Dry sherry – a tipple revered by sommeliers and hipsters alike, but what about the rest of us?
Ask a random sample of drinkers what sherry means to them and you will get an assortment of responses.
First, there is your nan. Then there are those who hear “sherry” and associate it with something sweet that comes out at Christmas to soak the trifle sponge fingers. Then you have the rock star sommeliers and craft hipster drinkers, who have sparked a sherry revival by making it their drink du jour. And then there are the rest of us, nodding along to talk of almonds and jamón, smiling at explanations on the subtleties of a fino, while continuing to order our trusted white sauvignon when asked for an aperitif.
Should we be getting on this sherry train?
No doubt, sherry can take a bit of explaining. There are around five types of dry styles alone, and as a tipple, it can be something of a shock to the palate when you are new to it. As a fortified wine, it tends to be stronger than a standard wine, plus the lower acidity means we are experiencing something different to the refreshing whites we frequent.
But sherry is worth the adventure, has a great story and once you realise the amount of work that goes into sherry production vs the price, you will just want to drink it up in support of the makers in Jerez.
Finding the right style for you
There are a number of dry styles to explore and help you find the sherry for you.
The palest and lightest: Manzanillas and finos
These are the lightest styles of sherry. They are pale and dry with savoury flavours like lemons, bruised apples, almonds and salt.
They are aged for around five years under a thick layer of flor – a naturally forming yeast – which protects the wine from oxidation and therefore, browning and the associated rich flavours.
What is the difference between a manzanilla and fino? Unless you have a very tuned-in palate, then actually very little. They are produced in exactly the same way with the same grapes. However, a manzanilla can be produced only in Sanlucar, a coastal town in the Jerez triangle, and its seaside location and cooler climate means these wines have a slightly lighter and saltier character.
Both go perfectly with olives, marcona almonds, cured meats and strong flavoured tapas.
Wines to try:
Tío Pepe Fino for a light, crisp classic
Hidalgo’s La Gitana Manzanilla
Dark and fragrant: Amontillados and olorosos
These wines are darker, are higher in alcohol and have richer flavours.
An amontillado usually starts life as a fino, but quite quickly the forces of nature (the flor dying) and nurture (the winemaker) result in a wine that develops in both colour and flavour with the help of ageing and oxygen. Amontillados have the same dry crisp saltiness as a fino, but are darker with richer, hazelnut flavours. Unfortunately, a few of them out there don’t get their colour and flavour from age, but from added caramel. These are usually labelled “med-dry” and they lack the elegance of a true amontillado.
These wines go with cheeses and ham, and work particularly well with oily fish.
Olorosos (meaning fragrant in Spanish) move us further up the chart. They are full-bodied, dark and expressive. They smell rich and fruit cake sweet, so when you take a sip, the dryness is surprising. These wines were always intended to be aged for a long time with the help of O2, and you won’t find a wine aged as long – up to 25 years – with that complexity for the price.
Wines to try:
El Maestro, Oloroso 15 anos – we purchased our bottle from here
The in-betweener: Palo Cortado
Those in the know say a Palo Cortado has the nose of an amontillado and the palate of an Oloroso. These rarer wines live as a fino for a number of years, but naturally finish up ageing oxidatively, concentrating all the flavours from both the actions of the flor, such as salt, almonds and apples, and from oxidation, with flavours such as dried fruits, hazelnuts and walnuts.
Your senses won’t align with a Palo Cortado – but that makes it even more beautiful and unique.
Wines to try:
Emilio Lustau, Almacenista Cayetano del Pino, Palo Cortado – like a rich, dry, savoury, glorious salty marmalade. We purchased ours from here