A Sherry Revival
In every issue of Take Stock we ask John Mansfield of The Society of Vintners about what’s happening in the world of wine. In this edition his focus is on sherry, which he describes as the dry wine everyone should love.
Many people in the trade have been predicting sherry’s renaissance for years, however, for lots of drinkers it has remained something that only granny would order. Today’s interest in new and different tastes has contributed to a growing interest in these wonderful wines – with the fact that they can offer a fabulous tasting lower alcohol alternative to spirits being an additional bonus.
Where to start
Understanding sherry is not as hard as many think. In simple terms, it’s an aged white wine hailing from the Andalucía region of Southern Spain – whose ‘Sherry Triangle’ is the only place Sherry can legally be made. This is an area of chalky soils, warm sun and prevailing winds that help the grapes to grow and offer the humidity and temperatures to gently barrel age the wines in open-air cellars. It’s also an area where that temperature and humidity can cause a layer of yeast to form on the surface of barrels of new wine. That layer – called flor – gives the wine a tangy, sometimes salty character as it matures – and maturing is what sherry is all about!
What makes it special
Sherry is a fortified wine – which means that a small amount of neutral spirits are added during the winemaking process. In the case of sherry, distilled wine is added in varying amounts, before or after full fermentation, depending on the style. What makes sherry special is the use of a solera system – whereby younger wines stored in an upper tier of casks are systematically blended with the more mature wines in the casks below. Put simply, sherry taken out of the casks for bottling is replaced with younger wine from the tier above, which is replaced by wine from the tier above that, and so on. As a rule no more than 50% of the wine in a tier is bottled, so there will be elements of wine dating back decades in many Spanish soleras – which contributes to the wonderful taste!
Types of sherry
Fino – the lightest and driest of sherries, it is aged for between two and 10 years under a layer of flor, and when bottled, is ready for drinking straight away. Best served chilled as an aperitif, Fino is traditionally served with wafer thin slices of Manchengo (Spanish hard sheep’s milk cheese); as an accompaniment to ham, almonds or cheese “tapas” and with seafood, sushi and sashimi.
Manzanilla – a 15-16% ABV bone dry and light Fino style sherry produced near the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river which gives the sherry a distinctive and perhaps surprisingly attractive tang of sea salt. Serve between 7-9°C as an aperitif, or with fresh seafood, oysters and fish dishes. Both Fino and Manzanilla should be drunk within two or three days of opening as after that the wine loses all its flavour.
Amontillado – when a Fino’s blanket of flor begins to disintegrate, the wine begins to oxidise and gain a dry, distinctly nutty taste. Much richer than Fino or Manzanilla, Amontillado is amber in colour and can be sold lightly or medium sweetened. Perfect with brie, soft gooey goat’s cheese, mushroom risotto, white meats and game.
Oloroso – never develops flor. Instead, all the flavour comes from the interaction of wine and air over five to 25 years in the solera. Full bodied, sweet and rich with a nutty aroma and hint of spice, it is the most alcoholic of sherries, and works beautifully with cured meats and aged cheeses like Stilton. It is also to be savoured like a fine dark spirit, such as rum or bourbon!
Palo Cortado – a rare variety of sherry created when the flor yeast in wines destined to become Fino style sherries dies unexpectedly and the wine starts to oxidise. Dark coloured and dry, it is not as heavy as Oloroso and should be served slightly chilled as an aperitif, or with red Leicester or double Gloucester cheese; olives; foie gras, or to accompany red meats and game.
Pedro Ximénez – made with grapes of the same name that are either picked very ripe and/or dried in the sun until practically raisins. This is a sweet wine that should be served at between 10-12°C, to accompany rich desserts, blue cheeses, or over vanilla ice cream. Ideal as a digestif too!
Cream Sherry – made from a combination of dry sherry (Amontillado or Oloroso typically) sweetened by the addition of Pedro Ximénez or Muscatel. Both sherries are matured in the solera separately before being combined at around 80% dry sherry and 20% sweet. The blend is then returned to a separate cask for further maturation over three plus years. A perfect companion to light desserts, creamy cheeses and foie gras. Drink on the rocks too, with a slice of orange!
Sherry for the healthy
In an age where drinkers are increasingly looking at reducing their alcohol consumption, sherry is a brilliant substitute for high proof spirits.Replace the vodka in a Bloody Mary with a Fino; use Manzanilla instead of gin in a gin and tonic, and a Palo Cortado or Pedro Ximénez instead of whisky or rum. Or offer your customers classic sherry based cocktails that combine wonderful taste with lower alcohol – sherry and tonic or a Rebujito – one of the most virtuous cocktails around.For more information about these truly underrated wines, visit www.emilio-lustau.com