By Andrew Valente

THERE is no doubt that the euro upped the cost of living, and it is just as sure that we are undergoing a mini recession. Even so, I think most people seem to be suffering from an unnecessary attack of the jitters: they have reacted as if the terrible 1929 Depression is about to repeat itself. This means, among other things, that fewer people are eating out. Even some up–market restaurants have seen business drop by up to 50 per cent – and their customers are the wealthy ones. Friends of mine, who previously could never tell me the price of anything they bought at the supermarket, are now fully aware of what everything costs – and which supermarkets have the best offers. My reaction to tough times is quite different: I cut out rather than down. My available money goes on higher quality goods – although only in the food and wine department. Instead of being satisfied with ordinary cheese for grating over pasta, I buy parmigiano reggiano, the best parmesan. Instead of buying ordinary bacon for spaghetti alla carbonara, I use genuine Italian pancetta, which is double the price of the Spanish variety. And I would never contemplate buying anything but imported Italian pasta, although it is also twice the price of the Spanish kind. When it comes to wine, I don't go looking for something cheaper, I buy wines that cost MORE than I usually pay.
Where does the extra money come from? There is no extra money involved: I simply draw up a list of priorities and spend my money on those few precious items. It makes economic sense, and by increasing quality of life when others are cutting down, I get a tremendous feelgood sensation. I don't recommend cutting down on the quality of the wine you drink, but if you have other more important priorities, then you can still drink well and spend less – it will simply take you a little longer to find good bottles at economical prices. But those bottles do exist and it pays to buy them at proper wine shops rather than supermarkets. Good wine shops always stock the best wines available. Juan Luis at La Vinoteca has a few Spanish wines for under three euros, as well as several at under four and five euros. They are good value for the money. But with Easter weekend just around the corner, this is a time for spending a little more on wines, rather than less. Even so, there is no need to shatter the Easter budget. One way of adding a touch of quality and class to your Easter weekend drinking – and still get tremendous value for money and a huge feelgood factor – is to get a few of bottles of sherry. Most of us are inclined to forget that sherry, euro for euro, is the best buy in any wine shop. When I think of the amount of time and meticulous care that go into making sherry, I am always amazed that it doesn't cost at least twice its current price. Sherry has the style, quality and character you demand for special occasions, yet you can buy some excellent well–known varieties for as little as six euros. There are even some at less than half that price. Remember, though, that the more you pay, the better the sherry. We are also inclined to forget that sherry is a versatile drink. There are many kinds of sherry with a wide variety of aromas and flavours, ranging from the extremely dry to the very sweet. Its versatility isn't limited to its different styles. A dry sherry, for instance, makes a superb aperitif drink with a few olives or salted almonds, but you can continue to serve it with a wide range of starters. Try an amontillado with thick cream of chicken soup, a well–chilled tangy manzanilla or a fino with plain boiled prawns, langostinos or steamed mussels. An oloroso can accompany sautéed kidneys or a thick lamb, vegetable and barley soup. I would always say yes to sherry when served with certain fish. Smoked eel and a well–chilled fino make a splendid combination and any batter–fried fish will also be enhanced by a fino. You will win praise if you serve a fino with an Italian risotto, especially if made with vegetables or wild mushrooms. And for an extra–special Easter flavour, don't forget to add a large glass of fino to the rice once it has been sautéed in the butter. An oloroso and a sweet Pedro Ximénez are ideal for cheeses of all kinds and also desserts. And if you want to bring an Easter luncheon to a memorable end, forget about dessert and serve instead a really good Pedro Ximénez such as Noé. It will cost you 29 euros, but it's worth every centimo.


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