International Sherry Week, the largest celebration of fortified wines from Southern Spain in the world, will take place on 2-8 November. Like so many international events affected by COVID-19 pandemic, the seventh Sherry Week has had to adapt it’s program to current circumstances.
Join the world’s biggest Sherry Fiesta from your own home!
I am partial to a drop or two but no I haven’t been on it, bear with… At Pintxo Tapas, we’re passionate about sherry, that is to say cooking with Sherry. I easily get through a bottle every week or so. I am even drawn to the bottle each time I open the cupboard of vinegars, oils and salts, which is where it lives, directly above and slightly to the left of the cooker. I am left-handed so for me this is the perfect place to store items I regularly season my cooking with.
I never considered drinking it, not once in all these years. Sadly, like so many people’s first experience of sherry mine was a warm Bristol cream at Christmas and that was not a taste I needed too often in my life. But boy what a mistake to walk away from Sherry!
If today you’re not a sherry-lover, we think you just haven’t met the right sherry. I had no idea what I was missing.
My passion for Pintxo and Tapas repeatedly exposes me to the fact that traditionally and as an everyday practice in Spain today in 2020, Sherry is drunk with Pintxo as a default. It looks nothing like who know who’s Bristol Cream, it is served chilled and can be dry enough to take your breath away. I decided to take a closer look at Sherry.
Sherry wines or Vinos de Jerez are Spanish fortified wines from the southern Spanish region Cadiz. The wines come from what is known as the Sherry Triangle, three cities (Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda) that when placed on a map form a triangle.
Sherry wines have been around for centuries and are some of the most interesting (and, possibly, underappreciated) wines in the world. Sherry was even mentioned in Greek texts in the 4th century B.C.
Many people (especially residents of the UK) have heard of cream sherry, but there are 10 official types of sherry that range from the very dry and pale manzanilla, to dark and sweet Pedro Ximenez. That's part of what makes sherry so confusing to people—the word itself carries little meaning as it can be one of the driest wines in the world or one of the sweetest. Contrary to popular belief, sherry is not only dessert wine but can be drunk before a meal as well.
It's a high-alcohol wine made using the historic solera system (a barrel aging and blending system) and is produced in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet and light to intense. Put more simply each barrel operates a first in first out system. You pour off a bottle and top up the barrel with fresh sherry.
Often stereotyped as a cooking wine (Oops that would be me then) or a sweet dessert wine, the world of sherry is far more nuanced and varied. Another fun fact about sherry is that it is wine that's meant to be paired with food. That's not to say you can't enjoy a glass of it on your own, but it truly comes alive when accompanying food. Below you will find the most common types of sherry wines and some suggested food pairings.
Sherry vs. Port
Sherry is often miscast as a sticky sweet wine and lumped together with dessert wines like port. While there are sweet varieties of sherry, the majority are made in a dry style. Both wines are fortified, making them higher in alcohol, and they play well with food. A relatively dry, aged tawny port and an amontillado or sweet oloroso sherry have the most in common, although sherry will always have a drier, more savoury flavour profile.
Let me introduce you to the main Sherry types:
Fino is one of the driest sherries. It's aged under a naturally occurring layer of yeast called flor. This layer protects it from oxygen, meaning that even though your average fino might be an average of seven years old, it is still very fresh tasting. It is clear, straw yellow, bone dry, light and fragrant. It contains 15 to 17% alcohol by volume.
Pairings: Almonds, olives, Spanish jamón, and seafood.
Manzanilla is a type of fino that can only be produced in the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is very pale and dry and often has a natural salinity to it since it produced so close to the sea. It contains 15 to 17% alcohol by volume.
Pairings: Almonds, olives, Spanish jamón, seafood
Amontillado starts its life as a fino (meaning it ages in barrels under a protective layer of yeast, so that it doesn't oxidize). But later in life, the yeast is killed off, and it does age oxidatively. The contact with oxygen makes this wine take on notes of almond and hazelnut. It's still a very dry wine, however. Amontillado contains 16 to 18% alcohol by volume.
Pairings: Chicken, meatballs, chicken pie, roasted turkey, roasted vegetables.
Oloroso is aged in contact with oxygen and does not have yeast to protect it. This means that it takes on lovely notes of dried fruit and spice. Oloroso is a dark, golden colour. It contains 18 to 20% alcohol by volume.
Pairings: Red meats, game meats, aged cheeses, mushrooms, braised meats.
This is a rare style of sherry that is supposed to occur by accident. Historically, it was wine that began as a fino, but then developed more like an oloroso—so it was treated as such for the second part of its life! It contains 18 to 20% alcohol by volume.
This intensely sweet style of sherry is made with at least 85% of Pero Ximenez grapes that have been dried in the sun to increase sugar content. A good PX (the abbreviated term for Pedro Ximenez) also has enough acidity to balance the sweetness. It contains 15 to 22% alcohol by volume.
Similar to a PX, moscatel sherries are made using at least 85% of moscatel grapes. They are also allowed to dry in the sun to increase sugar content. It contains 15 to 22% alcohol by volume.
