My Sherry Amore
By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
Sherry is perhaps the wine world’s best kept secret. In fact, at one point it was regarded as the world’s finest wine. Shakespeare wrote about it in many works, Columbus took it with him on his second trip to America, and Magellan spent more money on it than on weapons. Sherry can be used in cooking and in cocktails, should be sipped before and after meals, and has true quality-price-ratio value. And yet, for many of us the word ‘sherry’ conjures up memories of watching characters drink it on Frasier or seeing our grandmother sipping from a glass. Perhaps it’s time to rethink and retaste sherry.
The old adage “great wine is made in the vineyards” does not apply to sherry. Great sherry is made in the cellar…and the cellars have to be in Spain, specifically in regions regulated by the Denomination of Origin (DO) system — the equivalent protocols that exist in France for Champagne and in Italy for Chianti. The wine is fortified and aged via the “solera method”; a complex and laborious process that blends the juice from prior vintages. The primary grape in sherry is Palomino, but Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez can also be used.
After fermentation, barrels are filled to about three quarters to allow for a milky layer of yeast called “flor” to form on the surface. This protective blanket shields the wine from oxygen. Underneath the flor, the ever-evolving juice interacts constantly with the wine as yeast cells consume compounds and create others. The resulting wine is then ready for fortification with brandy.
This brandy is produced from the distilled Airén grape, one of the most planted grapes on the planet due to its use in nearly all fortified wines. You may be wondering how adding a grape to other grapes helps “fortify” the wine. Well, simply put, wine is fermented while spirits are distilled…and sherry is both.
Now Comes the Fun Part (Drum Roll Please): The Solera Method
A solera is literally the sequential set of oak barrels grouped by vintages and stacked upon one another – the oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top. At specific intervals an amount of wine from the oldest, floor-level cask is removed for bottling. This barrel is then topped off with wine from the next tier up, and so on, until reaching the top row ~ with no barrel ever being completely emptied. The wine created in this endless process is therefore a mixture of all the wines and therefore has no vintage. This fractional blending process maintains a “house style” and consistent quality year after year.
Types of Sherry
Fino – Fino is a pale straw and gold color, with a delicate crisp aroma (nutty). It pairs perfectly with tapas, soups, seafood, fish, ham, and mild cheese.
Manzanilla – Manzanilla is straw colored, has a crisp aroma, and it is dry and light. It is best served chilled tastes excellent with tapas, seafood, mild cheese, white fish, and ham.
Oloroso – Oloroso is initially dry, full bodied (nutty), has a fragrant aroma, and is in between an amber and mahogany color. It tastes great before meals and with game or red meats.
Amontillado – Amontillado is a smooth, full-bodied, naturally dry sherry with an amber color and deep, nutty aroma. It is a wonderful aperitif and a good match for white meats, oily fish, and mature cheese.
Palo Cortado – Palo Cortado is a hybrid of Fino and Oloroso, as the yeast is allowed to develop and then die off. This produces a bright mahogany-colored wine with a hazelnut bouquet and a dry palate.
Pedro Ximenez (or PX) – Pedro Ximenez is made using the grape of the same name. It is one of the world’s sweetest wines and can either be sipped on its own or used to color and sweeten other sherries.
Cream Sherry – This dessert sherry is typically an Oloroso or Amontillado sweetened with rich Pedro Ximenez grapes. It has a round, crisp, and velvety aroma with a dark mahogany color.
Pale Cream – This smooth wine has a Fino crisp aroma, a sweet taste, and a pale color. It is an excellent accompaniment to pungent cheeses and fresh fruit salad.
Medium – Medium is a slightly sweet, amber or mahogany-colored wine. It can also be referenced as brown, golden milk, or rich sherry.
- The Sherry Triangle is an area in the province of Cádiz in southwestern Spain. The three towns are Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.
- The Palomino grape makes up to 90% of all sherries.
- The youngest Sherry you will ever drink will be three years old.
Sherry is a great choice for deglazing and sauces. Pour in a splash of sherry and a pat of butter to make a quick pan sauce. The flavors of dry sherry complement everything from pork to chicken to shellfish.
1/4 cup sherry
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Fresh cracked black pepper
Salt to taste
Whisk until emulsified.
If it swims: Fino and Manzanilla. If it flies: Amontillado. If it runs: Oloroso.
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 1/2 oz dry sherry
1 dash orange bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, strain contents into a cocktail glass, and serve.
2 oz Cream sherry
1 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
3 oz fresh orange juice
1 dash Angostura bitters