Sherry is a fortified wine from the south of Spain that’s known for its nutty, dried fruit flavor. This aromatic beverage has often been denigrated as merely a cooking wine unfit to stand alongside other fine fortified wines such as port or vermouth, however, sherry is a complex beverage worth further inspection and appreciation.
Jerez, Spain, where sherry is produced, has been a grape growing region for thousands of years. The region is hot and dry with sandy, chalky soil. There are three grapes grown in the region for making sherry: palomini, Pedro Ximenez (PX), and moscatel. Sherry is a protected term in Europe and any product labeled as such must come from this region.
Sherry is made by blending wine with brandy after the wine has been fermented. This mixture is then aged in oak barrels for varying periods of time. During the aging process new wines may be added to the barrel at various intervals to achieve the desired flavor and alcohol content, a process known as the solera system. Because different vintages may be blended together, the finished sherry will not have a single year of origin, as it contains wines of different ages.
There are twelve different types of sherry that vary in age, alcohol content, and sweetness. One one end of the spectrum fino sherry is the lightest and the driest. One the other is Pedro Ximenez which is very sweet and higher in alcohol content than other varieties. Fino and manzanilla, the two lightest types are best enjoyed immediately as they are the most fragile and will lose their delicate flavor soon after opening. Sherries with higher alcohol and sugar contents will last longer, but like most wines, are best stored in a cool, dry place.
There is a high degree of variability between different types of sherries, meaning there is a sherry out there for any occasion. Light, dry, crisp finos or manzanillos are perfect with salty snacks. Amontillado, which has been oxidized and has a nutty, toffee-like flavor is best paired with aged cheeses or grilled meats. Looking for an after dinner sipper? Pour a glass of PX, which is thick and rich with a raisin-like sweetness. As mentioned, sherries have a vast range, so be sure to explore different varieties to find the one you like best.