Cream sherries come in a variety of sweetness levels. There is "pale cream," which is sweetened fino. There's also "medium," which is usually sweetened amontillado. And there's "cream" which is sweetened oloroso.
Personally, I prefer dry wines and not too surprisingly it turns out I prefer dry sherry, very dry sherry even better. Cold very dry sherry and I am reaching for the Pintxo.
Manzanilla - LA SEÑORITA OF SHERRY WINES
A Brief Introduction: Manzanilla is a dry white wine made from palomino grapes and aged under a layer of yeasts know as veil de flor. It is produced exclusively in the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The special climatic conditions of the town, situated at the mouth of the river Guadalquivar, favour the formation of a special kind of veil of flor which gives the wine its uniquely distinctive characteristics.
Tasting Notes : A very bright, pale straw coloured wine. A sharp, delicate bouquet with predominant floral aromas reminiscent of chamomile, almonds and dough. Dry, fresh and delicate on the palate, light and smooth in spite of a dry finish. Light acidity produces a pleasant sensation of freshness and a lingering, slightly bitter aftertaste.
Did You Know? Occasionally, Manzanilla wines are subjected to unusually long ageing periods, in which the flor is slightly weakened, causing a small level of oxidation and greater complexity which are known as "Manzanilla Pasada". These are wines with more structure, but with all the sharp and intense character that supports the biological ageing.
Manzanilla & Gastronomy Serving Tips
Manzanilla combines perfectly with fish and seafood, as well as with salted fish and cured meats. Thanks to its low acidity, it is, together with Fino, the perfect choice to accompany salads, cold soups and dressings.
Manzanilla quick reference
· Always serve very chilled, use an ice bucket with ice and water to serve chilled at 6°-8°C
· The wine of the sea, perfect with fish, seafood and all styles of food from the sea
· Style of glass, in traditional wide-rimmed catavinos, or in white wine glasses.
Fino - THE WINE OF HAPPINESS
A Brief Introduction: Fino is a dry white wine also made from the palomino grapes, which, as is the case with Manzanilla, is aged under a layer of yeasts that make up the veil of flor. It is stored and aged in American oak butts using the traditional solera y criaderas system (first in first out) in the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maris.
Tasting Notes: Ranging from bright straw yellow to pale gold in colour. A sharp, delicate bouquet slightly reminiscent of almonds with a hint of fresh dough and wild herbs don’t you know. Light, dry and delicate on the palate leaving a pleasant, fresh aftertaste of almonds.
Did you know? Fino wine has the extraordinary ability to stimulate the taste buds. Due to this, it’s an ideal aperitif for preparing the palate to better enjoy Pintxo. Additionally, the savoury nature of this type of Sherry intensifies all flavours in a dish, any food is better understood if it’s accompanied by a glass or two of Fino.
Fino & Gastronomy Serving tips
It is an ideal aperitif wine and goes well with all types of Pintxo Tapa, especially olives, nuts and Iberian cured ham. Also providing the perfect companion for shellfish and fish, especially those with a marked salty taste, anchovies for example. It’ low acetic acid content combines exceptionally well with dishes of marked acidity (vinaigrette salads, marinades, etc.) as well as with cold soups like gazpacho and ajo blanco, etc.
Fino quick reference
· Always serve chilled, use an ice bucket with both ice and water to serve chilled between 6°-8°C
· Perfect for Pintxo Tapas, it adapts perfectly to a diverse range of salty and intense flavours.
· Style of glass, in traditional wide-rimmed catavinos, or in white wine glasses.
So what are the top 14 dry sherries?
I am not the man to answer this question, I am however committed to trying them all before the end of next year. I will buy a bottle each month and review it and draw some personal conclusions at the end in a similar fashion to my 2020 Review of Romesco. Look out this year for the en rama sherries – wines that have been minimally filtered or refined to get the true taste of the sherry as it comes from the cask. Enjoy it chilled (in regular wineglasses to experience the full aroma) as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to fish, seafood or Pintxo Tapas dishes.
Look out this year for the en rama sherries – wines that have been minimally filtered or refined to get the true taste of the sherry as it comes from the cask. Enjoy it chilled (in regular wine glasses to experience the full aroma) as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to fish, seafood or Pintxo Tapas dishes.
John Clarke, of the Independent, recently made this selection:
Tio Pepe Fino En Rama 2018, 37.5cl, 15%: £8.50, Lea & Sandeman
Welcome to the new kid – and trend – on the block.
En Rama sherries (literally “in the raw”) are only lightly filtered so you’re getting the true taste of sherry from the cask, providing a depth and a complexity of flavours – encompassing everything from Japanese umami to salted apples – that other sherries may only hint at.
It’s a limited release, so get it while you can.
Waitrose Torre del Oro Palo Cortado 75cl, 19%: £11.49, Waitrose
Produced in conjunction with the house of Lustau, this is a rich and elegant sherry made from palomino grapes emanating from the bountiful area bound by Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain's famous “sherry triangle” north of Cadiz.
