These are exciting times for sherry, especially the more authentic and premium styles which are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Although often misunderstood as a drink ‘just for Christmas’ this style of fortified wine varies hugely across 10 recognised styles ranging from the intensely sweet to the eye wateringly dry. It’s one complex category!
Sherry can match any food pairing and there is so much to explore. From the world’s best‐selling Fino Tio Pepe which is bone dry, to super sweet Nectar Pedro Ximenez from Gonzalez Byass. However, sherry is not widely understood or appreciated, making this week, International Sherry Week, the perfect time to showcase this often undervalued category.
Hailing from the south in Spain, Sherry can only be produced in the Jerez region. One of the key reasons for the complexity and variety within the sherry category is the solera system, an ageing process which allows older wines to impart their flavours and qualities to younger wines. When sherry is needed for bottling a small amount is removed from the oldest barrels and replaced with the same amount of the next oldest barrel and so on.
It is impossible to give the exact age of a wine that has been aged in a solera as it is a blend of many vintages. For example, the Gonzalez Byass’ VORS range has been aged for an average age of 30 years and will have wines that are 29, 28, 27 etc years old until the most recent vintage! This length of ageing ensures a consistent style but also complex and intense flavours. To help recruit more customers to this incredibly diverse category here is a guide to the different styles and a few top tips to get the most potential out of your sherry listings.
The four key sherry styles
Fino – Light in colour with aromas of citrus and hints of fresh dough. Dry and delicate on the palate leaving a fresh aftertaste of almonds. The perfect partner with salted nuts and olives.
Amontillado – This elegant wine is amber in colour. Aromas of hazelnut give way to a smooth flavour which, while still dry, has notes of oak and toasted nuts. The perfect partner with difficult to match foods such as asparagus and artichoke.
Oloroso – This sherry is darker in colour the longer it is aged. Full bodied and smooth with flavours of spice and nuts. The perfect partner with jamon and slow cooked meats.
Pedro Ximenez – Made with grapes of the same name and laid out in the sun to raisin before being pressed. Rich, sweet, and velvety smooth with notes of figs, mocha, and nuts. Delicious when poured over vanilla ice cream.
There are 3 key grapes used in Sherry production and 95% of all production is made with Palomino, a relatively unheard of white grape. The two other grapes used in Sherry making are Muscat and Pedro Ximenez. Both are used to sweeten other Sherries to make the likes of Pale Cream, Medium and Cream as well as sometimes being used to in addition to Oloroso and Amontillado. However, they both also produce wines in their own right; Moscatel, and the incredible dark, rich and sweet Pedro Ximenez – commonly known as PX.
In Sherry production, unlike most other styles of wine, it is not how and where the grapes are grown that is important, but where and how the wine is made. The two key elements are ageing and blending (not unlike making Champagne). The winemaking takes place in the Bodegas positioned to attract the sea breezes and humidity that are important in the maturation of the wines. The ‘how‘ involves a secret ingredient known as ‘Flor’ and the blending of younger and older wines in the Solera system mentioned above.
Flor is a naturally occurring bread like yeast that grows on the top of the wine when it is stored in the old Sherry butts, protecting the liquid from oxygen. The growth of Flor varies according to the type of wine being made. It is thickest in Manzanilla and less vigorous in Fino while being killed off completely in Amontillado and Oloroso when they are fortified to around 18% alcohol.
Flor and the Solera system are equally accountable for the varying characteristics in Sherry. The unique styles variations create ensure there is something for everyone in this category. Despite this, we're certain that not enough of these wonderful wines are enjoyed in the on-trade. Here are some things we can do in the trade to recruit people into the category.
Top tips for selling more sherry
1. Serve chilled and fresh, offer 100ml serves for dry styles in modern white wine glass.
2. As a general rule treat dry styles like any other white wine. Once opened keep in the fridge and drink within 3 days.
3. Sherry is a fantastic ingredient in cocktails and are a key part of any top bar tender’s arsenal. The Spanish classic of 'Rebuijito' is a perfect place to start - it's Fino, lemonade and mint over ice; delicious and simple!
4. Sherry can be offered throughout a meal. Fino is an aperitif, Amontillado and Oloroso are designed for food and the sweet Pedro Ximenez is perfect for after a meal or with a dessert.
5. Christmas is a fantastic time to showcase sherry! Oloroso and PX styles both have wonderfully warming Christmassy flavours. Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso has flavours of roasted nuts and dried fruits. The Solera 1847 Oloroso has toffee, caramel, raisins notes which make it a delicious match for mince pies and Christmas pudding.