The Spanish Awakening: Sherry Takes Flight

Images: Amanda Baltazar

When Taberna de Haro opened in Brookline, Mass., in 1998, it did so with eight sherries on the menu. It now has 85 and demand for them has quintupled.

“They are drunk as aperitifs, after dinner, go perfectly with food, and every sherry has many food pairings that go with it,” says owner-chef-sommelier Deborah Hansen.

The restaurant, along  with its bar named Straight Law Bar, offers 18 to 20 of its sherries by the glass, and Hansen changes those up every eight weeks or so “just to showcase different things.” Sales by the glass are stronger than by the bottle, boosted by flights, which cost $25 for four sherries with a free order of croquetas. Hansen and her staff will talk guests through the flights if they wish, “offering as much or as little as they want information about,” she says. “And I’ll go to the table if they want to go deeper.” The flight changes every couple of months, too.

Flight of sherry with free croquetas at Taberna de Haro - The Spanish Sherry Awakening in America
 
Knowledge of sherry in the United States has grown significantly since Hansen first set up shop 19 years ago. “People are more willing to try it; more people have been to Spain; more wine writers are writing about it. And with the craft cocktail movement, there’s been a resurgence,” she says. “Sherry used to be a very typical thing to mix into cocktails so it’s not anything new, but the new bartenders have reached back and pushed the limits forward and are finding new ways to use it. That prepares people; now their palates have experienced sherry.”

Hansen’s guests tend to be a pretty savvy lot and many are educated about sherry. Others want to learn more and she’s always ready to help. “I sell sherry to people who’ve been to Spain – they often order the full bottle. And people who are open to what I suggest to them often order sherry, since I’m a sommelier trained in Spain.”

Her own passion for the beverage has blossomed over the years, she says, “and I just kept increasing it, and every time I went to Jerez I became more intrigued, more enamored, and wanted to add more things to the restaurant. I want to show people how fabulous and unique sherry is.”

An array of bottles of sherry at Taberna de Haro - The Spanish Sherry Awakening in America
 
The bottles of sherry at Taberna de Haro cost between $25 and $270, and the glass pours run around $5 or $6, though a couple cost more than $20. It’s a little more alcoholic than other types of wine: a fino tends to be around 15.5% alcohol and amontillados are close to 17.5% alcohol.

For two people, Hansen tends to recommend two 375 ml bottles, “maybe a manzanilla that’s light and refreshing and bracing in the mouth, and for bigger foods later in the meal, an amontillado,” she says.

At first she was against using sherry in cocktails. “I was such a purist and I thought it was a cruel and mean thing to do to sherry. But now I realize it’s a good thing and yet another way to enjoy it. I came around very quickly.”

Taberna de Haro introduced sherry cocktails in 2012 and now they’re among the best sellers. Cocktails include the Hypocrite (Plantation Pineapple rum, palo cortado, falernum, lemon, egg white) and the Sherry Cobbler (amontillado, muddled brown sugar, orange, lemon, mint), which cost $12 and $11, respectively.

Palo Cortado sherry with miniature empanada at Taberna de Haro - The Spanish Sherry Awakening in America
Palo Cortado sherry with a miniature empanada.

Hansen doesn’t need to do anything special to promote the fact that she carries sherry, but she does run Instagram posts and hold regular sherry tastings. “And when people ask for port I say no, we have sherry, and I’m always willing to give them a taste of it just to bring them on board. Every day there’s a convert,” she says.