One of the more notable wine trends during the last few years has been the resurgence of fortified wines such as sherry. Sherry is no longer viewed with the stuffy Old-World sentiment as it once was. I personally remember as a child seeing sherry being served in tiny ornate crystal glasses to elderly visitors.
Sherry is a unique wine that is exclusively produced in the wine-growing region of Jerez, Spain, located in a triangle of land formed by the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Sherry has been produced in the region since the 8th century but it was the British who began exporting it after conquering Cádiz in 1587. They called it sherry since it was easier to pronounce than “Jerez”.
The process of producing sherry is very complex. The wine is fermented and placed in a ‘solera system’ which are barrels that are stacked up on their sides in a pyramid-like shape. Yeast develops on the wine, known as flor, which stops the wine turning to vinegar and adding extra spice and flavour to the wine. The wine gets transferred from the top of the Solera system down through each layer over time, blending with older wine each time to create a complex ageing process. Alternatively, sherry can be aged oxidatively, by being left in contact with the air.
The ancient ageing process combined with the diverse fortification methods and the microclimate within each town is what creates the different sherries. Most dry sherries use the Palomino grape variety, where the sweet ones tend to use Moscatel or the Pedro Ximénez grapes. Below are the most famous sherry styles.
Dry Sherry Wine
Dry sherries are good to drink as an apéritif and should be served chilled. The dryer the wine, the cooler the temperature should be. Finos and Manzanillas generally remain around five years in the solera system, whereas Amontillados and Olorosos spend ten or more years.
Fino is the driest of sherries. Fino sherries have a light body and a low alcohol content, which ranges between 15 to 17%. It tends to lose its flavour after it’s opened, so it’s best to drink it straight away and is best chilled.
Fino pairs well with salty foods such as olives, almonds and Spanish jamón. It also goes well with seafood and sushi.
Manzanilla is a type of fino made exclusively in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The ageing process is similar to Fino, but the proximity to the sea and the humidity results in a paler wine with salty notes. It should be served chilled and within a day or two after opening.
Recommended food pairings are similar to Fino. It goes well with olives, almonds, Spanish jamón, fried fish and seafood such as shrimp or raw oysters.
This wine begins as a Fino, ageing first under the velo de flor (protects the wine from air and imparts its own crisp, saline flavour) for four to six years and then through oxidation. This last stage allows the wine to develop more nutty flavours such as almond and hazelnut. The wine has an amber colour and it can vary between dry or medium-dry if mixed with a small amount of Pedro Ximénez grapes. It has an alcohol level of 16% to 18%.
Amontillado will pair well with pork and rabbit or bird meats such as chicken, turkey or quail.
This sherry has more of a full body. It has a dark golden colour and notes of dried fruit and spices. Olorosos spend about six to eight years in the solera and has an alcohol content of between 18% to 20%.
It pairs well with grilled red meats, game, aged cheeses and mushrooms.
Palo Cortado is a rare kind of sherry that usually occurs by accident. It begins as a Fino and then develops more like an Oloroso. The result is a dark-coloured wine with great body. It has an alcohol level of between 18% to 20%.
Suggested food pairing include the same foods that compliment oloroso or amontillado, as well as game meats, nuts, vegetables and blue cheese.
Sweet Sherry Wine
Regarding sweet sherry, the name of the grape is often used along with the word “crema”. Sweet wines can range from pale cream, which is sweetened Fino, to cream, which is sweetened Oloroso. There’s also “medium” which is usually referring to a sweetened Amontillado. All these wines contain around 15.5% to 22% alcohol.
Sweet sherries pair well with desserts, foie gras or mature cheeses such as blue cheese.
Within the sweet sherry realm, there are two other sherries, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (also spelled Muscatel), which are named after the grapes used in their production.
This is a sweet sherry with a honey-like consistency. It is the product of 85% of Pedro Ximénez grapes which are dried in the sun for about a week. It is considered to be a dessert wine and has an alcohol level of 15% to 22%. It will pair well with blue cheese, almond tart or vanilla ice cream.
Like Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel sherry will consist of a minimum of 85% of Moscatel grapes. The grapes are dried in the sun before being pressed and added to a solera. Moscatel goes well with ice cream or a fruit tart.
Sherry wine cellars are referred to as bodegas. Some of the best bodegas are located in:
Jerez De La Frontera
- Bodegas Fundador: Established in 1730, it’s the oldest bodega in Jerez.
- Gonzalez Byass: Also known as Tio Pepe. It began in 1835 and produces a variety of sherries, but it’s renowned mostly for its Fino styles with salty and citrus notes.
- Emilio Lustau: Lustau is a large bodega in Jerez founded in 1896. It produces a wide selection of sherries.
- Bodegas Tradicion: The wine making process follows traditional guidelines, with sherries kept in their natural state, without additives or filtering.
Located in Sanlúcar De Barrameda
- Barbadillo: This bodega has existed since 1821.
- Hidalgo: Sherry has been produced at Hidalgo since 1792, and since then the business has been passed down through the same family.
In Closing …
It’s time to move on beyond the former stereotype that sherry is only for our elders. It is in fact a drink for all.