Sherries (Photo credit: ghirson)

Sherry, according to many uneducated sorts, is something which is very sweet and drunk only by old ladies at Christmas parties or on their birthdays. How wrong they are!  Sherry is a fortified wine which is gaining in popularity around the world . . . at long last! Sherry has been around for centuries, served up to folks like Shakespeare and Christopher Columbus (folks of good taste) and it really is enjoying something of a popularity boom.

Sherry, like lots of other great culinary delights is produced in Spain. Southwest Spain to be a little more precise, in what has become known as the “Sherry Triangle”, three sunny towns – Jerez (that’s where the name comes from), Puerto de Santa Maria and Salucar de Barrameda. Sherry is primarily made from the Pedro Ximenez and Palomino grapes. This region has the perfect soil and the perfect conditions for happy grapes – chalky and limestone based. After these grapes have been harvested, then fermented it is time to decide whether it will become a Fino Sherry, or an Oloroso Sherry.

Main Types of Sherry

Sherry is basically one of two main types;

  • Fino – which is very dry and light bodied
  • Oloroso – still pretty dry but with a richer flavor and more full bodied

If the winemaker wants to make Fino sherry he adds alcohol (fortification) until the wine reaches a little more than 15%, if he chooses to make the sherry into Olorosa, however, alcohol is added to reach a content of 18%.  That’s just the start of it of course, then there’s the very lengthy process of aging in the cask, blending and mixing. Sometimes an older sherry will be mixed with a younger sherry to keep a consistent high quality (particularly if the older sherry was of premium quality). Sherries, you may have realized, don’t have a vintage date like other wines, they’re just blended over the years.

Valdivia in Jerez, Andalusia (Spain)

Valdivia in Jerez, Andalusia (Spain) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, we’ve looked at the two main types of sherry, but there are plenty of subcategories within those two types of sherry you know;

  • Fino Sherry – we’ve already spoken briefly about Fino Sherry. It’s very dry, it’s light bodied, the color of straw. Wine connoisseurs will tell you that it has an aroma of almonds, it usually has an alcoholic volume of between 15 and 17% and is particularly drinkable with olives, hams, almonds, chips and dips.
  • Manzanilla Sherry – is also dry and very light in color, made in Sanlucar this type of Sherry makes an excellent partner for tapas and seafood.
  • Amontillado Sherry – is kind of an inbetweeny, inbetween Fino and Oloroso in both color and body. It has a deeper color than Fino and a more nutty flavor with the aroma of hazelnuts. This sherry is wonderful when it’s drunk with chicken or oily fish dishes.
  • Oloroso Sherry – has a dark color and a rich flavor, with an aroma of walnuts and swirled caramel (I’m not making this stuff up you know, next time you have some Oloroso sherry remember to take a sniff).  This type of sherry is particularly nice when drunk with rich meats and cheeses – particularly Manchego, a traditional Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk.
  • Palo Cortado Sherry – this one is rare, starting out life as Fino, progressing to Amontillado and ending up richer even than Oloroso. This sherry is very dry, reddish-brown in color and is full flavored.
  • Sweet Sherry – ah, like Grandma used to drink at Christmas time (just a small one mind, otherwise she’d get flushed and Grandad would have to take her home). Anyway, this type of sherry is sweetened with the grape juice from Pedro Ximenez, it’s thick, it’s sweet and tastes of figs and molasses.
  • Cream Sherry – has a rich mahogany color and a smooth, velvety texture. It starts off as Amontillado or Oloroso before being sweetened with Pedro Ximenez, and is just delicious with cheesecakes.
  • Pedro Ximénez Sherry – okay, we’ve spoken about adding this to other sherries to make them a little sweeter, so I guess you can guess what this Sherry is like . . . yes, you’ve guessed . . . it’s sweet, in fact, it’s ultra sweet, tastes a little bit like toffee, dates, figs, molasses – you get the picture – and is sometimes served over vanilla icecream as a wonderful, sweet sauce. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Looking After Your Sherry

It don’t matter what type of sherry you’ve got, it needs to be stored upright where it’s cool and dark for best results. Many sherries doesn’t have anywhere near the same length of “shelf life” as wine does, the Finos and the Manzanillos need to be drunk quite quickly after they’ve been bottled, and once you’ve opened the bottle you should pop them into the fridge and drink within a couple of weeks . . . such hardship!

Amontillado sherries keep a little bit longer, up to 2 or 3 years in a sealed bottle but need to be drunk within a couple of weeks once the bottle has been opened (keep this in the refrigerator too).

The other types of sherry, the older, sweeter types can be stored for many more years. Even after they’ve been opened they don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated, although you can if you want to. As long as they’re in a cool, dark room (something like a basement) they’ll be just fine.

And now, I’ve been itching to do this since I started the page – let’s finish with a song . . .

 Did you enjoy that? Yep, me too . . .

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