Since the early years of the cocktail revival, bartenders have been re-discovering sherry—the central ingredient in many 19th-century classics from the flip to the cobbler—and praising it for its versatility. In San Francisco, 15 Romolo was among the first bars to embrace these fortified wines and, in the years since, has led the charge with its sherry-centric cocktail program, which calls on the full range of styles in a variety of different applications.
There’s one style of sherry, however, that the bar cites as being especially well-suited to mixing: manzanilla, the driest style of sherry, alongside fino. Manzanilla is primarily characterized by the flavors it develops during the “biological aging” process, as it matures beneath a protective layer of yeast known as flor. Typically a bit leaner and more saline than fino (which is essentially the same wine made in El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera, rather than Sanlúcar de Barrameda), manzanilla has the unique ability to bring perceived acidity and dryness to a cocktail. These two styles are among the world’s driest wines.
“Manzanilla is an amazing wine because of its dryness and high acidity,” says 15 Romolo bar manager Andrew Meltzer, who fell in love with manzanilla about five years ago. What makes it such a standout ingredient in cocktails, he explains, is that it elevates other elements in the drink; the salinity of manzanilla can make flavors pop, much like “bringing a pinch of salt to the table.”
Though he notes that it shines alongside both dark and light spirits in everything from shaken sours to stirred Martini riffs (like the 19th–century Bamboo or Tuxedo), Meltzer finds that manzanilla plays well with tequila, particularly in a drink like the Margarita. “It is the salt in a sour-style cocktail,” he says.
Besides being an ideal complement to just about every spirit, manzanilla can easily take the place of a spirit in a drink built to be low-proof. But the best place to get to know how manzanilla behaves in a drink is to begin by subbing it for dry vermouth, says Meltzer, in “nearly any recipe.”
Manzanilla, Three Ways
“Manzanilla is great in stirred drinks because it adds a mouth-watering quality,” explains Meltzer. In his Jabberwocky—adapted from the Jabberwock, which originally appeared in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book—he combines manzanilla, gin and Lillet Blanc in equal parts for a delicate, floral drink.
In shaken drinks, manzanilla does particularly well as part of a split base—provided it’s used in a measure greater than one ounce, to prevent it from being overpowered by an accompanying spirit. “The benefit of doing a split base,” explains Meltzer, “is it allows manzanilla to shine hand-in-hand with whatever you’re pairing it with.” Here, Meltzer uses manzanilla to complement blanco tequila as the base of a sloe gin- and ginger-infused take on a classic sour.
15 Romolo’s Sherry Cobbler
“Manzanilla is risky in long drinks,” Meltzer cautions; given its low proof, it runs the risk of being over-diluted in a traditional Collins formula. However, bolstered by both amontillado and cream sherries, manzanilla holds up to a mound of crushed ice and fresh citrus in this take on the classic Sherry Cobbler.