Explore the Many Styles of Sherry Wine

This fortified wine is too often misunderstood and surprisingly complex.
Sherry Wine Barrels

Photograph courtesy of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

Poor Sherry. So often misunderstood, the fortified white wine from southern Spain’s Andalusia region is much more complex than it tends to get credit for. Unlike other wines, Sherry is fortified with unaged brandy to help preserve it, which in turn increases the alcohol level. The best Sherry is a far cry from the sweet creamy postprandial served in tiny glasses by grandmothers everywhere.  There is  a world of wonder in the five dry Sherry styles: fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso, and palo cortado.

Serious Sherry is a terrific savory wine that pairs well with food and is best served chilled in white wine glasses. The dry styles from the Jerez- Xérès-Sherry region are produced from Palomino grapes in a special microclimate kissed by both easterly and westerly winds. The fermented wines are first fortified then aged in barrels under the solera system, where new wine is continually added to the aging wines. But what is unique about Sherry is flor, a film of indigenous yeast found in Andalusia that naturally forms over the wine in the barrel.

Fino and manzanilla are the two styles where the flor stays intact, protecting the young wine from oxidation. With its aromas of almonds and wild herbs, Fino Sherry is the driest and lightest style. Perfect for summer dining, it has the brightest acidity and pairs perfectly with salty snacks. Manzanilla is a fino made only in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. With its floral bouquet, it pairs exceptionally well with oysters and raw fish.

Tasteful Sherry Wine

Amontillado and oloroso are the two oxidative styles, one accidental and one deliberate. Full- flavored amontillado, at 18 percent alcohol, accidentally loses its flor blanket as it ages, letting air into the barrel. As a result, it takes on oxidative hazelnut and umami flavors, making it an interesting food wine, especially when paired with pork and poultry. The flor is broken deliberately while making oloroso.

The wine, at 19 to 20 percent alcohol, is aged for many years giving it rich woody, walnut flavors and extra longevity (after opening, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a month, whereas the fresher styles should be consumed within several days). Oloroso stands up well to beef and wild game.

The final style worth discovering is palo cortado, the most complex of the bunch. It starts under flor, like fino, then morphs into an amontillado, before finally veering in oloroso’s direction. Palo cortado, often at 20 percent alcohol, is a wild, complex Sherry to sip on its own.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: It’s Sherry Time.
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