No longer just drunk by an older, only-at-Christmas sort of a drinker, a new generation of Sherry drinkers are discovering the enormous complexity of Sherry. It’s not just one style, it’s certainly not always sweet and even when it is sweet than doesn’t mean it can’t be great quality.
While the mention of Sherry can either be met with sighs of appreciation and tales of late nights and tapas, all too often it can still be more of a shudder and a mention of a dusty bottle. A quiet and overdue Sherry revolution has been rippling through a welcome number of bars and restaurants across the UK for a few years now, proving it’s a drink for all ages and absolutely not just for Christmas. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of being reintroduced though it’s probably worth busting a few dangerous Sherry myths.
1. Sherry is a wine. A fortified wine but a wine nonetheless. This means anything not finished the first time you open the bottle needs to be safely resealed and in the fridge, ather than slowly turning to vinegar in a cupboard over a few months. Store your Sherry like this for up to a week for lighter styles or a month or two for Oloroso and Palo Cortado (although this point is purely theoretical in my experience).
2. Sherry isn’t just an aperitif, you can pair it with a range of different foods, just as you would with any other sorts of wine.
3. Like any other wine it likes a bit of space in the glass. Any dusty old Sherry “schooner” glasses need to be ceremoniously ditched.
4. It’s not just a style, it’s a protected in the same geographic way as Champagne and Parmesan. Sherry can only be made in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”, a relatively small area nestled in Andalucia’s south west corner, focussed on the town of Jerez, the first Spanish wine region to take on Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) status in 1935.
Most Sherry goes through a very special type of ageing process called the Solera system. Legally the wine needs to be aged for at least 2 years to be called Sherry but in practice even the lightest styles are often over 5 years old. The young wines get regularly blended in with barrels containing successively older and older wines until they reach the final stage, the Solera itself, before bottling.
This time-consuming process means that the Sherry doesn’t then need any further ageing. Great news for wine drinkers looking for something unique and complex without having to cellar the wines at all and something that the very accessible prices that Sherry commands just don’t reflect.
Despite the enormous variation in colour, all of these styles are actually white wines. All dry sherry wines are made from the Palomino grape variety, a lowish acidity variety which is also enjoyed by some scale as a “normal” still white wine in Spain.
Sherry rarely improves in the bottle and the lightest Sherry styles of Fino and Manzanilla are all about freshness. Despite being fortified, the alcohol level of these styles (around 15% abv) isn’t dissimilar to that of a Californian Zinfandel in a warm vintage. Where Fino is all about almonds and herbs, Manzanilla can be distinctly floral but both share a yeasty, appley taste profile that comes about from this style of wine’s unique ageing feature, the Flor. This yeasty veil appears early on in the wine’s lengthy time in the cellar (Bodega), forming a protective layer stopping the air from getting to the wine then passing on unique flavours and texture to the wine. Enjoy well chilled, from a normal wine glass giving it lots of room to breathe and treat it like a white wine, it will only stay fresh kept in the fridge for a few days.
What’s the difference? Fino can come from anywhere in the Sherry/Jerez DO area, Manzanilla must be aged within the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The salty tang that makes both styles so delicious with fried seafood is much more pronounced in a Manzanilla. Winemaking legend credits this to the town’s seaside location. It’s more likely to be explained by a slightly different make-up of yeast strains in the Flor here but believe whichever version you prefer.
Amontillado is a foodie’s dream. Delicate yet complex. Savoury yet rich. After the same initial path as a Fino, Amontillado’s are fortified a second time to 17%, at which point the Flor gives up and the wine begins to age oxidatively in its large oak barrels (butts). This adds some depth of colour and a nutty complexity in addition to the citrus flavours from the time under Flor.
Full-bodied, deeply coloured and full of oomph, Oloroso is a warming, highly complex mouthful of walnuts, dried fruits and figs. All dry sherries are fabulous aperitif wines but Oloroso can take on strong cheeses, game and even steak.
And if you really can’t make your mind up as to whether you prefer the biological (Flor) or oxidatively (no Flor) aged styles of dry Sherry then check out Palo Cortado. Beginning life as a Fino, in some rare cases the Flor mysteriously disappears and the wine is left to age in contact with the air, which it usually does slowly and with finesse. Flavours become more concentrated (as does the alcohol level). Typically the finish is epic and the wine is said to have the finesse of an Amontillado and the roundness of an Oloroso. Take any opportunity presented to enjoy this rare style.
Sweet styles fall into two broad categories, those made from partially dried grapes and fortified before all the sugar has turned to alcohol leaving very high levels of sugar in the wine, either made from Pedro Ximenez (stunning, treacley nectar) or from Moscatel (floral, scented and one of the few wines that actually smells and tastes like grapes). Unless you see these grapes mentioned on the front label then a sweet Sherry is a blend of one of the Dry styles plus either PX or Moscatel or very concentrated sweet grape juice and the descriptor will be an English word e.g. Cream or Medium. If you’re interested in some exciting food and wine pairings you would write off the better Cream Sherries at your peril.
More information on all Sherry styles can be found at www.sherry.wine
As a recently qualified Sherry Educator you can expect the Wine Confidence tasting programme for 2018 to feature some Sherry-related topics. This month’s #WedNightWineSchool in Epsom on 29th November is all about Cheese & Wine pairing and will no doubt include something from Jerez!
Cheers, Deb x