February 21, 2013
Sherry, as we know from this Wine 101 post, has a somewhat misunderstood reputation, but has been around since before the birth of America. The consumers who know and love this wine understand how interesting this wine really is and how beautifully it pairs with many foods and desserts.
For those who do not know what Sherry is, let’s back track. Sherry is a fortified wine (meaning a spirit is added) made from Palomino or Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes and produced in the three sunny towns in the southwest of Spain. The two main types of sherry are Fino, which is dry and lighter in body, and Oloroso which is still dry but richer in flavor and body.
Sherry is produced using the Solera system, also called fractional blending, which allows for proper aging. This method ensures a consistent outcome every time because it blends younger and older casks, producing a high quality taste in every bottle. The date on the bottle is not the typical one seen on other wines, but rather represents when the Sherry was bottled and lets consumers know how fresh their Sherry is.
Bottling dates are especially important when choosing a Fino or Manzanilla, which only last a year at most after bottling. To produce Fino the winemaker fortifies the wine with alcohol until 15% alcohol is reached; Oloroso alcohol content reaches 18%. Once fortified, the Fino is stored in casks where yeast begins to grow (called flor) on the wines. The flor covers the entire surface to prevent oxidation resulting in the distinct mild flavor. Flor does not grow on wine that will become Oloroso because the higher percentage of alcohol prevents it from growing. This exposes the wine to oxygen, giving it the deeper color and more distinct flavor.
Let’s take a look at the different types of Sherry:
Fino is a dry, light-bodied sherry with aromas of nuts and or almonds and a pale, straw-like color. It is served chilled and often used as an aperitif because of its refreshing, yet intensely flavored taste that wakes up the palate before the meal. It goes great with seafood, mild or creamy cheeses, soups, and my favorite, olive tampenade on pita chips.
Oloroso is a dry, full-bodied, richer, bolder sherry with walnut like aromas and amber to deep brown color. It is excellent with red meats and heavy game meats, especially duck.
Manzanilla Sherry is paler in color and similar to a Fino style Sherry that is dry, very light and crisp. It is only produced in one town in Spain. It should be served chilled and goes well as an aperitif or with seafood, chicken, or tapas.
Amontillado is in between Oloroso and Fino in terms of body and color and is off-dry. It has a nuttier characteristic due to the loss of flor during the aging process. This also makes a wonderful aperitif, but is especially good with chicken, salmon, and more flavorful, mature cheeses.
Cream Sherry is Amontillado or Oloroso that is sweetened with PX grapes. It has a deep color and is crisp and smooth and works well as a dessert sherry. This Sherry would be fantastic with cheesecake, especially one covered with strawberries!
Palo Cortado is a more rare type of Sherry that begins its life as a Fino and progresses into an Amontillado where the flor dies. This Sherry is dry with a brick-like color and has a lot of flavor and aroma.
Pedro Ximénez is a very sweet almost syrup-like dessert Sherry, made from sweet, sundried grapes that shrivel and become raisinated. Its flavor has caramel undertones with fig, date and molasses aromas. Serve it chilled with creamy pastries or chocolate for a wonderful finish to a meal.
Moscatel is not too common, but if you can find it, try it. It is a type of Sherry similar to the Pedro Ximenez sweetness, but even more so. It is so thick it appears to look like syrup unlike PX. As a pastry chef, I adore it over homemade vanilla bean ice cream! Trust me, you’ll give up caramel topping for good!
Storing and serving Sherry:
- All Sherry should be stored upright in a cool, dark place.
- Finos and Manzanillas should be consumed fairly quickly after bottling. Once opened, keep them stored in the refrigerator to prolong their life up to about two weeks. Serve them chilled.
- Amontillados can keep for 2-3 years in a sealed bottle but once opened should be consumed within a couple of weeks (keep in refrigerator to prolong life). Serve chilled.
- The Olorosos, Sweet and Cream Sherries and the Pedro Ximénez Sherries can all be stored for many years as they have more age and weight on them. It is not necessary to store them in the refrigerator after opening, but you may. Do keep them in a cool, dark storage location (a basement is ideal). Serve at room temperature.
Although most people drink Sherry as an aperitif, definitely try it with a meal. Also try cooking with Sherry – it’s a wonderful addition to meals. I especially like to add it to a pasta dish of tomato cream sauce with Sherry over angel hair pasta with shrimp and scallops.
Now, Sherry still may be an acquired taste for some, but if after reading this article you are interested, your wine palate will be introduced to a whole different style of wine. This wine is smooth, sophisticated, and has yet to go out of style. Sherry is a fantastic wine and very versatile with food.
- Sara Lehman