What is sherry? And is sherry finally having its moment? In Sydney at least we’re seeing a lot of bars getting behind the Spanish wine: bars like Bar Tapa, from Manuel Terron and Sarah Miller, and Continental Deli Bar Bistro, have extensive selections of the stuff, as does Brisbane’s Alba Bar & Deli.
Terron from Bar Tapa suggests two ways you might like to think about sherry and its place behind the bar.
“As aperitifs for the dry styles and as digestifs for the sweeter styles,” he says.
Of course, sherry is delicious by itself, but it also has a range of mixing applications.
“When looking at the range of sherries available a simple rule can be applied,” says Terron. He suggests matching light dry styles of sherry with white spirits, and full flavoured dry styles, semi-sweet and sweet styles with dark spirits.
“[We are] seeing more and more of the lighter dry styles making appearances on cocktail lists,” says Terron. “Bartenders are moving away from PX as the go-to sherry, because that’s now too easy, they’re finding that the delicate nuances of a fino or manzanilla can be just as rewarding when mixed well. The low-ABV trend has also seen sherries becoming a focal point in cocktails and mixed drinks.”
If you’re new to sherry, Terron has a few producers you might want to discover.
“The González Byass range, although one of the major producers have breadth. Their selection is rather enviable and what could be categorised as complete. Fino, Fino en rama, amontillado, oloroso, palo cortado, cream and px, but then they also have “viejo” (old/aged) expressions. Many could argue they are not as good as this bodega’s fino or that bodega’s oloroso, etc. But for quality, consistency, selection and price, they deliver. Yuste Aurora, out of Sanlucar de Barrameda is another producer that we like with their over aged (8-10 yrs) Manzanilla and Amontillado, great character to those wines, newer producer that reinvigorated a classic style. And finally Gutierrez Colosia from Puerto de Santa Maria, a small family run bodega making lovely wines and brandies with a great story of how they rebuilt after the Spanish revolution.”
What is sherry?
Sherry is a fortified wine from Spain. Forget the cheap sweet stuff labelled as Cream Sherry — you want sherries that range from bone dry and delicate wines, to wines with great concentration and power.
Sherry hails from the region of Jerez in Andalucia, Spain. The location within Jerez is important in determining some characteristics of sherry. For instance, manzanillas come from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The cool, humid seaside climate is ideal for flor, the film of yeast that covers the ageing fino sherry, to grow. Manzanillas from here are pale, light and dry wines that can have delicate aromas of nuttiness and sea-spray.
The Sherry Triangle
Three towns make up what is known as the sherry triangle in Jerez. They are not far apart in distance, but the wines each town produces are the result of very different climates and conditions.
They are Sanlucar de Barremeda, Jerez de la Frontera, and El Puerto de Santa.
Flor is a layer of yeast that covers the wine in barrel as it ages. The barrels are filled about five-sixths full, which gives the flor space to grow in the barrel. As they age, new wine is added to the barrels to give the yeast something to feed on.
This ageing is termed biological ageing — the flor caps the wine and slows oxidation — and the yeast helps to impart a nutty, tangy, salty character to the wine.
You’ve probably heard about the solera system before — a number of rum companies use it to produce their bottlings. The solera system is one of fractional blending: the barrels containing the oldest wine have a fraction drawn off (up to 33 per cent in any one year), which is replaced by a portion of the wine from the next year’s vintage (which is called the first criadera). This is in turn replenished with wine from the next year’s vintage (the second criadera) and so on until the current vintage wine is used. This ensures consistency of style of a wine across vintages.
Biologically aged sherry — fino and manzanilla
You’ll find these wines being sipped in place of table wine in the bars of Jerez. They are dry, delicate wines, suited for drinking with tapas like jamon Iberico.
Manzanilla sherry is a fino sherry from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda and will typically have a hint of sea-spray to them, and can be a touch lighter and more elegant than finos.
Because these wines are aged under a layer of yeast — flor — these wines are considered to be biologically aged. You might see some of these labeled as en rama —that is applied to sherries that are unfiltered, and is as close to drinking from the barrel as sherry gets.
Oxidatively aged sherry — oloroso, amontillados, palo cortado
In contrast to fino and manzanilla styles of sherry, oxidatively aged sherries are aged only partially or not at all under flor.
They are typically fortified to a higher ABV and develop their rich characters due to this oxidative handling.
Amontillados start their lives off as fino wines, but the flor growth is either — intentionally or not — stopped, so the wine continues to age oxidatively. Once the flor has stopped, the wine will be fortified up to 17% ABV to continue ageing in the manner of an oloroso.
Olorosos are never aged under flor, so they are fortified to 17 or 17% ABV. Oloroso styles mature with greater exposure to air, seeing the wine go browner and become stronger in alcohol due to evaporation.
One of the rarest (and most expensive) types of sherry style is palo cortado. This is a wine that was meant to be a fino, but never developed any flor and thus matured as would an oloroso. The wines combine the elegance of the fino style with the power and concentration of the oloroso style.
How sherry is made
First, the winemaker decides from the vineyard which wines will become finos, and which ones will become olorosos. Fino wine is fermented at a lower temperature than wine destined for olorosos (finos being a more delicate, finer style of wine). After fermentation, the wine is around 11-12 per cent ABV. If the wine is to become a fino, it is fortified with grape spirit to between 15-15.5 per cent; wine destined to be oloroso is fortified to about 18 per cent (flor growth is killed by alcohol higher than 16 per cent).