The Secret Sherry Club gather in the most clandestine of environments.

On a chilly November Tuesday night a rag-tag band of Sommeliers, Chefs, Bartenders, and wine business folks made their way to a secret subterranean location in downtown Toronto.

They came from across the GTA for one thing, and one thing only… to satiate their lust for the beverage whose name must not be said… for a liquid whose name alone can cause involuntary shuddering throughout the bodies of the uninitiated.

They came for Sherry.

Quite why Sherry is so maligned has always been a bit of a mystery to me. When studying Wines and Spirits in my first course with the WSET at Justerini and Brooks‘ Edinburgh offices I had my first run in with the stuff. I can distinctly remember being taught that sales of Sherry were slowly plummeting as the generation of old ladies who enjoyed the proverbial glass of Sherry wine were dying off, and the consumption of Jerez‘s finest was not something that had been embraced by the following generations.

Over the two decades following I came to develop a taste for the sharp tang of the Manzanilla as well as the nutty notes of the Oloroso, a fresh bottle of Tio Pepe at the back of my fridge forever waiting in the wings for unexpected visitors.

Throughout my years as a Sommelier I managed to convert many to the delights of Jerez, friends, staff and customers alike, but it has to be noted here that not all are susceptible to Sherry’s eccentric charms. Whilst many a wine lover will come to love the stuff there are many respected tasters who cannot stand it, including Evan Saviolidis of Wine Tidings magazine, who actively hates Sherry with a vitriol that is difficult for one like myself to comprehend.

Nibbles at The Secret Sherry Club: Lemon- and anchovy-stuffed olives; Roasted almonds and pistachios; Sardine-tomato crostini; Gruyere with cloves; Beef consommé with smoked tofu; Lonza; Tapenade on crostini with dukkah; Wild boar sausage; Pork belly, brussel sprout and mustard terrine; Triple-cream brie with burnt fig jam; Saint Agur on fig and olive cracker; Chocolate

And so to Secret Sherry Club…

For the tasting the organisers had assembled a fascinating range of differing styles of sherries, many unavailable in the Ontario market. One of the the problems of being a sherry lover in Toronto is the sheer lack of options available, so thankfully our hosts had picked up many a bottle from other provinces or from the United States.

A personal favourite of mine was the Tio Pepe Fino En Rama. While Gonzales Byass‘ standard Tio Pepe offering can be found in most decent stores, the En Rama (unfiltered) bottling is a rarity around these parts and was a real treat for those assembled that evening. Tio Pepe’s wines are available through Woodman Agencies, and if we bug them enough they may just consider bringing in En Rama.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the various Emilio Lustau sherries that were tasted upon that night. If one looks carefully one can often find a selection of their half bottles hidden away on those KGBO shelves. I am particularly taken by their Papirusa Very Dry Manzanilla, which works just the job with some Iberico ham and comes in at a very wallet-friendly $11.95. Lustau wines are available through John Hanna and Sons.

And so where to go to enjoy Sherry if one doesn’t get an invite to Secret Sherry Club? Well, Chef Chris McDonald has been a longtime lover of his Sherry, something that is reflected in the vast range of bottles served by the glass at his restaurant Cava just north of St. Clair and Yonge. Too many restaurateurs shy away from Sherry, perhaps misunderstanding its place at the dining table, and so one will be hard pressed to find decent selections of the stuff elsewhere.

The first rule of The Secret Sherry Club is you don’t talk about The Secret Sherry Club

The Evening’s Wines

Emilio Lustau Los Arcos Solera Reserva Dry Amontillado – Vintages 286203 | $11.95/375ml

Emilio Lustau Papirusa Very Dry Manzanilla– Vintages 274456 | $11.95/375ml

Flight #1 – Fino & Manzanilla:

Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla – Vintages 290734 | $14.95/750ml

Emilio Lustau La Ina Fino Sherry – Vintages 264697 | $18.95/750ml

Equipo Navazos I Think Manzanilla En Rama – NYC | Tinto Fino | $17/375ml

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama – NYC | Tinto Fino | $24/750ml

Alvear’s Fino Montilla – LCBO 112771 | $11.45/750ml

Flight #2 – Oxidized:

Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada Sherry – Vintages 975797 | $21.95/750ml

Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado Seco  – NYC | Tinto Fino | $23/750ml

Barbadillo Obispo Gascón Palo Cortado – NYC | Tinto Fino | $42/750ml

Equipo Navazos La Bota De Palo Cortado No. 34 – NYC | Tinto Fino | $70/750ml

Hidalgo Gobernador Oloroso – NYC | Tinto Fino | $28/750ml

Tradición Oloroso VORS – BC | Marquis Wine Cellars | $100/750ml

Flight #3 – Sweet:

Gutierrez Colosia Sangre Y Trabajadero Oloroso  – NYC | Tinto Fino | $21/375ml

Cesar Florido Moscatel Pasas – NYC | Tinto Fino | $22/375ml

Valdespina El Candado Pedro Ximénez – NYC | Tinto Fino | $20/375ml

Delaforce His Eminence’s Choice 10-Year-Old Tawny – Vintages 265504 | $24.95/750ml

Cossart Gordon Colheita Bual 1997 – Vintages 31591 | $59/500ml

And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first night at Secret Sherry Club, you have to drink Canadian Imperial Sherry

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he does love his Sherry, that’s for sure.