Ok its International Sherry Day (20th 25th May), I know it’s more than one day and that’s because sherry is more than one wine. I know we all think of it as the stuff in trifles or that stuff our gran drinks, but it is so much more.

What is Sherry?

Quite simply it is a fortified wine from southern Spain with history that stretches back over 3000 years – the word sherry originates from the Arabic word, “Sherish”. The main grape is Palomino which makes most of the top wines and all the dry ones.  The sweet ones are made of PX (Pedro Ximenez). Most Sherry is made in the town of Xeres (or Jerez) but a small town down at the coast at a called Sanlucar de Barrameda produces its own style called Manzanilla.

Barrel cut away showing Flor in action.

Most Sherry starts its life as a dry white wine at about 12 % alcohol. Fermentation done, the winemaker has a choice: will the wine become Fino or Oloroso? Those wines that show more elegance and finesse grow up to be Fino fortified to around 15% and bigger bolder ones become Oloroso fortified to around 18%. The magic ingredient that makes Fino and Manzanilla wines is called the Flor. This Flor is a layer of yeast that grows on surface of the wine when it is aging in barrels in the bodega. It protects them from oxidation and changing the character of the wine, adding a unique nutty, salty character.

The wines are then aged in a system called the Solera. This is a way of ageing and blending wines to ensure consistency. In its simplest form, it can be imagined as an inverted pyramid of barrels. Every time the bodega needs to bottle some wine, it draws some off from the bottom barrel, topping it up with some wine from the barrels above. This next level of barrels is then filled with wine from those above and so on and so on. Many soleras in Jerez are many decades old and since no barrel is ever emptied, there is always some of the oldest wine in the final blend.

Sherry Styles

Fino

What is it? The most famous style of dry Sherry made in Jerez and fortified to just 15% or 15.5% making it the lightest style too.

What does it taste like? When just opened it will be fresh, light and savoury with a nutty, almond-like character. Keep it in the fridge and drink it quick, though. The all-important freshness will disappear within a week or so.

Drink it with: Something salty – smoked almonds, the very best jamon, olives.

Manzanilla

What is it? A Fino made in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The seaside climate adds an extra saline tang and degree of freshness.

What does it taste like? Like a really good Fino with an extra spring in its step.

Drink it with: Seafood.

Amontillado

What is it? A Fino where the Flor has died away and the wine has begun to oxidise. Beware commercial versions of Amontillado that are sweetened with a dollop of Pedro Ximenez.

What does it taste like? A good dry amontillado can taste of hazelnuts and spices, cinnamon, butterscotch, with a slightly-bitter bite.

Drink it with: A porcini mushroom risotto.

Oloroso

What is it? An Oloroso sherry are fortified to a higher strength than a Fino and ages without the protection of Flor giving it a rich flavour and more oomph. It can be dry or sweet; the latter are blended with sweet Pedro Ximenez wine.

What does it taste like? Full-bodied, robust and rich. Dry versions often have a tangy Seville orange notes while sweeter wines are like Christmas cake in a glass.

Drink it with: Dry wines with big robust meaty main courses.

Pedro Ximenez

What is it? A grape! Usually used to make some of the most intense, complex sweet wines in the world.

What does it taste like? Treacle tart. Only better.

Drink it with: Rum and raisin ice cream. Even better pour it over the ice cream.