Monday, September 6, 2010

Finding Spain in Auckland

For a good while in London I had a job as the PR man for Tio Pepe, an eventually delicious dry sherry which nonetheless has what you might charitably call an 'acquired taste'. My job was to take journalists to the sherry-producing area of southern Spain, pass them a glass of Tio Pepe to drink and say 'good, isn't it?!', as they smiled thinly and pretended that it didn't taste like something a matador might use to remove blood from his cloak.

If I had a dollar for every time I'd written that Tio Pepe sherry is 'dry, not like the stuff your nana used to drink!', I'd have amassed a fortune rivalling the annual revenue generated by New Zealand's ridiculously high fortified wine tariff. But one should never underestimate the willingness of the general public to deride a drink based on its associations with their paternal grandparent, so let me say here, again, for a local audience, that Tio Pepe is best thought of as the dryest wine in the world. It has virtually no sugar in it whatsoever, making it savoury, slimming, perfect with food and wholly unsuitable for boozing up trifle.

Tio Pepe (a brand of fino sherry) scores ten out of ten in the tastebud-blasting stakes, but if you'd prefer to start off at, say, a seven, then you could try manzanilla (pronounce manth-a-nee-ya), a sherry-wine made in much the same way in a seaside town not far away from the the sherry capital of Jerez (hear-reth). If you asked the great European wine writers to compile a list of ten desert-island wines, most of them would include a sherry in the list. So it's a useful and interesting style of wine that you really ought to get your head around at some stage.

Luckily dry sherries such as fino and manzanilla are turning up more frequently on wine lists around Auckland. For your first time, make sure you drink it context – with some salty tapas in the late afternoon. I'd love to recommend Dida's wine bar for this but they don't keep their sherry in the fridge – it absolutely needs to be ice cold and at what is usually such a reliably knowledgeable place I can't believe they pour it at room temp. It's like serving coffee lukewarm.

To find a suitably cold copita of sherry then, head for Peter Gordon's Bellota (bay-yotta - let me know when you tire of these condescending pronunciation tips), inauspiciously situated next to the taxi rank at Sky City Casino. It's great for dates, with romantic little alcoves and plenty of shadows for pashing. Plus, the food is incredible and the staff are attractive, with mysterious accents.

Or go to Mondial (pictured above), my new local at the corner of Williamson and Great North, where the barrel-seating provides several (mainly ergonomic) barriers to a carefree pash, but where the European vibe and decor are well suited to sherry, tapas and uncomfortable misunderstandings about when exactly you're meant to pay for everything.

Mondial is a classy but casual sort of bar/restaurant/tapas-type-scenario, and a welcome addition to the otherwise fairly grimey Grey Lynn shops. Check it out immediately if you haven't before, and while you're in the area go buy something from the lovely young Indian couple across the road who've just opened up 'Farmville' – a greengrocer named after a facebook application, but please don't poke the fruit.