Don’t give sherry short shrift!
Posted on September 20 2015
If you think sherry is the sweet, dark-brown drink which is Auntie Mabel’s favourite Christmas tipple then think again! Although, as tastes have become tapas-tastic, sherry has become more popular it’s still somewhat under-appreciated and undiscovered – meaning that the wines are great value.
Sherry is the name given to a group of wines that are produced in a specially denominated area of southern Spain surrounding the town of Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia. The word is an anglicisation of the name Xerez, or Jerez. Over the years its image has suffered largely because it has been incorrectly tarred with the same brush as grossly inferior copycats. The chief culprits were often produced cheaply in the UK and its ex-colonies, from surplus concentrated grape must and were disingenuously labelled as “cream”, sometimes even carrying the name “Sherry” contrary to EU regulations.
There’s a sherry for everyone – from the fantastically fresh and bone-dry Fino to the perfectly luscious Pedro Ximenez. Here we outline the main styles and some suggested food pairings…
Fino and Manzanilla
Made from the Palomino grape, these bone-dry, light, delicate, pale white wines are lightly fortified, to just 15%. Deliciously refreshing when served well-chilled, they make a great aperitif when served alongside olives and roast almonds, and are the ideal accompaniment to tapas. Fernando de Castilla’s Classic Finois a great example of this style.
Manzanilla is very similar in style to Fino. Coming from the nearby seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, it’s immediate proximity to the Atlantic and a more humid climate results in a fresher style of Sherry, with orchard notes of windfall-apples and apple blossom. Some producers like to suggest that it has an almost salty tang to it. It pairs fabulously with the local deep-fried seafood, and is one of the few wines that genuinely goes with fish and chips. We recommend Fernando de Castillo’s Classic Manzanilla. Manzanilla Pasada is a nuttier, more concentrated, aged version.
This style starts out as being a life as a Fino, but spends a longer time ageing in American oak barrels, giving it more time to be exposed to the air. The resulting wine is more full-bodied than a Fino, dry to off-dry, amber in colour with a distinctive savoury, nutty, character. Try Lustau’s award winning Los Arcos Dry Amontillado.
“Oloroso” translates as aromatic, and this full-bodied wine, fortified up to 18% is a darker, richer, more structured style. A good quality Oloroso will have complex flavours including tantalising hints of nuts, caramel, roasted coffee, and dried orange peel, whilst remaining dry. Its intensity means it can comfortably be paired with powerfully flavoured foods such as mature cheeses & game stews. Try adding a couple of spoonfuls to really liven up a savoury mushroom sauce. Treat yourself to the Antique Oloroso from Fernando de Castilla.
Cream Sherry/Sweet Oloroso
Sweet wines produced by sun-drying Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes are then blended with an Oloroso. The resulting medium-sweet wine is chestnut in colour, with a distinctive creamy velvety mouthfeel, hence the name. Serve cool & try pairing with blue cheese.
The rarest type of Sherry, it started out life as a Fino, gaining complexity over many years after being gradually blended with small proportions of older wines, and lengthy ageing in old American oak casks. It combines the aromatic elegance of Amontillado with the bold flavours of Oloroso. The Hidalgo, Marques de Rodil, Especial Palo Cortado is concentrated, elegant and flavoursome, yet still dry. It can be savoured on its own or paired with game meats, smoked and blue cheeses.
Also known simply as PX, this is made from grapes of the same name that are left out in the sun to raisin following the harvest, concentrating the flavours & sugars. With an appearance and viscosity similar to treacle, this intense, rich, dark wine offers complex flavours of raisins, figs, molasses, nuts and caramel. Best served lightly chilled, it’s practically a dessert in its own right. For one of the easiest yet most delicious food pairings there is, try simply pouring it as a sauce over vanilla ice cream. Go on, spoil yourself with Los Pecadillos, Glotonia, Pedro Ximenez.