Ballymaloe From the Editor

Ballymaloe Day 38: “Give sherry a chance!”

Finishing up the day by eating tapas with a smooth sherry was one of the highlights so far, and it was definitely one of those moments where I was so glad to be on this course.

With just two days before our mid-term exams, a group of us were up bright and early at 7am for a crash course with Haulie the gardener where he went through the various herbs and salads that we would inevitably be quizzed on.

Strolling through the gardens and glasshouses as the sun was rising, we were struck by this wonderful illuminating glow that spilled across the sky.

It was enough to brighten the spirits and the nervousness of exams was quickly washed away.

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As per usual, Wednesday was our wine lecture day and we had the lovely Colm McCan back with us to go through French wine regions.

Making stops in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace, we also went on a trip to South Australia and California.

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We got a wonderful taste of probably the best wines I’ve had on this course – I’m particularly fond now of Riesling (pronounced Reeseling).

If you ever spy a Pewsey Vake Dry Riesling from Eden Valley, snatch it up and try it with crab. I got this wonderful aroma of pears and citrusness as I sniffed the glass. It tasted so crisp and lingered in my mouth.

Notably on today’s wine tasting list was a Rochioli Pinot Noir from the Russian River in California which has quite a strong, concentrated fruity smell and just slides across the tongue.

After sipped delicately on our glasses Colm informed us that Ireland gets about five cases of this wine each year and that Ballymaloe House gets two of those cases, so basically we drank about 10% of the year’s allocation – so a special experience to say the least!

These are lessons worth savouring.

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By the time we got to lunch, though pumped full of knowledge, I was quite tired (I’ve been on low energy all week!) and as we scooted into our tapas demo, the upcoming extra sherry tasting with Colm seemed like a lifetime away.

Sherry immediately evokes the image of an old woman in her sitting room sipping on a teeny weeny glass, so I was amused to learn more about this curious drink.

Made in southern Spain, the grapes are picked and fermented like a white wine. Sherry is a fortified wine which means that a neutral high alcohol grape spirit is added after fermentation is complete – this raises the alcohol level.

Then it’s placed in what’s known as a solera system – an arrangement of barrels stacked on their sides – and then the sherry is drawn off the oldest barrel which is then topped up from the next oldest barrel and so on!

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(Me attempting to pour sherry the traditional way – see the video below)

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Using a traditional Sherry Venencia from Ballymaloe Cookery School on Vimeo.

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(Me officially failing to do so!)

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(Emer demoing how to cook cuttlefish)

Serving alongside the sherry would be a vast selection of tapas, demoed by Darina and executed by Emer and Tracie.


The dishes mounted in front of our headmistress and soon we had crispy patatas bravas, brandade de morue (salted cod with piquillo pepper), tortilla de patatas, cuttlefish, serrano ham and shrimps on display – but to name a few!

By the way, it’s worth noting that those little sherry glasses that we’re used to seeing in Ireland (especially at Granny’s house), aren’t actually proper sherry glasses because if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for the type of alcohol level it has.

As Colm put it; you serve a pint in a bigger glass because it sits at about the 4.5% mark, the average wine (12%) goes into a wine glass but why does sherry go into a teeny one when it’s just above wine at 15 – 18%. It’s like serving a pint in a teacup.

Serving us in proper glasses, which are like smaller wine glasses, I tasted two sherries for the first time – a delightful Tio Pepe En Rama and an even more intriguing Palo Cortado.

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(Ian and Daniel attempting to fill sherry glasses!)

“Give sherry a chance”, says Colm, “it’s under-priced and undervalued!” Noted!

We’re back in the kitchen tomorrow where myself and Eilish will be rustling up a conglomerate of dishes, including a seafood platter and homemade tomato ketchup.

I mentioned this before but just so you know that there mightn’t be a blogpost going live this weekend for a few reasons – we’ve exams all day Friday and my other half is visiting for the bank holiday weekend! There will though be blogposts for each day, and I’ll be back posting them on site.

Some random things that I learned today:

  • The average Bordeaux wine barrel holds about 225 litres which is about 300 bottles of wine.
  • A white wine can be made from white and red grapes, the colour comes from the skin, which also adds tanins to the wine.
  • Good years for wine? 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.
  • Guidelines for serving dry sherry – it MUST be served well chilled and freshly opened. It works excellently with food (I adored sherry with tapas but can definitely see it with seafood).
  • Short history of tapas – it’s said that they came to be when people started to cover their glasses of sherry with a bit of bread and ham because it attracted flies!
  • There are about eight types of tapas:
    • Pincho – tapas on cocktails sticks
    • Montaditos – tapas served on a small slice of bread
    • Minis – little white buns that have a filling
    • Tartaletas – tartlets with fillings
    • Tortillas – with shrimps, potatoes or chorizo
    • Platillos – “little plates” with things like a small salad or roasted peppers
    • Cazuelitas – tapas in clay pottery like various seafoods
    • Fritos – salted cod, bunueloas and croquettes!

(0) Comments

  1. I agree with Colm – give sherry a chance. I, too, had that picture of a little old woman in my head until I visited Tio Pepe in Spain last summer. The sherries were delicious and such good value. If you have a minute (it sounds hectic there!) you can read about my visit (plus a bit about port and cognac) here:

    Hope the exams went well for you! Enjoy the weekend with the “other half” 🙂

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