Sherry at Bar 44

Penarth Times: MATURING:: Sherry making process in Jarez. (6357966) MATURING:: Sherry making process in Jarez. (6357966)

BAR 44 sells sherry, not the usual tipple of choice for people in South Wales. The owner Owen Morgan, hosted a sherry tasting talk to introduce us to some of the complexities of the drink, writes LAURA ROCHEFORT.

Six sherries were served, each accompanied by dishes created right before us in the open kitchen. What a revelation; the sherries were each different, ranging from a steely dry Manzanilla served with perfectly crisp frittata of hake, prawns and calamari, to a thick sweet Pedro Ximines to go with both a chocolate torte and a deep, creamy blue cheese from northern Spain.

All sherries are produced in Jerez, in the south west of the country. Under the Moor occupation until the mid fifteenth century, Jerez was designated a wine producing area accepted despite Islamic law.

All sherries are made from three types of white wine grape. Once the wine is made in the usual manner it is then matured in large wooden barrels, bota, where extra alcohol is added to bring up its strength.

So the first wine goes into a barrel and put sideways. They leave it one year. They take the wine from that barrel and decant into another barrel which has been held underneath.

As the new wine matures, it is then added to older wines in other barrels, and these older wines are added to even older wines, a system known as Solera. This means that you end up with a continuing evolving ageing process, allowing the sherry maker to select exactly what wine, and how aged it is, to put into bottle.

The knowledgeable Owen is clearly an enthusiast, and his pleasure in serving us some of his favourite sherries enthused us. We had a Fino following the Manzanilla, if anything even dryer than the first. This was served with asparagus wrapped in Iberico ham.

Next came an Amontiallado, a beautiful honeyed colour but which also maintained a dry taste. This is probably the biggest difference between those sherries which Owen was leading us towards, and the standard sweet drink we may all have had at our grandmother's house at Christmas time. The dryness means that the drink is truly complex, rolling around the mouth with a refreshing, wake up call to our tongues.

The fourth, a Palo Cortado, was my favourite, although it was pointed out that I had said each one had become my favourite the moment I tasted it.

The Cortado is a cross marked in chalk on the cask, denoting the wine maker's choice to keep it and mature it a little longer. Only some casks reach this level and are so designated, and the one that we tried had certainly earned its little chalk demarcation. Still dry, a bigger feeling of alcohol on the tongue, a few lemony citrus and grassy notes.

Things were getting better. This was served with a Sicina, a very thinly sliced meat from the neck of an Ox. And yes, you have to be unashamed about your pronunciation, forget any worries about sounding as if you have a lisp; Sicina is pronounced Thitheena.

Next we had an Oloroso served with wonderful farm rose veal and celeriac. To complete the evening we had the most extraordinary, raisiny, sweet, unctuous wine, Pedro Ximinez. It was a long way away from the beginning Manzanilla.

Owen encouraged us to pour some over the blue cheese and mash it up, but it reminded me too much of mashing bananas for my infant children and I resisted. The combination of the deep veined blue cheese with the sweet wine was excellent.

And then he changed the rules all over again, serving a chocolate torte with sea salt, toast and olive oil. You really had to be there.

What I loved about Bar 44, as well as the exceptional food and sherry, is that it combines a no nonsense relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff but takes very seriously its food and drink offering. What is not to like?

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