Versatile: sherry has long been an obvious and popular aperitif.
Versatile: Sherry has long been an obvious and popular aperitif. Photo: Julian Kingma

Michael Harden

You'd think we'd be past the stage where suggesting a round of sherry would unleash dismissive remarks about maiden aunts tippling in private. But while sherry bars proliferate in London, sherry-inclusive cocktails are all the rage in New York City, and tapas is accepted as just another food group in any Aussie diet, sherry still remains the butt of the joke.

But if there was ever a moment for re-hoisting the sherry flag it's right now.

It's being celebrated across five continents with sherry tastings, food matchings and cocktail blending. But first, a quick recap.

Sherry is a fortified wine that originated around the Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera. Once upon a time ''sherry'' (the Anglicised version of Jerez) was the generic name for a wine made mostly with white grapes that, after initial fermentation, had grape spirit added (the fortified bit) and was then barrel aged under flor, a layer of creamy yeast that floats on the surface of the wine in a barrel that imparts the unique sherry flavour and qualities.

These days, sherry only refers to wines made in this style in and around Jerez. Trade agreements with Europe in 2009 mean Australian wines made in the sherry style are called apera and so officially are not part of International Sherry Week.

The versatility and variety of sherry has long made it an obvious and popular aperitif and, in the case of Pedro Ximenez (PX), an excellent dessert wine, particularly when there's chocolate involved. But as the sherry profile increases, so does the variety of ways to enjoy it.

In terms of cocktails, all types of sherry get a run but the slightly oxidised amontillado and oloroso are proving to be among the most versatile and are firm friends with pure agave spirits like tequila and mescal (a smoked palomino includes amontillado, mescal, grapefruit and lime juice shaken over ice and served in a salt-rimmed glass).

But the classic is the sherry cobbler that first became popular in 1830s America. Two wine glasses of sherry (regular 120ml pours) go into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, a teaspoon of superfine sugar and a couple of slices of orange, cut in half. Shake vigorously and then pour into a tumbler full of crushed ice and garnish with half a slice of orange. It's refreshing and smart and will make anybody feel more kindly about sherry. And that can only be a good thing.