Until recently, sherry and port have been lesser known to the average consumer, but through the educational efforts of industry experts and bartenders championing these fortified wines, both are experiencing a modern day resurgence. Among the influential industry members working to bring fortified wine to the masses is Andy Seymour. Although he often manages to fly under the radar, Seymour is a partner at the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource, responsible for Bar Smarts and B.A.R. 5 Day, as well as the owner of Liquid Productions, a company that produces and consultant for major events like the Diageo World Class.
Late in 2001, Seymour was still bartending regularly, working small events and contemplating an exit from the industry to get a “real job.” While working with Steve Olson and his company, aka wine geek, on small events, an opportunity arose to partner together on an informational campaign for Wines of Spain with Sherry as the topic. His progression into the educational side of the beverage world catalyzed a new level of passion for Seymour and gave him plenty of reason to remain in the hospitality industry.
At the time, the world of Sherry was an enigma, saturated with misinformation and drowned in romanticism. But when Seymour guided a group of sommeliers on a trip to Jerez, Spain in 2002, his interest turned into a full-on love affair. Sherry is made in only one place, known as the Sherry Triangle, an area of Cadiz between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. Seymour found Jerez to be “a magical place full of history, heritage and tradition,” he says. Returning to the U.S. with amplified knowledge and passion for the category, Seymour and Olson launched a campaign sponsored by the government of Spain with the aim of sharing information and affection for sherry.
While initially directed at sommeliers and retail outlets, it quickly became apparent that bartenders were helping to popularize the campaign. There was enough growing excitement in the bartending community that, in 2005, a Sherry Cocktail Competition was created that required competitors to understand sherry, know how to mix with it, and also how to pair it with food. This competition was held in alternating years with the Copa de Jerez, a sister event that required a chef/sommelier team to create a dish and sherry pairing. Olson and Seymour soon expanded their discussion to include historical aspects of the use of sherry in cocktail bars here in the U.S., and they mixed Sherry Cobblers for attendees to sample. It was around this time that the cult following they’d fostered for Sherry began to take root. Writers started writing about it, bartenders began to mix with it, and interest in the Sherry Cocktail Competition grew to the point that they had to start offering it annually. The fledgling campaign that they started, initially limited to NYC, would eventually go on the road to other cities such as Florida, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
The other fortified phenom, Port, is at the height of its resurgence with Seymour, again, driving the educational force behind it. Port seemed to be left behind as the popularity of sherry took off in the market, but he is currently working with several producers to remind bartenders why port, like sherry, is great both on it’s own or for mixing. White, pink, ruby and tawny port styles give bartenders a palette of flavors to mix with. “The richness and depth of flavor profile make port a dynamic ingredient to use in cocktails, either as a base or a modifier,” says Seymour. “Light, bright, berry-crisp style ports, apple/pear/citrus notes, concentrated dense flavors, all these things can add nuance to a cocktail.”
Sherry and port surely aren’t going anywhere, but their resurgence and availability in the market depend on the bartending community. Education is key, and a good place to start for sherry knowledge is “Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla” by Peter Lime and Jesus Barquin. For port, “Vintage Port” by James Suckling and “Port and the Douro” by Richard Mayson are great references. Tasting these wines, reading about them, drinking them, using them in cocktails and sharing them with guests are the means by which we can show our thanks to Andy Seymour and Steve Olson for ultimately bringing these wines to the table again.