I think it’s fair to say that the modern Sherry on the market has significantly evolved from grandma’s liquor cabinet days. To clarify, it’s not big, company-sweetened Sherry. The Sherry that we are faced with today, is cool, dry, incredibly varied and quite wonderful. In fact, it hasn’t been an old-school drink for some time.
With the advent of younger and more inquisitive importers, the hidden, bespoke and incredibly delicious sherries are now much easier to find.
Sherry is still, wrongly, seen as a fuddy-duddy drink in this part of the world. Whilst there is always a healthy serve of cynicism with most fortified wines – they seem to evoke images of brown paper bags in the uninitiated – these styles of wine are some of the most interesting drinks you could enjoy. Here is a concise look at a timeless drink, one of tremendous history and endless complexity that, once you fall into its rabbit hole, will leave you wondering where it’s been all your life.
The heart of the Sherry region is the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia in the south of Spain. It is one point on an invisible Sherry triangle which includes the towns of Sanlucar del Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The word Sherry is a corruption of the word Jerez – pronounced “Hereth”. Sherry is a protected word, like Champagne, and in Australia, these styles of wine are to be referred to as Apera.
The key grape used to make Sherry is Palomino, like the horse breed. To taste the wine that Palomino makes is to taste bland and neutral wine. The wine that this grape makes is not at all special, but when it becomes Sherry, things really start to get interesting.
Sherry is a fortified wine. There are 5 main types of Sherry to be aware of. The finest and driest version is Fino. Fino Sherry is pale in colour, often water-white and dry and long. The classic taste of these wines is of chamomile, white mushroom and green apples. It is an aquired taste, but with a plate of salted almonds, anchovies and olives, it is a taste worth your acquisition.
In the town of Sanlucar del Barrameda, the Fino Sherry is called Manzanilla. It is similar in style, but often thought to be more briney. The Manzanilla of Sanlucar is closer to the ocean and also has a more consistent covering of Flor yeast to stop the wine oxidizing. Flor yeast is essential in the creation of these types of Sherry, and grows like a fat blanket on the top of the wine whilst in barrel, preventing oxidation and keeping the wine fresh. The Flor also imparts the unique flavours of this wonderful and ancient wine.
The second style of Sherry, and often the easiest to wean yourself onto, is Amontillado. This wine takes its name from the region of Montilla to the north. Amontillado wines are aged Fino Sherry. They are darker in colour, almost like tawny ports, and have wonderful notes of toasted nuts and brown sugar. Make no mistake - these wines are dry and very powerful. They have more weight than Fino, but they are not at all sugary. There is a real richness to these wines, and a complexity that is impossible to replicate.
Oloroso is the biggest and fullest of the dry Sherries. It takes its name from the word for fragrant. You’ll know if there is a bottle of Oloroso open in the room as it will fill the air with its scent. Oloroso spends the longest time in the barrel, and as such it is the deepest and broadest and most luxurious. It is still not sweet, but compared to the bone-dry Finos it will seem luscious.
The famous sweet Sherry of the region is named after the grape Pedro Ximenez, or PX for short. This Sherry is sometimes called the black Sherry, as no light can penetrate it. This wine makes up for the others with sweetness, being immensely syrupy and destined for the strongest blue cheeses and richest desserts. It smells and tastes like raisins and Christmas pudding and if you have ever thought that the fortified wines of Rutherglen are your idea of good time, then this will be a revelation