed as the meal begins, but we do often suggest it as a match for starters and main courses. It often works well with dishes that are tricky to pair with wine, for example those that involve gastrics and vinaigrettes and other savoury dishes with high acidity.”
Younger Finos can be a good match for fried dishes (even fish and chips) while more complex styles that have spent more time under flor can work well with cream-based sauces and velouté.
“There is a lot of variety within the category. Young Finos have a lot of acidity and can be quite dense, whereas older Finos are less acidic because the flor feeds on the wine’s acid. You can often end up with something that can play the role of a great white Burgundy when it comes to matching. Certain things give wines unique characters, and flor is certainly one of them,” continues Maynard, who is so enamoured with the stuff he named his restaurants after it.
Other less obvious partners for Fino include sashimi, pickles, mushrooms, anchovies, cold soups, fried chicken and even asparagus and globe artichokes. As Wild Flor - which serves classic European cuisine - proves, Fino and other sherry wines should not be restricted to Spanish restaurants.
“That’s an odd idea for me. We’ve now got to a point where restaurants have free rein to pick and choose whatever works best, regardless of where it is from,” says Maynard.
Making Fino an even more compelling proposition for both restaurants and their guests is the great value it offers. Bearing in mind its status as one of the world’s greatest and most distinctive wines, it offers an unbeatable quality to price ratio. “The level of complexity is unparalleled at the price point,” says Pizarro. “There are of course some more expensive ones, but a high-quality bottle of Fino costs not much north of £10, meaning you can list it by the glass at a very reasonable price.”
Fino quick reference guide
- Always serve chilled between 6ºC and 8ºC
- Once in bottle the wine does not improve with age, so serve as fresh as possible
- Serve in white wine glasses
- Perfect at the start of the meal and for tapas dishes
- Adapts perfectly to a diverse range of salty and intense flavours
- Works with many vegetable and fish-based main courses
- Can partner with ingredients that are difficult to match with, for example asparagus and globe artichokes