Monday, October 20, 2014

Blind Book Review: "Sherry"

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.


Charlie Olken said...

Nicely done. You have probed the Baiocchi shtick from flor to sealing and made me want to not read the book either.

As for Larry Sherry and relief, loved it. Only someone old enough to be Jenna Talia's grandmother would remember Larry. What does that make me?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Charlie,
I knew you would get the Larry Sherry reference. And Larry has a funnier name than his brother, Norm. Remember him?

I actually did read a few excerpts from "Sherry" on the Amazon website and was struck by its mix of adolescent tone and very dry technical writing. At one point she calls Hugh Johnson something like "our great wine mystic." Really? He's the Kreskin of wine? What is Jancis Robinson? Our wine gypsy fortune teller?

Stuff like that made me write this review.

Charlie Olken said...

Would somebody who was struck out by the Sherry brothers be "sherrified"?

And if so, what would they smell like. Would Larry Anosmia recognize them?

Don Clemens said...

Ron: You had me solidly trapped with the "flor to sealing" comment. I wish I had spit sherry, instead of coffee, but...

Rob R said...

I agree - Flor to Sealing is outstanding. The Hosemaster is always worthy of our complete inattention...

Francly Speaking said...

OMG, this gives a whole new meaning to 'Harvey's Bristol Cream....

Thomas said...


This was truly a very unique review and an absolute exceptional achievement tour de force.

I would have remembered Larry Sherry had he played for the real Dodgers in Brooklyn, rather than the faux team in LA.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'd think if you'd be struck out by Larry Sherry pitching to his brother Norm, you'd have been creamed Sherry.

As for Larry Anosmia, MS, well, he'd only smell them blind, like an umpire.

Thanks. Nothing like getting off a really stupid pun. Have to say it makes me so proud when people groan and spit coffee. I feel like a barista.

I'm sorry, were you talking?

Thanks for not paying attention.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Don't tell Steiman.

And in the text of the book in one of the excerpts I skimmed, Baiocchi called Sherry one of the "most unique" wines. However, notice that Blinky over on Pallet Press today has a headline that reads "Are Millenials Illiterate?" Well, who knows, but I'm guessing they can spell Millennials properly.

Larry and Norm Sherry were the first, and only, I think, Jewish battery in MLB history. As Mel Allen would say, "How about that?" What's so special about a Jewish battery? Only has negative poles.

Unknown said...

I did not have time to read this HoseMaster gem, but, as a new common tater, I wanted to get my two cents worth in with a blind comment. Excellent and insightful. Biting, yet fair in his critique, the HoseMaster has done it once again. Okay, I'm lying. I read it. Best line: It's the rare young wine writer who commands this much ennui. I love the notion of commanding ennui. As if my ennui will listen to anyone.

Unknown said...

Then there is Sherry (Sherwood) Magee, late of the Phillies, Braves and Reds. May be that drinking with his grandma had something to do with his death at 44....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Not reading this piece was time well-spent. That is, you should have spent it in a well. It's not easy to command ennui, it's much like a cut fastball. But Baiocchi turns out to be the Mariano Rivera of wine writers. How did this become about baseball? Fucking Larry Sherry.

Wow, a baseball historian! I'd long forgotten Sherry Magee, one of the great players of his generation, and probably not Jewish. He should be in the Hall of Fame. One of those five tool players. I have six tools, by the way, but they're all screwdrivers, which I drank with my grandma.

Thanks for chiming in with some baseball trivia! Love it.

Thomas said...

Charlie should have known about Sherry Magee; he was probably at some of Magee's games.

Baseball is so much like wine. Maybe someone can finish that idiotic thought--a milenial perhaps (why bother with a double l?).

Joe Roberts said...

And all this time I'd thought that cream sherry was udderly unique...

Dean Tudor said...

I would have commented earlier but I decided to read the book first. It took me 8 days, up to now (I'm a slow book reader but a fast book reviewer).

Spot on.

This one is going into my holiday gift article. Easy in, easy out. Lotsa most unique people will read the book and then pass it on. Amazon marketplace may have it Used for 2 cents (plus $6.49 postage).

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Of course, I haven't read the book, or else, why review it? Though I was in a book store yesterday and happened to see the book. I turned it over, and there on the back was a rave review from Jon Bonné! Surprise, surprise, surprise! Laying it on thicker than Tammy Faye's mascara. Ah, integrity, thy name is wine critic.