Get merry with the sherry

Don’t just leave it out for Santa - break out the classic Spanish tipple for the holidays

There’s no denying that sherry was popular during the mid-20th century, but you also have to admit that its reputation is a bit tarnished. However, it shouldn’t be. Cast all thoughts of dusty bottles of ‘British sherry’ on Nana’s shelf from your mind. Sherry is just the thing to make your festive parties go with a swing.

Sherry is only made in one particular area of Spain, the ‘sherry triangle’ between Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. The main types of sherry most of us are likely to come across are Fino and Manzanilla – both dry, with the latter having a salty tang as it’s made in the seaside town of Sanlucar – and oloroso, a warmer, darker drink. The varieties beloved of Nanas, such as cream and pale cream, are actually blended. Cream is a blend of oloroso and Pedro Ximénez  (a naturally super-sweet wine). All this means there’s lots of variety, and even if you don’t like one sherry, you may well like another.

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried them all!


Don’t forget the hedgehog

Sherry’s peak popularity was in the mid 20th century; by the 1960s it was so popular that it featured in the UK government’s Cost of Living index. If you’re throwing a party, why not go the whole hog and give it a mid-century theme? It’s easy to find 1950s-60s sherry glasses in charity shops. Preserved for special occasions, they’ve lasted where tumblers and highball glasses were broken decades earlier, and now so few people use them, they’re usually sold for just a few pounds a set. Plates of the same era are likewise fairly easy to find (as long as you don’t want a complete set – mixing and matching is the way to go).

Classic party food of the era includes vol-au-vents (prawns in marie rose sauce, cottage cheese with pineapple, and chicken in white sauce are all period-appropriate fillings, though creamed mushrooms might please your vegetarian guests more), sausages on sticks, simple triangular sandwiches and, of course, the good old cheese and pineapple hedgehog. People joke about them, but those hedgehogs are always massively popular.

Make sure you pick a firm cheese like a Cheddar or Red Leicester as crumbly ones like Wensleydale or Caerphilly are a nightmare to put on sticks, and make sure you really cram lots of sticks onto the hedgehog. A stingy hedgehog is the harbinger of a sad party.

If you fancy scattering some surprises among your buffet, try putting spoonfuls of vol-au-vent filling onto lettuce leaves, or replacing the pineapple on the hedgehog with pearl onions, cocktail gherkins or even pickled chillies. A classic Spanish alternative to the cheese and pineapple would be a Gilda: named in honour of Rita Hayworth’s shapely pins, it’s simply anchovy, olive and pickled guindilla pepper on a stick. And Chinese dim sum (nibbles) go really well with sherry; the shaoxing wine used in a lot of Chinese cookery has a similar flavour to sherry.








While you can make your own, an easy option is to pop along to your local Asian supermarket and pick up bags of frozen siu mai (pork parcels) and har kao (shrimp dumplings). All you need to do is steam them just as the party kicks off and serve them hot.

Cream sherry would probably have been the favoured drink during the 1960s, but we recommend you serve Fino or Manzanilla with anything containing shellfish or white meat, and Oloroso with most cheeses. After all that, if your guests still think they don’t like sherry, why not whip up a Tuxedo?

So, you’re all set for your mid-century sherry party. Don’t forget to send us an invitation!

The tuxedo

Basically, a sherry martini


Invented at America’s super-posh Tuxedo Club, this cocktail is over a century old, and like all old drinks the recipe is disputed. Here’s the recipe I prefer. You really do need Fino for this one; I’ve tried it with Manzanilla and it wasn’t nearly as successful.

Simply stir together two parts gin, one part Fino sherry and a dash of bitters (or shake the whole lot with ice). Strain into a chilled Martini glass, and serve with a twist of lemon peel.





Miriam McDonald is a freelance journalist from the sunny South West.  Travel is one of Mim’s big passions, especially if there’s good food or cricket along the way. When she can’t journey it in reality, science fiction does the trick.