I’ve been patiently waiting for my review copy of Talia Baiocchi’s Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best Kept Secret. It’s apparently coming Palomino Express. I’m also breathlessly anticipating Jon Bonné’s glowing praise of this already legendary tome, certain to be included among his holiday wine book picks as payback for Baiocchi’s glowing words about The New California Wine. I’ve already seen Momofuku sommelier (yeah, I was called that quite a bit), and friend of Talia, Jordan Salcito’s 5-Star review on Amazon, which begins, “Brilliantly done!” and was posted the day of the book’s release. Damned somms are such fast readers—when it comes to reading and tips, they are accomplished at skimming. It’s safe to assume that neither Bonné nor Salcido will actually read Sherry. No need! And so, I declare, why should I?
It’s been two whole years since the last definitive book on Sherry was published, Sherry, Manzanilla, and Montilla by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin! Two years! Finally, Baiocchi fills in the blanks that Liem and Barquin so helplessly omitted. And, let’s face it, Liem, no history of Sherry can be considered complete that doesn’t include Baiocchi’s personal journey of how she discovered Sherry. Her importance to the region cannot be overstated, though she tries. Sherry isn’t just about those wondrous and satisfying wines; if anything, Sherry is a tour-de-force of witty asides and atmospheric writing that will once and for all convince you that, in fact, it’s Talia Baiocchi who is the Wine World’s Best Kept Secret. Sherry’s not so much a secret as it is a dinosaur, kind of like admitting you like Sinatra. Everyone who’s been around knows it’s great, but if you just discovered it, it was a Secret!
Sherry is often vilified as something our grandmothers drank, and, thus, crappy. Like Sanka. I’m old enough to be Baiocchi’s grandmother, if not anatomically correct, but can’t recall ever drinking Sherry regularly. I rarely drink Sherry now, though I like it. But Baiocchi emphasizes how terrific Sherry is with food. And at 17% ABV, it should be. Just like all those highly-extracted Zinfandels and Cabernets that every Millennial hates because they’re so big and hot and suck with food. The new wave of sommeliers hate those big red wines for their crazy alcohol levels. But Sherry? Naw. It’s great with food! And the alcohol works! As it turns out, Grandma was right all along, though she drank Cream Sherry, which is to Sherry what Korbel Champagne is to Champagne. An insult.
Sherry is made using the solera system. Baiocchi points out that the solera system represents the “origin of the sperm bank.” Indeed. Old stocks of Sherry are used to create new ones, and this sperm bank analogy is thought to be the origin of the name “Cream Sherry.” Normally, in the wine world, the use of old wine would be considered as it is in the sperm bank business—vial. However, in Sherry, it’s perfectly acceptable, indeed required. Grandpa would be proud.
Most wine novices are unfamiliar with the categories of Sherry, and how each is made. Baiocchi makes clear that she was one of those novices, and still is. But she fell in love with Sherry, moved to Spain in order to immerse herself in Sherry, and to unlock the Wine World’s Best Kept Secret. Baiocchi explains the differences between Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Larry Sherry, which is a big relief. There’s nothing she doesn’t explain. From how Sherry barrels are only partially filled before closing to the yeast that form over the top of the wines to protect them from oxidation, Baiocchi covers Sherry from flor to sealing.
What I like about Sherry is that it’s a book you can display on your book shelf and feel good about not ever having read it. Indeed, Baiocchi has made her young career out of publishing material it’s completely unnecessary to read. She launched the online magazine PUNCH, which is completely worthy of everyone’s inattention. And she briefly wrote a column for Wine Spectator online, which lasted only a few months but, to her credit, no one noticed. It’s the rare young wine writer who commands this much ennui.
Sherry is unique in the wine world. Or, as the Amazon blurb for Sherry notes, it’s “utterly unique.” One might be quick to note that “unique” cannot be qualified, much like Ms. Baiocchi.
Sherry is clearly a labor of love for Baiocchi, and her gift as a writer is displaying that labor. Bouncing between glib and off-the-cuff, the experience of reading the book is like sharing a copita of Sherry with Baiocchi and listening to her explain why you’re a jackass for not loving Sherry. It’s the Wine World’s Best Kept Secret! And now you’re in on it! Leave it to Baiocchi to drop the wine equivalent of the “Tom Cruise is gay” bomb. No?! Really?! The insight is staggering.
If you know nothing about Sherry, I highly recommend you put Baiocchi’s new book on your coffee table to impress your friends. Should you actually read it, something I somehow managed to avoid simply to write this Blind Book Review, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about this “utterly unique” wine. And Talia Baiocchi. And hype. All three of the Wine World’s Best Kept Secrets.