Ask not what Jerez can do for you …

After a fantastic visit of Emilio Hidalgo a couple of years ago in Jerez, and struck by what a tragedy it was that I had only just found about these amazing wines, I asked our host what I could do to repay him. His answer was simple: “you seem to eat in the right places, do me a favour and ask for my wines”. I have not stopped doing so ever since.

The best places do indeed have his wines (even if some of them don’t know as much about them as they think), and even if they don’t, it is a technique that has paid dividends. For a start, mortified sommeliers around the world have been too embarassed to charge me for the fino that was not La Panesa, and even if you don’t get a consolation invitation, there is nothing wrong with letting the sommelier know that you know about these wines: I have yet to meet a really good sommelier that didn’t know her or his sherries.

Now, my standard routine has a couple of additional steps. “Esker vous avez la Panesa?”, if not, “would you have a fino or a manzanilla?” and, if so, “which do you have?”. Don´t stop at finos and manzanillas either. One of my biggest successes in terms of introducing friends to sherry is generally the callos and oloroso pairing. A group of friends and I are in the process of exploring the callos of Madrid, with score sheets and a ranking system tracking the best callos around town, and since I introduced them to oloroso restaurants are severely marked down if they don’t have it. (Even if you can’t get callos, oloroso, palo cortado or amontillado can be a cracking pair for almost anything tasty, so should be asked for at every opportunity.)

You will be surprized at how many places have sherry and even good sherry. I have had some very pleasant surprises along the way: the little gem of a sherry list at Punto MX would be one; my hotel bar in Vienna was another; and probably the best of all was a flight with Iberia enlived by Tio Pepe and his mate Alfonso.  Even if they don’t these wines on the list they may have some excellent bottles hidden under the bar or about the premises. I remember one fantastic mystery oloroso, label on the bottle completely obliterated, that was produced from heaven knows where in one place.

And if the restaurant in question doesn’t have these amazing wines (for shame), it is amazing the effect that we can have just by asking: in this day and age of instant reviews on twitter, facebook, tripadvisor and their ilk most places seem keen to keep us consumers smiling. If we all keep asking they will eventually get the message, and if they were to stop and look at the prices of these wines surely it shouldn’t take long to realize that for a small investment they can keep some of their more knowledgeable consumers happier.

And while we are at it – let’s all please insist on quality stemware!

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