What does romance mean anyhow? It’s a perennial question that pops up at this time of year. Personally, Valentine’s Day brings out both the cynic and the hopeless romantic in me. I worked too long front-of-house in restaurants not to have my inner cynic rally in mid-February. And yet, as a lover of gastronomy, I’m a sucker for the emotional potency of sharing something special, even if that’s just an appreciation shared with the professionals who are serving you.
recently had what was one of the most romantic meals of my life — and I enjoyed it as a solo diner. The only other diners in the intimate four-table dining room were four girlfriends on a gal-pal date. I was there as a guest of the Michelin-starred Corral de la Morería restaurant ahead of a visit to Madrid Fusion gastronomy symposium, and my evening combined several of my favourite things in this world. An extraordinary flight of sherries, ranging from bright young Fino to ancient Amontillados Viejas that were born before my grandparents and have lived longer lives. These were paired with a seafood-heavy tasting menu, with dishes so exquisite that I wanted to slow time down — like just-cooked squid ‘noodles’ in an umami-rich, slightly spiced squid broth with lime zest and lemon peel, shiso leaf and crisp-fried tentacles, paired with the complexity of Equipo Navazos’s La Bota 27 de Fino ‘Macharnudo Alto’ (whose older sibling, La Bota no 35, is in Celtic Whiskey Shop for €30.99). And finally, a live performance of incredible passion from some of today’s best flamenco talents.
With more than 120 rare and precious bottlings, Corral de la Morería has one of the world’s best sherry lists, plus an enviable reputation as one of Spain’s oldest and finest flamenco tablao venues and the only one to serve Michelin-starred food. Tasting some of those very old Amontillados, including from the 300-year-old bodega of Pedro Domecq, in this unique, family-run venue was an experience that I’ll treasure forever. It also reminded me of the inherent romance of sherry, each bottle of which captures centuries of history enlivened by a still-evolving legacy.
My bottle of the week is more New Romantic than Ol’ Romantic, hailing from one new-wave bodega which is keeping things moving forward in the region today. I previously featured Callejuela’s 12-year-old Blanquito Manzanilla Pasada for its gastronomic complexity; today I recommend its Oloroso Origen. And if sherry is not (yet!) your thing, I include a few more share-worthy beverages to make this Valentine’s extra special.
Drinks of the week
Oloroso Origen Callejuela, Jerez, Spain, 15pc, €31
From two brothers who built on their viticulturist father’s expertise to use exclusively estate-grown grapes from 28ha in some of the best pagos (terroirs), this amber-hued Oloroso has glorious aromas of juicy dates and prunes, candied orange in dark chocolate, roasted pecans and bitter walnut, leading to a complexity on the dry and tannic palate that is almost austere, but with deep umami character, finishing rich with roasted notes and a saline twist. Perfect for fireside sipping with salty cheese or with meaty main courses if you’re feeling brave. Selected independents, stationtostationwine.ie
Three Spirit Livener, UK, 0pc, €34 (50cl)
Want to get the private party started but with clear heads the next day? This delicious alternative to boozy spirits harnesses stimulating adaptogenic roots, fruits and herbs like ginseng, schisandra and guava leaf for a full-flavoured sipper that works in a booze-free cocktail with grapefruit juice and kombucha. thevirginmarybar.com
The Whistler ‘PX I Love You’ Single Malt, Co Meath, 46pc, €57.50-€60
A playful bottling from Boann Distillery in the Boyne Valley, this Irish single malt was aged in ex-Bourbon barrels but finished with nine months in PX sherry casks, picking up lots of ripe fig, dark prune and sticky liquorice aromas that carry through on the palate, finishing zesty, with dark chocolate notes. James Fox, Bradleys, Mitchell & Son; mitchellandson.com
Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, Co Meath, 5pc, €5 (37.5cl), €10 (75cl)
A unique cider from Mark Jenkinson, who is preserving the art of keeving (an ancient process behind a naturally sparkling, off-dry, robust style of cider) and reviving varieties like the Cockagee apple, once known for producing the ‘champagne of ciders’. Share before or with a special meal. Martins, Mitchells, Drinkstore, McHughs, lecaveau.ie
Wicklow Wolf Locavore Autumn 2022, Co Wicklow, 10.5pc, €6
Worth seeking and sharing, this moreish barrel-aged barleywine is magic sipped with salty cheeses or chocolate-orange dessert. Brewed from Wicklow-grown barley, aged in ex-sherry casks that once held Wicklow whiskey, it is very smooth with bittersweet candied citrus.
Select independents, thecru.ie, craftbeersdelivered.com, thebeerclub.ie
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