If you ever think about sherry, you may well think of it as something someone’s maiden aunt would drink, and only on special occasions. But it might be time to open yourself up to it a little; sherry is not just a drink for stodgy types. It turns out that sherry can actually be a lovely drink, and is often one of the more affordable bottles on wine store shelves.

Sherry comes from southern Spain, specifically from Andalucia, and gets its name from a British mispronunciation of the Andalucian town of Jerez (which took some doing since Jerez is pronounced her-ETH in Spanish). Sherry is wine that is fortified with alcohol after fermentation. There are two basic types of sherry – fino, which is light and very dry; and oloroso, which is rich and full but also dry. Dry sherry can run the gamut from nutty to almost whiskey-like. Sweet sherry (often labeled cream) is made by sweetening either of these. The non-sweet varieties make wonderful pre-dinner drinks, while the sweet ones can easily stand in for dessert themselves.

Locally there are a couple of places I’d recommend for getting a sherry with some food. Mateo, in Durham, has an amazing selection of sherry, along with wonderful Southern-inspired Spanish food. Closer to home, West End Wine Bar has sherry on its wine menu. I find that both places always have thoughtfully chosen wines (no matter what you’re in the mood for) and that the servers at both are knowledgeable and helpful.

IMG_7997When you’re in Spain, it is loads of fun to find a place to stand at a tapas bar, order a sherry and have a small bite. Olives and almonds are standard offerings with a glass of sherry and often served free when you order a drink. A very common tapa is also one of my favorites – the Tortilla Espanola. This is nothing like a Mexican tortilla. I’d compare it more to a sort of potato omelet or frittata. If you feel like having Spanish night at your house, go buy a nice bottle of sherry, stock up on some olives at Southern Season or Whole Foods, and make this tortilla to go along with it. Maybe put on some flamenco music and really go loco.

Tortilla Espanola

1 pound potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 large eggs

Parboil your potatoes, and then, using a not stick pan, saute them in olive oil along with the sliced onion over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure to salt this mixture – if you don’t salt potatoes while cooking them you’ll never be able to make up for the loss of flavor.

Lightly scramble your eggs in a bowl along with salt and pepper. Once the potatoes and onion are tender, pour the egg mixture over them. Turn the heat to low and let sit for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice to make sure the mixture isn’t sticking. At this point you’ll need to turn the tortilla over in the pan. Don’t be nervous – put a plate over the top of the pan and turn it over. The tortilla should fall right onto the plate (if it doesn’t, set it down a run a spatula around the edges to loosen). Once you have the tortilla on the plate you just slide it back into the pan, bottom side on top now. Let cook for an additional 10-15 minutes on low. Once the eggs have set you can slide it back onto a plate. Serve either warm or at room temperature, along with a glass of sherry and pretend you’re in Spain. A good cure for the winter blahs.