Bodegas Hidalgo's La Gitana Manzanilla is delicate, fresh and refined, columnist Chris Dillman says.
I started off my list of the 10 essential bottles with a Champagne-Method sparkler from the south of France. This chapter brings me to the world's most underappreciated fine wine, Sherry. It's no coincidence that these two wines are being mentioned back-to-back, as they have a surprising amount in common. Both utilize vineyards and grapes that are good for little else and both begin with a neutral base wine, which is then transformed by the action of yeast. And, of most importance, both have an unusual synergy with food.
Mention Sherry and most people envision dark, sweet, cheap wines. While the region produces exceptional dark wines (both dry and sweet), I'm referring to the dry and delicate wines collectively known as Fino Sherry. Among the Finos, the style known as Manzanilla is the most delicate, fresh and refined, and Bodegas Hidalgo's La Gitana is a classic example. It smells of its seaside origin: salt, seashore and olive brine. The palate is dry, nutty and rich without being heavy. Pungent mineral and walnut notes linger on the finish.
Why did it make the list? While both sparkling wine and Sherry work well with salty and fatty foods (cured meats, cheese, olives), they do so for different reasons. The acidity and bubble of sparkling wine help wipe the palate clean, but the wine itself rarely benefits from the relationship. Sherry's saline richness snuggles up with these foods, echoes the flavors and textures present in the food, and still provides the necessary refreshment. It's the combination of complexity, balanced richness and unique flexibility that make Fino Sherry one the world's great wines and one of my essential bottles.
Bottles retail for $14.99. It is available locally at Weiland's and the Andersons, among others. If your local store doesn't care it, they can order it for you from Solera Imports.
Chris Dillman, an advanced sommelier, works at Sage American Bistro.