Sherry stands as the most versatile of fortified wines. From crisp and dry to lush and sweet, they ably serve before and after dinner. Sherry also complements meals, both in the glass and in cooking.
Sherry hails from Jerez, in Spain. The wine’s fame caused producers in other countries to name their fortified wines sherry. The European Union restricts this term to wines from Jerez but countries outside the EU ignore this. Here, however, we speak strictly of wines from Jerez.
Unlike port, which relies on an almost indiscriminate collection of grape varieties, Sherry depends mainly on the Palomino. Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez see use in sweet sherries.
Sherry always consists of blended vintages, combined via the solera system. This system consists of communicating stacks of barrels. Winemakers add new wine to the top barrel. Some wine from each barrel mixes with the one below it. What the winemaker draws from the bottom barrel has been aged and blended to complexity and consistency.
Two sherry types exist: fino and oloroso. For fino, a yeast called flor forms on the wine’s surface during fermentation. Flor protects the wine from oxidation and imparts a tangy flavor to the wine. The fino category includes three wine types:
- Fino, the wine most likely served with tapas. Finos boast less alcohol than other sherries, usually between 15 and 17% alcohol. Fresh, crisp, and dry, taste best when chilled.
- Amontillado, basically aged fino. Aging adds richness and complexity. Satisfying as a sipping wine, add to stews and soups, chicken divan, or any reduction.
- Manzanilla, much like fino, with a salty tang and an almost floral note. The wine’s name means chamomile in Spanish, and suggests the wine’s aroma.
Oloroso develops no flor. Nutty, smoky notes ascend, due to oxidation. More rich and fragrant than finos, oloroso carry an alcohol content between 18-20%. Oloroso tend toward sweet, from slightly to very.
Dry oloroso can be added to and served with beef and lamb stews and soups. Oloroso supplies a delicious dimension to dishes when used in reductions.
Cream sherry is oloroso on the decidedly sweet side, with luscious flavors of raisins and hazelnuts. Cream sherry makes a dessert by itself. Splash some on ice cream or pour on sponge cake.
Special notice should be given to the exquisite sherries from Lustau. Lustau’s Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, and Cream (all $14.99) represent standards for their types. In addition, Lustau produces several delicious specialty sherries, including Palo Cortado ($22.99), and the delightful sweet treat, East India ($21.99).