Sherry, for those in the know, is an absolutely wonderful drink. And yes, I’ve heard all the stereotype descriptions such as cheap, used only for cooking, only consumed by old people etc.
However, I believe that it’s now time to change that perception and enjoy this drink once more. I wrote an article on fortified wines here previously What in the World are Fortified Wines? I honestly believe though, that Sherry deserves its own post. And that’s why you should read on.
Spain’s Famed Fortified Wine
Before we get into the history and specifics of production, let’s start by clearing up a major misconception: Not all sherry is sweet. Tasting just one variety (in your granny’s) in the past, may have distorted your perception of this drink.
For example, Cream Sherry is just one of many styles (described below), the majority of which are actually dry, sometimes verging on savoury.
I am writing this piece in the hope that you’ll give Sherry another chance and experiment a bit. Drier varieties, like Fino and Amontillado, have more in common with wines than with digestifs, while sweet sherries, like the raisin-y Pedro Ximénez (PX), are more complex.
By the way, I enjoy my PX splashed over some ice cream.
No matter what sort of flavours you like in a wine, chances are you can find something similar to it within the Sherry category.I am convinced that, no matter what sort of flavours you like in a wine, chances are you can find something similar to it within the Sherry category. Click To Tweet
A Concise History
You will find plenty of sources that explain the history of Sherry in great detail so I’m not going to emulate these here.
The history of Sherry goes back a few thousand years. It was born in Spain and made primarily from the Palomino grape, then is fortified with grape brandy. It really gained a strong European footing in the 13th century. If you are interested, here is a link to Sherry-Wines that will explain the history in more detail.
Today, just as with other spirits or liquors, it can only be made within a specific growing region. Sherry is made in three towns in Southern SpainKnown as the marco de Jerez or “Sherry Triangle,”: Jerez de la Frontera (known simply as Jerez) Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Sherry has withstood its share of disease problems over the years. It has always recovered and is now largely made up of four major dry types, two sweet types, and a variety of blended sherries.
The four major dry types are Fino and Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso. Named after the varietals used to produce them, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, are the two sweet types.
When purchasing a bottle, check the label carefully to see where the wine is produced and bottled. if it’s not from Spain, it’s not true Sherry.
How Sherry is Made
Production depends on the type/classification of the wine. However, a general process follows. All Sherry wine begins its life as white wine grapes. The three varieties include:
Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria)
Juice is expelled from the pressed grapes, after the harvest. For sweeter wines, the grapes may be left outside in the sun to naturally dehydrate. This concentrates the sugars and flavours slightly, before pressing.
Fermentation and Fortification
Next, the grape juice is transferred to stainless steel vats where fermentation begins. Depending on how dry the winemaker wishes the final product to be, fermentation may occur until nearly all residual sugars are turned into alcohol. Alternatively, they may stop fermentation early for sweeter sherries.
After the wine has finished fermentation, the liquid is fortified by adding neutral grape spirits to create the final level of alcohol content
The Sherry is then transferred to a solera system. A solera system is a series of oak barrels lined in groups, called criaderas, containing blends of different ages.
During blending, as some older Sherry is taken from one barrel, a newer batch is added to what remains in the barrel in a hierarchical manner, creating a blend of Sherries of different ages. This rounds out flavours and provides balance to the finished product.
Types of Sherry
The Fino style is perhaps the most straightforward, dry and often hit with some bread-y notes. The flavour results from this style being aged under a flor — barrel-aged under a film of its own yeast. Relatively simple and great chilled, this is a good, inexpensive introduction to the wine.
Fino sherries are purely biological in their production (as are the next group, manzanilla sherries.)
(pairs well with light flavoured cheeses, olives, and tapas)
Manzanilla is also aged under the flor and shares many characteristics with fino sherries, except for one: Manzanilla is only made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
(pairs well with seafood, sushi, and smoked fish)
Like Fino and Manzanilla, Amontillado (made from Palomino Fino) begins aging under flor, but continues aging as the flor begins to die off and fade. This leaves the liquid partially exposed to oxygen, which further enhances the flavours of the wine. Amontillado is naturally dry. If it is sweetened, it needs to be labelled as Cream Sherry or Medium Sherry.
Amontillado is darker in colour than Fino or Manzanilla.
(pair with mushrooms, organ meats, paté, game meats, duck, and smoked game)
Oloroso, made from Palomino Fino grapes may be aged in sealed casks or steel vats, and no flor is present in the aging process. It is is naturally dry, but the body of the wine gives the impression of being sweeter than its counterparts. However, it is then sweetened slightly before it is matured again, so the wine may be dry or slightly sweet.
It is a complex wine with a nutty flavour; think walnuts. It may also have deeper flavours of leather and balsamic vinegar.
(pairs well with charcuterie, aged cheeses, roasted mushrooms, or steak)
Palo Cortado is a style that functions as the best of both worlds. Aged under the flor for a little while, it is also aged oxidatively. If you can’t decide which side of the spectrum you like more, palo cortado is for you.
It has the aromas of Amontillado but is more full-bodied in mouthfeel like an Oloroso. The flavours are complex in this dry Sherry. You may notice notes of orange, spice, and toasted walnuts.
(pair with roasted vegetables, game stews, or cheddar cheese)
Pedro Ximénez (PX)
PX Sherries are made from the Pedro Ximénez grape, which is naturally sweet and produces a sweet Sherry. Because of the acidity of the grape, the sweetness is well-balanced, and the wines are deep brown and syrupy.
You can drink PX as a dessert by itself, or serve with foie gras, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate mousse, or tiramisu.
Blends and Creams
Medium blends and creams can be produced from any of the other types of Sherry listed above, but they are either half-sweet (medium) or very sweet (cream). Flavour varies depending on which one is used to produce it; the sherries tend to be quite sweet and syrupy with flavours of dried fruits.
Other Things to Know About Sherry
Whether you drink Sherry or cook with it, it’s a great wine to try. If you’re new to it keep the following in mind:
- Store Sherry as you would other wines; keep the wine away from vibration, bright light, and large temperature fluctuations.
- Typically, Sherry doesn’t benefit from aging in the bottle, so unless otherwise indicated, it should be used within a year or so of the purchase date.
- Store bottle in an upright position (not on its side).
- After opening, re-seal and refrigerate the bottle. Dry Sherry will only two to three days in the fridge, while a sweeter version may last a few weeks to a few months.
- When cooking with Sherry, use a dry version (Fino is your best bet) unless a recipe specifies otherwise. Avoid cooking-sherry, which is usually not very tasty, and it contains salt, which can leave recipes over salted.
Go On – Give Sherry a Try
You’ll find a variety of styles and flavours in Sherry just as you would with any other wine.
We carry a range of Sherry here in Green Acres and we would love to discuss the various types/styles with you. I am 100% convinced that there’s a style that will suit every palate. Pop-in, call us, browse online or email me direct at email@example.com.
#staysafe – Talk Soon – James.