A Beginner’s Guide to Sherry Wine

Sherry still draws a wince from the casual restaurant or bar-goer (port knows how it feels). The stereotypes surrounding the stuff are tough to wade through and, to the fortified wine’s discredit, we can’t seem to divorce it from grandma’s cabinet. But it’s high time that we do.

The last several years have seen beer become more like wine and wine become more oxidative (e.g. natural wines, Jura Chardonnay, orange wines, etc.). Sherry has held certain esteem throughout, wearing its nutty, briny, dried fruit flavors on its shimmering gold sleeves.

sherry fortified wine glass
Joerg Lehmann/Getty Images

It has maintained at least a couple of small lines on most restaurant bar menus, especially as a post-meal sipper. In soccer-speak, dessert wines like port and Sauternes play the role of the quintessential number nine, scoring goals and basking in fame. Sherry wears the number ten, showing artistic flare and just as happy to deliver assist after crafty assist.

What Is Sherry?

Born in Spain and made mainly from the Palomino grape, Sherry goes back a few thousand years but really gained a European footing in the 13th Century. Columbus traveled to the New Word with plenty in tow. Shakespeare loved it. Magellan, in what is one of my favorite drinks legends ever, is said to have shelled out more on Sherry than arms as he prepared to sail around the globe.

Built around vulnerable grape vines, Sherry has withstood its share of disease problems. A massive phylloxera outbreak in 1894 caused significant damage to Jerez, a major production area within Andalusia. It has since mostly recovered and is largely made up of four major types. There are two others, Palo Cortado and Cream Sherry, but they account for smaller amounts of production than the other four.

Types of Sherry

Fino

The Fino style is perhaps the most straightforward, dry and often hit with some bread-y notes. Makes sense, given that this style is aged under the flor — barrel-aged under a film of its own yeast. There is oxygen exposure, but the perfect amount, given the flor’s protective abilities. Relatively simple and great chilled, this is a good, inexpensive introduction to Sherry. Try it with tapas.

Manzanilla

Manzanilla tends to be more delicate and is also aged under the flor. Traditionally, it’s made in the cellars of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in southern Spain. Like Fino, it’s on the lighter end of the spectrum but often offers a bit more complexity.

Bodegas Lustau sherry barrels 1
Bodegas Lustau

Amontillado

Amontillado is a bit darker, aged in barrels under the flor and then cask-aged and exposed to more oxygen. The result is a beautiful tawny specimen, often tasting woodsy, with candied fruit elements. Try it with grilled mushrooms or artichokes.

Oloroso

The darkest and most complex is Oloroso, aged the longest and worthy of aging much longer. Because it rests in cask the longest, it concentrates the most in terms of flavor. If you’re looking for Sherry at its most dense and sophisticated, this style is for you.

Best Sherry to Try Today

The Lustau Jarana Fino Sherry is a widely available option that sums up what an entry level Sherry ought to do. It’s dry, flavorful, and fun to pair food with.

The Hidalgo Pasada Manzanilla should be enjoyed on its own. It’s a carefully blended Sherry, showing apple, citrus blossom, and roasted nut flavors. Try it out on your friends as an aperitif before your next dinner gathering.

The Valdespino Amontillado Tío Diego is quite dry, with notes of hazelnut, dried fruit, coffee, and a hint of caramel. A well-balanced acidity makes it perfect to sip on after a meal.

The Fernando de Castilla Oloroso is built for the waning days of winter. Sip this layered Sherry in front of the fireplace with a good book in hand. If you don’t have a fireplace, the warming nature of the fortified wine will suffice.

If you’re feeling extra inventive, do as they do at excellent Portland bar Rum Club and replicate their “Fino Countdown” cocktail (Fino Sherry, Blackstrap, and Jamaican rums, vanilla, allspice, lemon). It’s a delightful palate bender; sweet, savory and citrusy.

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