Europe,  Food and Wine

The Beginner’s Guide to Sherry

Sherry. A bit old-fashioned isn’t it? Maybe you’ve got a bottle in the back of the cupboard to have a tipple at Christmas just like Granny used to, or to chuck a bit in the trifle?

Well there’s a lot more to sherry than that! Read on for a quick guide to the main styles of sherry and what food to eat alongside them.

What is sherry?

Sherry is a fortified wine, generally between 15% and 22% ABV. As a comparison most wines are 11-14% and spirits 35-45% ABV.

Sherry is made in the south of Spain, in what is known as the Sherry Triangle of the three towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María.

Sherry is made from only three white grape varieties: Palomino – which is used to make dry styles; and Moscatel (also known in English as Muscat) and Pedro Ximénez (called PX for short) which are used to make sweet styles.

Almost all sherries should be served chilled. It’s also not best to keep them at the back of your cupboard for years. Sweet styles may last that long but once opened a fino or manzanilla should be kept in the fridge and drunk within a week, and an amontillado or oloroso within a few weeks. If kept open for too long you’ll notice the flavours fading and changing.

Dry sherries

Fino

The driest of all sherry styles, and probably the driest wine you’ll drink. Fino ages in barrels under a layer of yeast called flor which gives the wine aromas of bread dough and almonds, as well as salty and savoury notes like olives and olive brine. Have a glass of well-chilled fino as an aperitif with some salted almonds, olives or anchovies, or pair with fish dishes or sushi.

Manzanilla

Made in the same way as fino but aged in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda rather than Jerez. Similar flavours to fino – salty almonds, bread dough, plus some floral aromas like chamomile. Pale, very dry, refreshing. Serve well chilled. Pairs well with seafood, fried fish, salmorejo or any salads with vinaigrettes.

Amontillado

An amontillado starts life as a fino, and then ages for longer without the layer of flor, in contact with the air. Dry, amber coloured, with flavours like toasted nuts. Serve chilled with mushroom or vegetable dishes, roasted meats or even meaty fish dishes.

Oloroso paired with Ibérico pork loin

Oloroso

Oloroso is aged in contact with the air for a number of years. This gives it rich aromatic notes (oloroso means fragrant) of orange peel, toast and dried nuts, with some spiciness. Pair with game meats, stews or strong cheeses.

Palo Cortado

A sherry with the reputation of being mysterious, generally said to be a rarer style, and often more expensive. Dry, with flavours of citrus and tangy butter. Pair with meats or cheeses.

Sweet sherries

Pedro Ximenez (PX)

An often tooth-achingly sweet sherry which can have more than 400g/l of sugar (yes more than 40% sugar). Almost treacle-like in texture, with flavours like raisins, dried figs, molasses and coffee. Drink with dark chocolate dishes or drizzle over ice-cream.

Cream

Cream sherry is perhaps the best known style of sherry in the UK thanks to the infamous Harvey’s Bristol Cream, after which the whole style was named. Generally a sweetened oloroso, with flavours of nuts and caramel. Pair with a blue cheese or pâté or serve with ice and a slice of orange as suggested by Harvey’s.

Medium

Normally a sweetened amontillado, this is not quite as sweet as a cream sherry and can pair nicely with game meats, pâté or rice dishes.

Moscatel

A naturally sweet style of sherry made from Muscat grapes, with beautifully aromatic flavours of orange blossom, honeysuckle and citrus. Goes well with fruit based puddings.

Sherry cocktails

If you’re not quite sold on sherry yet, why not try a simple sherry cocktail instead?

Rebujito

A classic at Jerez’s feria. Mix fino with a lemon and lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up, and serve over lots of ice with some mint leaves.

Fino and tonic

Instead of a classic gin and tonic, try a fino with tonic water, served with ice and a slice of lemon.

PX-presso martini

If you’re a dab hand with the cocktail shaker why not try an espresso martini using PX instead of coffee liqueur? Sweet and flavourful, it’s perfect in this after-dinner drink. Shake vodka, espresso and PX with ice and serve in a martini glass.

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