So there I was, 6:15 p.m. on the night of this month’s #Under25Challenge. I still hadn’t left the office, I had no bottle of wine, and even more distressing, I had nothing to eat for dinner. Shite. I packed my bag, grabbed my keys, ran out the door and headed to Price Chopper. I ladled myself some split pea and ham soup, then made my way over to the hole-in-the-wall liquor store across the street. I wasn’t sure what I was gonna get, but I figured they had to have SOMETHING drinkable. I was in a pinch, and beggars can’t be choosers.
I walked in to the store and found the lone employee perusing the Beverage Journal at the front counter. As it turns out, Marvin owned the store. I told him about the Twitter challenge and how I’d like for him to make a recommendation of his best bottle $25 or under, and he chuckled to himself. I could tell that this was the kinda guy in the kinda store that just didn’t do Twitter. He asked whether I wanted to give him any direction and I said I was open to anything, although I was leaning toward having a red. He took me over to the wine section, plunked a bottle down on a wine box, and then disappeared. I didn’t know if that was it or if he was going to get something else. I decided to wait around.
Four minutes later he came back with two more bottles, then he wandered to another section to get a fourth. I really wasn’t expecting this kind of variety, or thoughtfulness, from my hole-in-the-wall package store down the street. My choices ranged from $13.99 to $19.99; he offered an interesting Australian blend featuring Petite Verdot, which he told me was rare for a Rhone style wine, a 100% Mencia from Spain that he said would knock my socks off, a Rioja that may need a bit of decanting, and a delicious black cherry fruit bomb from Napa. I told him I was rather partial to fruit bombs from Napa, but that I wanted to go out of my comfort zone that evening. I was leaning toward the Australian or the Mencia.
Then I casually mentioned what I was having for dinner; split pea and ham soup. “Aha!,” he exclaimed, “well then I know just the thing, but this is gonna be weird.” I waited with bated breath while he disappeared again. He came back with a bottle of what looked kind of like Boone’s Farm. It was a $10.99 bottle of Hartley & Gibson’s Fino Sherry. He explained that Sherry was the secret ingredient to make any soup outstanding; clam chowder, chicken noodle, beef and vegetable, you name it, Sherry would make it shine. I said, “Really? I’d never heard that before!”
Marvin told me that the Sherry would do three things to my soup: 1. it would add its own unique flavor; 2. it would meld all the flavors of the soup together; and 3. it would remove any excess saltiness. I thought it sounded great, and I figured that since my store-bought soup couldn’t possible get any worse, I might as well give it a try. So I went with the Sherry… and the Australian blend, just to be safe. Both bottles came to $26.16, almost cheap enough to meet the #Under25Challenge parameters.
But all that chatting with Marvin about wine and Sherry had seriously cut down my lead time for the challenge. I didn’t have much time to prep for the chat, and clearly, my main priority was the soup.
First I tasted the soup sans Sherry, to give myself a baseline to compare it too. It was really good, but not amazing. Then I added the magic elixir. Less than a shot, maybe two teaspoons, and mixed it all in. Marvin said you should add it tableside or right before you take it off the heat. I took my first bite and said, “Oh. Em. Gee.” What Marvin said was true! Holy. Moly. This was the best thing I’ve ever done to a soup.
The flavor it added was just a hint of oak barrels and a touch of sweet port. It really did bring the flavors together and eliminated the saltiness. It gave it a richness that wasn’t there before, and a whole lot more pizzazz. It was a soup miracle.
Since the #Under25Challenge is all about finding new things for under $25, this bottle fit the bill perfectly. I tried a small taste on its own to get a feel for Sherry, it may have been my first foray. Someone on Twitter said it should have been on the rocks, but I drank it warm and neat, and I can tell you it wasn’t something I’m in a rush to do again. But I can tell you that this soup season is going to be packed with a Sherry punch!
Until the next bowl, Cheers!
 Because where else would I go for food?
 I love that it’s officially soup season.
 When I say hole in the wall, I’m really not exaggerating. This is the kinda place where regulars come in for their nips and their forties on a daily basis. #classy
 But ain’t nobody got time for that when your twitter chat is about to start in 20 minutes!
 To be fair, the hot soups at Price Chopper are seriously awesome.
 Because, #hanger.
 You know, besides re-heating it.