Sherry wine is a specific type of fortified wine
produced in the southern Andalusia region of Spain in Jerez-Xérès. Made exclusively from various white grapes, these unique and complex wines are made in several styles. I have to say that good Sherry is one of the better values in the world of wine as most are very affordable yet elegant and complex. They are also quite versatile.
All that being said, Sherry can be somewhat of an acquired taste at first. Most of the styles are intentionally made in an oxidative style, meaning that they age for extended periods with exposure to oxygen. The oxidation rounds out the wine but also gives the wines a rich, nutty aroma and flavor which is quite different from most other white wines. However, acquiring a taste for these characterful wines is highly advised, as these can be beautiful wines you shouldn't miss out on!
How Is Sherry Made?
Sherry is a fortified wine
. During the fermentation of the grapes, a neutral grape spirit (alcohol) is added to the wine. This raises the alcohol level and stops the fermentation, similar to the production of Port
. Most Sherries are made on the dry side, the fermentation stopped towards the end. After fermentation the wine is then aged in oak barrels for various amounts of time. One of the unique features of Sherry wine production is that some of the wines are allowed to slowly evaporate and contact oxygen in the barrels. Over time, a special yeast, called flor
develops on the surface of the wine. This both protects the wine as it ages and allows a slow, gentle oxidation leading to complex aromas and flavors. Another technique that is used in some styles of Sherry is the use of a solera
system. In this system, the producers keep old selections of Sherry wine in barrel for many years. The younger wines are blended in with older selections slowly so that in each wine there is a little bit of the character of the old wines along with younger wine. All these techniques are used in various ways to produce many styles of Sherry, some of which are discussed below.
What Are The Various Styles of Sherry?
- Fino: Fino Sherry is the lightest and youngest style and a pale yellow/straw color. They are aged under flor for a period of time and are not heavily fortified (their alcohol is usually around 15-16%). They tend to be aromatic but fresh and bright with a pleasing acidity. They are usually served chilled and are an outstanding thirst quencher in summer. They can be served alone as an apéritif or with salty appetizers like olives, almonds and other finger foods.
- Manzanilla: Manzanillas are similar in production and style to Finos. However, they are exclusively made in a region right along the coast at the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Overall they are very similar to Finos and can be served in the same way. They do tend to be slightly lighter. On the coast fishing towns they are often served chilled along with fried seafood and other light fare.
- Amontillado: This type of Sherry wine starts off similar to a Fino but sees additional aging. After aging under the flor for a while, the flor is removed, allowing the wine to see more oxygen. This develops more oxidized, nutty and caramelized aromas as well as a darker amber color. They typically still have good acidity and therefore are very versatile. They can be enjoyed alone for their rich, complex aromatics either before or after a mean, but they are also a great match to smokey and heady foods like some soups (they are great with French onion soup!) and roast poultry.
- Oloroso: Even darker than an Amontillado, Olorosos are aged in wood for even longer without flor protection. They get deep, dark and rich from this extended aging with a toasty, smokey, nutty and even butterscotchy type aromas and flavors. The richness of these wines, despite being dry, make them a better option for after dinner, either to sip alone or to partner with nuts, pungent cheeses or even some desserts.
- Cream: These are basically Olorosos to which sweet wine has been added before aging. It is a rich, sweet wine that is meant as a dessert wine to drink alone or with some dessert courses.
- Pedro Ximenez: This type of Sherry is made exclusively from a grape called Pedro Ximenez. The grapes are traditionally left to dry on mats in the hot sun, basically becoming raisins, concentrated and powerful. The resulting wine is a rich, intense sweet wine which is best served as dessert or along with dessert courses.
- Moscatel: Another sweet Sherry wine style made from only one grape, called Moscatel. They are very sweet and tend to have floral and fruity aromas and flavors. These can be sipped alone after a meal or do particularly well with salty blue cheese and dried fruits and nuts.
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