Sherry is the epitome of hip. Granted, it has a chequered history and a bit of a bad reputation – but quality sherry is now on wine lists at the world’s finest restaurants, as well as being an on-trend ingredient at decent cocktail bars.
Why? Because it’s incredible! And in my opinion, the most versatile and undervalued wine in the world. Even basic sherries can have wonderful complexity and be very well made. What’s more, they sell for a snip. There’s also a different sherry style to suit everyone.
But for many, sherry is still a confusing subject. Is it sweet? Is it dry? How is it made? When and how should you drink it? Where is it from? Do you drink it on its own or with food? Let’s clear all that up here.
The sherry triangle
Sherry is only sherry if it’s from the magical ‘sherry triangle’, made up of Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda in the Cádiz region of South West Spain. If you haven’t been, go – you won’t want to leave this spellbinding part of the country.
The unique character of each sherry is also influenced by the geographical location; the climate of the region; the almost white chalky soil the vines are grown on; the history of the area; the cathedral-like cellars the wines are aged in; the local solera blending system of different vintages; the proximity to the sea; the list goes on. One thing sherry also needs, is time. Even young sherries have been aged for three to four years.
Also contrary to popular belief, most sherry is made from a young palomino white wine base. It’s then fortified to 15 or 17% alcohol. The lion’s share of sherry produced is actually dry.
People needn’t be scared of sherry; just treat it like great wines that should be enjoyed with the right foods. Soon enough you’ll be transported to the idyllic climbs of Andalucia. The nectar in the glass signifies the true soul of the region.
What to eat with sherry
Sherry is quite a general term. The wines under the ‘sherry’ umbrella range from the lightest and driest in the world right through to the sweetest and everything in between. Here are just a few of the key styles to try and what to eat with them. All but one here are made from the white palomino grape. Just remember, there is a style for everyone!
Fino and manzanilla
The lightest and driest sherries, with virtually no sugar content. Not the style that most Brits associate with sherry, but these days it’s hugely popular. Treat like a dry white wine.
Straw coloured, crisp, bready, with nutty floral notes. It’s aged under a beautiful layer of ‘flor’ made of local yeasts that protect its light colour and give huge flavour to the wine.
Drink with: Lots of tapas would be a good start! In particular, anchovies, fine ibérico ham, crisp fried fish and plump juicy prawns, as well as sushi. Always drink fridge cold in a wine glass. Try ordering a chilled bottle instead of your normal dry white when you’re next in your local tapas bar. Order good olives and almonds then just keep grazing.
A style that started life as a fino, but then aged for several more years creating a delicate and elegant wine, dry, amber coloured with floral and caramel notes, dried fruits and hazelnuts. Take an amontillado out of the fridge at least half an hour before drinking. Serve lightly chilled.
Drink with: Perfect with mushrooms, risottos and Spanish rice dishes. It pairs incredibly with asparagus and artichokes, as well as smoked fish and cured meats. Also brilliant with spiced oriental and Asian dishes. It’s so versatile with most foods.
Oloroso translates to ‘aroma’. It’s powerful and robust, and a bit higher in alcohol (at least 17%). Aged in contact with oxygen, the colour has more of a mahogany tinge. Olorosos will be warming, rounded, with hints of wood, hazelnut and dried fruits. Again, serve lightly chilled.
‘PX’ as it’s often termed is no shrinking violet. If fino is the driest sherry in the world, then this is the sweetest, with up to 50% sugar content! It really is your sweet, sticky sherry. Not made from palomino, but actually from the pedro ximenez grape, sun dried in the Andalucian sun to concentrate its sugars before being pressed.
Drink with: If ever struggling to convert someone to sherry, pour this over vanilla ice cream and you’re onto a winner. Also heavenly with any chocolate dessert, such as churros with hot chocolate sauce. Contrastingly it also pairs wonderfully with strong blue cheeses.
If in doubt
Just remember this simple rough guide to food pairings:
If it swims… drink fino (& manzanilla)
If it flies… drink amontillado
If it walks… drink oloroso
“I opened Bar 44 in September 2002 with my brother Tom, driven by our passion to bring quality Spanish food and drink to Wales. We still have the same ambition, and have since opened in Penarth and Cardiff. Each venue has its own feel and offering.
“In 2013 I became a sherry educator after being selected to take part in the International sherry educators course in Jerez. It’s held once a year for around 20 international candidates. Since then I have been educating staff and as many customers as possible about the charms of sherry, its styles, how to drink it and what to eat with it. The ultimate goal would be to have everyone treating sherry as they would other wines and order it in bars/restaurants with their meal instead of a bottle of wine.”
Listen to web editor Alex as she pays a visit to a specialist sherry bar called Sack in Shoreditch
olive magazine podcast ep61 – how to cook perfect pasta and an expert guide to sherry
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