When was the last time you bought a bottle of Sherry? Last Christmas? Christmas 1983? Never? Well, let me tell you, Sherry is back, buzzing and all the rage. It is hip and trendy and you do not need to be over 70 or a member of the WI to feel it is ok to order in a restaurant. There are Sherry bars in London – recently a magazine listed the top 10!
I have always known just how wonderful Sherry can be but I was reminded recently of its very varied styles when I went to a tasting at the Lost & Found in Birmingham hosted by Gonzalez Byass, arguably the most famous producer of this captivating wine. Just as there is a generic term for Champagne but a myriad of styles, the same is also true of Sherry. Again, just as the name represents the area Champagne comes from, so Sherry is the name for wine from the region of Jerez.
Sherry is essentially a dry wine made from the Palomino grape grown on special chalky soil, known as albariza, particularly important for its moisture-retaining properties. It develops into the various styles depending on what the wine-maker and nature do with each barrel. In the production of a Fino or Manzanilla (a Fino made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), after fermentation, flor, a film of natural yeast, must develop and is encouraged to do so by filling the 600l barrels to only 5/6th full so that there is an air-gap. Here the wine will mature for about 4 years. These are not vintage wines – the wine is not all from the same year of harvest, (again, like most Champagne) but a mix of wines from various years and barrels and blended using a system called Solera , where each barrel is topped up from wine of another. A Fino is bone-dry and fresh, yeasty and refreshing – just wonderful with olives and deep-fried salted peppers or nuts.
If a Fino is left to age for more than 4 to 5 years, the flor will die off and the wine continues to age in contact with the air, when it will become darker in colour, with nutty and caramel aromas. This is known as Amontillado and is delicious with hard cheeses and Spanish hams.
To produce an Oloroso, the wine is fortified to a higher level, too high in fact for flor to develop. It is then aged for many years, sometimes several decades, so it is an oxidative wine becoming very dark brown, rich and less dry than either a Fino or an Amontillado. It develops prune, toffee and walnut characteristics and works with game, figs and rich cheeses. A canny rule of thumb with Sherry to match with food – if it swims, drink Fino, if it flys, Amontillado, if it walks, drink dry Oloroso. Sometimes Olorosos are sweetened with dried Pedro Ximenez grapes making such styles as the Matusalem mentioned below, which are perfect with salty cheeses and chocolate puds..
Sherry is a fortified wine, it’s true, but the lighter styles are only 15%abv, about the same as some blockbuster Aussie wines, so there’s no need to restrict yourself to tiny measures. And don’t serve it in those titchy little schooners so you can’t smell the wine; give it a glass which will allow the wine to come alive.
You see how versatile and varied a wine it is? How classy and good value? How it should never have gone out of fashion but how fantastic that it is back?
Tio Pepe – widely available, about £10
Marks & Spencer Fino £5.99
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 12 year old Dry Amontillado £7.99 (500ml)
Matusalem 30 year old Oloroso Dulce Waitrose £19.10 (37.5cl)
Laura is an independent wine writer and presenter and runs BYWine – a club which helps its members to know more, buy better.