On July 29, SLS Beverage Director Lucas Paya taught a master class on Sherry in the Los Angeles hotel’s prestigious Saam restaurant for a group of writers. The Barcelona native fielded questions like a skilled goalie, utilizing Pictionary-like drawings and informative stories to paint a compelling picture of one of his homeland’s finest exports.
Saam normally serves 20-course menus amidst Chihuly-like glasswork and mirrors. Of all the SLS dining options, Saam is probably the most luxurious. To start, we received mini pitchers of Rebujito, which Paya called “the most famous sherry cocktail ever,” a refreshing cocktail that combined Manzanilla sherry, mint-infused simple syrup, lemon, lime and soda. The drink is frequently served at outdoor festivals in Spain. Paya said mixologists like using Sherry because it has lower alcohol content, but still has a kick from being fortified. This should come as no surprise, but SLS has an extensive Sherry selection.
In southwest Spain, the Sherry triangle consists of Jerez, El Puerto and Sanlucar. Paya said Sherry is distinctive due to it’s particular terroir, grape varieties, warm climate and the cool breeze that courses through the vineyards at night. He also mentioned Albariza soil, a white soil that retains humidity. The grapes are Palomino Fino, and the solera fermentation system is also unique to Sherry. All sherries are NV, aged in 600 litre American oak barrels. The most important lesson may have been that Sherry offers a great value given all the time people devote to aging sherries in the cellars, and given the complexity of flavors.
Paya’s crew poured a row of four different sherries, ranging from lightest to darkest in color.
1. FINO TIO PEPE, GONZALEZ BYASS, SHERRY
This Manzanilla sherry is only made in Sanlucar. A thick layer of yeast shields wine from oxygen in the barrel, leading to a paler hue. The Fino contains 100% Palomino grapes and clocks 15% ABV. After five years, the Sherry becomes full-bodied, with noticeable almond notes. SUGGESTED PAIRINGS: Shellfish, shrimp, olives, soup and raw fish.
With each course, The Bazaar Chef de Cuisine Jorge Chicas delivered (and explained) a different food pairing. With the Fino Tio Pepe, he paired an explosively-flavored olive oil bonbon that was dusted with sumac and sea salt to complement the olive oil.
2. AMONTILLADO NAPOLEON, HIDALGO, SHERRY
This Sherry takes seven years to produce. After five years, it’s not as fine, so they add more alcohol, which cuts through the yeast and allows oxygen to act. As a result, the 17.5% ABV product is amber-hued and more acidic. This process of oxidation is called “amontillarse” in Spanish. The Amontillado had a hazelnut flavor. SUGGESTED PAIRINGS: jamon, nuts, Gorgonzola, croquetas and tapas that contain tomato and pepper.
With our Amontillado, Chef Chicas delivered us a perfectly cooked cut of sweet Norweigian lobster, paired with a crispy potato hat, seaweed and a slightly creamy cup of lobster bisque.
3. OLOROSO ASUNCION, ALVEAR, MONTILLA-MORILES
Our final two selections derive from Montilla – inland – and utilized Pedro Ximenex grapes, which have more residual sugar than Palomino grapes. As a result, the finished product is sweeter, with a rounder body. Oloroso maintains constant contact with oxygen during the 10-year aging process. Given that, it’s darker in color and doesn’t change color or suffer once you open the bottle. There’s more alcohol content from the beginning (18-20% ABV) and this particular version finishes at 19% ABV. The over-arcing flavor: walnut.
Chef Chicas contributed Beef tournedos Rossini – a small slice of Wagyu ribeye (likely cooked sous vide) plated with a melting slice of foie gras terrine, a crispy chip and truffled mushrooms.
4. PX SOLERA 1927, ALVEAR, MONTILLA-MORILES
In this case, the Pedro Ximenez grapes are sun-dried over a mattress, so they develop concentrated sugars and a raisin-like flavor. This winery’s solera system started in 1927, and Paya’s heard of solera systems that date to the 1800s. This sherry started with 20% ABV, but the alcohol evaporated over time, finishing at 16% ABV. SUGGESTED PAIRINGS: chocolate and vanilla desserts and blue cheese. Paya said the classic PX pairing is Stilton due to its “saltiness and acidity.”
With this final course, SLS sent us on our way with a box of chocolates packaged in a pink box from The Bazaar’s patisserie.