Waitrose’s sherry buyer has worked with Lustau’s cellar masters to produce a drink that, slightly chilled, is the perfect accompaniment to a light summer meal.
Tio Diego Amontillado Valdespino, 75cl, 18%: £17.75, Lea & Sandeman
Amontillado sherries have a unique taste thanks to the process that sees the flor – the whitish film of yeast that covers the liquid – fade away and the wine then exposed to oxidation.
The result here, in this single vineyard example, is a layered and complex sherry, pale amber in colour, with a nutty and almost botanical flavour. It’s a perfect aperitif or can be enjoyed with fish and seafood.
Gonzales Byass Vina AB Amontillado Secco, 75cl, 16.5%: £14 Oddbins
A superbly nutty and bone dry amontillado from one of the big names in the sherry world.
Light amber in colour after 12 years of ageing in American oak casks, it’s best served chilled in a small white wine glass as an aperitif – or as an accompaniment to white meat dishes, rice or asparagus.
Valdespino Inocente Fino, 75cl, 15%: £15.95 Lea & Sandeman
Unique in that it’s the last fino to be fermented in huge American oak casks – all the rest are use stainless steel fermentation tanks – Valdespino is the flagship wine of one of the oldest bodegas in Jerez, using Palomino grapes from a single vineyard.
Layered and intense with a taste of almonds and lemon and a growing saltiness with a long and prolonged finish.
La Kika Manzanilla Pasada En Rama Bodegas Yuste, 37.5cl, 15%: £23.25 Butlers
You fall in love with this sherry even before you open it. From its stunning label (a picture of “La Kika”, the wine maker’s late mother) to the red wax seal, orange and red ribbon and wooden topped cork, it’s an aesthetic delight.
The en rama sherry more than matches the display – with a bone dry intensity, a salty tang and a lingering finish that make it one of the most enticing en rama sherries you can buy.
Hidalgo Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, 75cl, 15%: £12.99 Waitrose
Sourced from a single vineyard this light, dry sherry has turned some non-believers into dedicated fans. And it’s not hard to see why.
There’s that usual hint of almond like nuttiness helped along with a twist of citrus and a welcome salty tang that make this a superb aperitif. And at that price it’s almost a steal.
Lustau 3 En Rama Fino Jerez, 50cl, 15%: £15.23, Decantalo
There’s a warning on the label that this – as with other en rama sherries – has been drawn from the cask and bottled without any additional treatment.
Some may see this as a drawback, but in fact it’s a splendid chance to enjoy the real complex and rounded taste of sherry from the respected Bodegas Emilio Lustau in Jerez de la Frontera.
Intensely flavoured with a long finish, the magic won’t keep, so it needs to be drunk within a few months of being purchased.
Pedro’s Almacenista Oloroso, 75cl, 20%: £14.99, Majestic
More structured and concentrated than fino sherries, oloroso develops without the flor yeasts and as a result is more fragrant and complex with flavours of nuts, dried fruit, spice and perhaps a resinous hint of the autumn to come.
This example, adorned with a vintage 1956 poster, has undergone minimal filtration to ensure that you enjoy the full sherry experience. And at this price you can’t afford to let it pass.
Barbadillo Manzanilla Pasada En Rama de la Pastora, 37.5cl, 15%: £29.33 for a case of three, Amazon
Already garlanded with awards, this golden an attractively labelled sherry from a bodega that’s been producing manzanilla since 1827. True to tradition this sherry is made using time-old methods, spending up to nine years in the cask before it reaches the bottle. But the en rama classification also means that it’s only lightly filtered. Savoury and salty but with a rewarding nutty mellowness and a hint of apple.
Cesar Florido Fino En Rama, 37.5cl, 15%: £12.30, Les Caves de Pyrene
Made from palomino grapes grown in the Pago de Miraflores vineyard near Sanlucar de Barrameda, this sherry is aged slowly only 25 metres away from the Atlantic coast.
As a result it has that tremendous saline character allied to hints of green apples, lemon and almonds. Only 1,200 bottles are produced so grab a bottle while you can and enjoy it chilled in a normal sized wineglass.
Hidalgo Amontillado Seco Napoleon, 50cl, 17.5%: £16.99, Majestic
This sherry starts life as a manzanilla in American oak casks and is then transferred to a separate solera to age, as part of an amontillado blend.
A dark amber in colour but still very dry, it has the full range of delicious nutty flavours with a twist of salt.
The name originates from the Peninsular War when the crafty Spaniards sold sherry to both the French and the English.
Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa En Rama, 37.5cl, 15%: £11.95, Lea & Sandeman
A limited 2018 edition en rama manzanilla from the hugely respected and family owned Valdespino bodega in Jerez, with the palomino grapes coming from a single vineyard in Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Intense nutty flavours with hints of apple and herbs and that saline tang that explodes on the tongue.
Production is limited to around 7,000 bottles worldwide, so bring out the salted almonds and get this while you can.
Sanchez Romate Fino Perdido, 75cl, 15%: £7.95, The Wine Society