Want to Learn a Sherry Lesson? Head to Donostia

Want to Learn a Sherry Lesson? Head to Donostia
All photos by Rob Christensen

I drank a lot of sherry over the course of the last year or so, but until a couple of nights ago, the category was a blind spot in my booze education -- I had very little idea what I was doing when I ordered. But earlier this week, I stopped in to Donostia (155 Avenue B, 646-256-9773), the Basque pintxos restaurant on Avenue B, which, according to bar manager Will Peet (who also tends bar at Nomad), has the third largest sherry collection in the country.

Owners Jorge de Yarza and Marissa Miller, who modeled their restaurant after eateries they loved in northern Spain, have been growing the list since they opened a year ago, and they've brought some rare bottles back from trips to Jerez, where they've stopped in to bodegas to taste selections that haven't yet been bottled.

The sherry list offers nearly 50 options, which you can taste in flights if you'd like to get a feel for different types. If you, like me, lack education on the wine, this is a good place to start. If you're slightly more schooled, you might try a few pours of Amontillado, say, so you can understand the differences among wines that bear the designation.

Peet is an excellent teacher, and he's worth drawing into conversation if you'd like to learn more. Sherry, he explains, is fortified wine that really breaks into two main categories: the type that doesn't touch air (Fino or Manzanilla, which is a type of Fino made near Sanlúcar de Barrameda) and the oxidized variety (Amontillado or Oloroso). These sherries are dry; sweet sherries are called "cream sherry."

Fino and Manzanilla sherry tend to be light and crisp, "perfect for drinking a lot of on a summer day," says Peet. They also happen to pair well with conservas, the salty, canned fish and vegetables prominent in Basque pintxos. Amontillado and Oloroso, by contrast, are rich and nutty, wines worth cozying up to on a cold night.

And lest you assume cream sherry is something only your grandmother should drink, Peet assures that there are plenty of wines bearing this designation that are worth sampling. Donostia has a half-dozen on its list, including pale creams, which are less sweet and pair nicely with both fried food and dessert.

Order a couple of rounds of snacks while you sip; we recommend the bacalao, any preparation of the tortilla on the menu, and all of the montaditos (open-faced sandwiches).

Want to Learn a Sherry Lesson? Head to Donostia

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