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New York Times / Life - Entertain

Your Next Lesson: Amontillado

Beyond the mystique surrounding fortified wines, this sherry can be wonderfully complex and satisfying, and surprisingly good with many savory foods.
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Tio Diego, Single Vineyard Amontillado Dry Sherry; Amontillado Napoleon; Amontillado, Jerez Xeres Sherry, Fernando De Castilla. Patricia Wall/The New York Times

Savennières offered an opportunity to examine young wines with the potential to benefit greatly from aging. Now let’s look at a wine in which aging has already made its mark: amontillado.

This form of sherry, made famous (or infamous) by Edgar Allan Poe, is a delicious example of what can happen to fino sherry when it is permitted to evolve for a few more years.

Those of you already attuned to the wonders of sherry will, I hope, leap at the opportunity to renew old acquaintances. But if you find sherry and other fortified wines daunting, here is an opportunity to sample pleasures that have entranced wine lovers for centuries, without, I assure you, the ghastly consequence planned by Poe’s protagonist.

Good amontillado is resolutely dry, though some cheap versions sold under the name may have been sweetened. All come from the sherry zone of southern Spain, a triangular region defined by three towns: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María.

The three examples I recommend are:

Hidalgo La Gitana Amontillado Napoleon (Classical Wines, Seattle) $20, 500 milliliters

Valdespino Amontillado Tío Diego (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.) $24, 750 milliliters

Fernando de Castilla Amontillado Antique (David Bowler Wine, New York) $40, 500 milliliters

Of these three, only the Castilla might be hard to find. I also recommend any amontillados you might find from Equipo Navazos, Gutiérrez Colosia, El Maestro Sierra, La Cigarrera, Barbadillo, Tradición and González Byass.

If you would like a real treat, and extra credit, find a bottle as well of the Valdespino fino Inocente, which we tasted in 2015 for our lesson on fino sherries. The Inocente is the precursor of the Tío Diego amontillado. Both come from the same single vineyard, Macharnudo, itself a rarity for sherry. When the wine is bottled in its fino stage, it is Inocente. When aged longer in barrels, it evolves into amontillado and is bottled as Tío Diego.

If you would simply like to sip the amontillados with nuts, hard cheeses or jamón Iberico (or any other ham), that is fine. But know that amontillado goes beautifully with many savory foods, like poultry, Cantonese food and cooked Japanese dishes. Peter Liem, co-author of “Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucía,” suggests raw oysters, sardines and mackerel. Jan Pettersen, manager of Fernando de Castilla, swears by mushroom risotto with amontillado.

Amontillado should be served cool but not icy — cellar temperature, that is, if your cellar happens to be around 55 degrees. And please don’t worry about special sherry glasses. It’s best served in the sort of good all-purpose glasses you would use for whites and reds.

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