A selection of sherry from Vera. (Photo: Vera)
When Liz Mendez and husband, Mark, opened Vera in the West Loop in October 2011, they had no idea the Spanish-influenced concept would be an immediate hit. Mark’s rich Latin heritage brought soulful accents to a mostly traditional Spanish menu, while Liz’s accomplished wine background made her fearless when it came to selecting vino.
It was also an opportunity for Liz to explore sherry, a Spanish fortified wine she didn’t feel was getting enough exposure in Chicago. On average, Vera carries 11 sherries by the glass (prices range $6-$20), and each has been hand-picked by her. The restaurant also spotlights what are considered “friends” of sherry—wines from around the world that are similar in style and taste. (For a wine to be a sherry, it must originate from the Jerez region of Spain.)
Vera’s sherry list, in fact, is the most comprehensive in the city, offering styles ranging from the dry and light Fino to a rich and sweet Pedro Ximenez. What’s also really cool is that Liz makes sherry pairing recommendations, such as fino complementing anchovies and shellfish, while Pedro Ximenez enhances the flavors of chocolate, raisins and figs.
When she recently attended her first “Sherryfest” in New York, she found that she wasn’t the only one obsessed with the fortified wine. “It was inspiring to chat with so many restaurateurs and wine directors around the country who are taking sherry off the back page of wine lists and making it an integral part of the beverage program,” she said. “Sherry is on fire!”
Additional places around town where you’ll find good sherry lists and sherry-based cocktails:
BIN 36. The casual, wine-focused restaurant/retail hybrid continues to be a popular after-work hang. The staff is also well informed when it comes to vino and pairing it with food. You’ll find two authentic sherry offerings on the menu (Palomino, Domecq, Fino La Ina, Jerez, Spain; and also Pedro Ximenez, Emilio Lustau, Fino San Emilio, Jerez, Spain), plus two “friends” (Pedro Ximenez, Alvear, 1927, Montilla-Morilles, Spain; and also Pedro Ximenez, Bodegas Toro Albala, 1982 Grand Reserva, Aguilar-de la Fron, Spain).
Frontier. Wild game, beer and cocktails attract a mostly male audience to this upscale sports lounge in the Noble Square/Wicker Park area. Those who’d likely shun sherry would probably go for Monkey Punch, which includes Monkey Shoulder whiskey, amaro sherry, Earl Grey tea, orange juice, cinnamon nutmeg simple syrup, grapefruit bitters and lemon juice.
Graham Elliot. There's an equally bold sherry-based cocktail on the menu at the hot River North eatery that's owned by the controversial television personality. Bob Wa is certainly not playing around by mixing up scotch, px sherry, vermouth and orange bitters.
Perman Wine Selections. Liz Mendez is a big fan of this West Loop wine shop, which she believes offers diverse, quality sherry to the general public. The staff is quite knowledgeable and encourages customers to sample the various beers, spirits and wines before they make a purchase.
Watershed. Pops For Champagne’s lower-level cocktail lounge is one of the most underrated in River North. The bartenders also feature The Misanthrope—a concoction of Rowan’s Creek bourbon, Lustau Don Nuño sherry and Koval Chrysanthemum.
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