Don’t reserve sherry for the local clergy and your maiden aunts. Jonathan Ray is determined to imbibe some Spanish sunshine daily, here's how

The joint was jumping and there wasn’t a vicar or maiden aunt to be seen. At least, I didn’t spot one. But you never know with vicars these days. Or maiden aunts, come to that.
I was in London’s first dedicated sherry bar, Bar Pepito in King’s Cross, with my old chum Peter Grogan and we were both carrying a bit of a thirst. When the bar launched four years ago folk thought that owners Richard Bigg and Nigel Foster were crazy. After all, nobody except the aforementioned vicars and maiden aunts drank sherry, did they? Wasn’t sherry all about warm schooners of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and thank you for a lovely sermon, Vicar?


The nay-sayers couldn’t have been more wrong. Bar Pepito was named Time Out Wine Bar of the Year within weeks of opening and has been rammed to the rafters ever since, with scores of trendy young things knocking back all manner of sherries while simultaneously begging for more.
Admittedly it’s rather small – too small even to have a loo – but it’s a cute little spot and no mistake, with tiled walls complete with faded maps, photos and posters, candlelit barrel tops for tables, row upon row of sherry bottles and a socking great jamón ibérico on the counter. Forget the leaden London skies outside and you might just as well be in a back street bar in Jerez itself.
There are 20 sherries on offer by the glass and I like to think Pete and I made a pretty stout-hearted assault on the list. We started with a light and delicate Lustau Puerto Fino, moved through several nutty amontillados and palo cortados to a couple of rich but dry olorosos before easing down with a lusciously sweet and headily scented Lustau Moscatel and, finally, a gloopy, treacly, molasses-rich Pedro Ximénez from Gonzalez Byass.
We were in heaven. There were so many dramatic taste sensations and each sherry was so different. It might have been the buzz of the bar, the prettiness of the waitress or the thought of the Andalusian sun beating down on the Pentonville Road outside, but Pete and I solemnly vowed never again to let an evening pass without drinking a glass of sherry.


Or without eating a plate of jamón ibérico than which there is no finer ham in the world. Far better than Bradenham, York, Serrano, Bayonne, Black Forest or even Parma in my opinion. They slice it by hand at Bar Pepito in little bite-sized slivers that you pick up in your fingers and it is gloriously sweet, rich and nutty, with a seductive creamy fat that melts on the tongue almost as soon as you pop it in the mouth.
This unique flavour is all down to the holm oak acorns the pata negra pig eats as it roams free in the lush, wooded hillside pastures of southern Spain. The ham is low in both salt (despite having been cured in it) and calories (only 190 in a plate of 100g of ham). It is also high in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, which stimulates “good cholesterol” and helps reduce “bad cholesterol”. It’s a veritable health food. Best of all, when you tuck in to some jamón ibérico, you just have to have a glass or so of sherry. It’s obligatory. I think there’s some EU directive to that effect and if there isn’t there should be. Even Nigel Farage would approve.
Sherry is on a roll. Gonzalez Byass reports a healthy increase in sales (its Tio Pepe Fino alone is up 16% on last year). Majestic has just launched a new range and the likes of Waitrose and Berry Bros & Rudd both now boast more than 30 examples.
And there is a sherry for every occasion. Bone-dry, salty, tangy finos and manzanillas make exquisite aperitifs. They are right up there alongside the martini and the chilled glass of champagne in the pantheon of pre-prandials. They go well with any tapa you care to name and are especially tasty with salt-and-pepper squid.


Look for the increasingly popular en rama sherry. This is a fino straight from the cask without fining or filtration. Tio Pepe Fino is fantastic; Tio Pepe Fino en rama is even better, since fining inevitably strips a bit of flavour away. Expect a greater depth of saltiness and a sort of smoked-nut flavour.
Amontillado (effectively an aged fino) is gold and nutty and great with jamón ibérico (natch), roasted almonds and cheeses. Oloroso is full and flavoursome and can go with rich meat dishes, while the coal-black, richly sweet, unctuous Pedro Ximénez is wonderful on its own at the end of a meal or poured over vanilla ice-cream.
A little more sherry with your tea, Vicar?

Six of the best sherries

From Waitrose, Luvians and Berry Bros

From Waitrose, Luvians and Berry Bros

Waitrose Fino Sherry (£7, Waitrose) An excellent aperitif; light, crisp and dry.

Pedro’s Almacenista Selection Oloroso (£12, Majestic) Deliciously nutty and complex.

Bodegas Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon (£12 per 50cl, Albion Wine) Perfect with strong, hard cheeses.

Gonzalez Byass Noe PX Viejo (£20 per 37.5cl, Waitrose) Thick, dark, gloopy and gloriously sweet.

Gonzalez Byass Noe PX Viejo (£20 per 37.5cl, Waitrose) Thick, dark, gloopy and gloriously sweet.

Lustau 30 Year Old Amontillado VORS (£55 per 50cl, Berry Bros) Astonishing! Rich and intense yet bone dry.