Sherry is quickly climbing the popularity charts with experienced wine connoisseurs and amateur wine enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why. The Andalusian fortified wine has roots going back three thousand years to some of Spain’s first vineyards!

Sherry, though, is not one type of wine, but many. There’s a myriad of sherry styles, each suitable for a particular food pairing and occasion. Today, wine lovers look for unique expressions of the land and exciting wine styles that challenge their imagination while swooning their taste buds; that’s what Sherry does best; it never ceases to amaze; the wine style is noble like that.

Here’s all you need to know about Sherry wines today. From their history to the grapes behind the unique wine and from Sherry’s unique winemaking process to extraordinary food and wine pairings that will help you make the most out of the artisanal wine style.

Our story begins in Andalucía, the southernmost region in Spain, land of flamenco dancing, rattling guitars, bullfighting and a warm Mediterranean breeze. This is the land of Jerez, and you’ll love it! Pour yourself some Sherry in a ‘copita’ wine glass and let’s get started!

Rinconcillo Seville

What is Sherry, anyway?

First and foremost, Sherry is wine — an agricultural product made by fermenting crushed grapes. These are not just any grapes, though; the arid Spanish landscape specialized in Sherry production is not suitable for growing any wine grape.

The noble trio of Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes, along with a few others, has evolved to withstand Southern Spain’s harsh climate. Just imagine, you can enjoy almost 300 days of sun every year.

For most Sherry styles, the grapes are harvested and vinified just like any wine, but then they undergo a sophisticated winemaking process and an ageing regime that elevates it to new pleasurable heights. A crucial step in this process, explained in detail below, is fortification.

A splash of brandy, a grape-based distilled spirit ‘fortifies’ the wine, making it more shelf-stable, and of course, a bit boozier. The more resistant wine is then ready to undergo one of the most complex and intricate ageing processes in the world of wine.

The result? A wide variety of sweet and dry wines with varied alcohol strengths and a broad range of scents and flavors. That’s Sherry, and it has no equal.

Where Does Sherry Come From?

Sherry comes from the Spanish region of Andalucía, in Southern Spain. The wine style is protected by European law under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, meaning you can only label the wine as authentic Sherry if it comes from the area, more specifically from a triangular region formed between the Atlantic Ocean and the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

By the way, the word sherry is an anglicisation of Xérès (Jerez). In Spain, these wines are called Jerez.

Let’s just say this area has the perfect sand, clay and limestone soils for quality winemaking. Here, the ideal sunny climate, the suitable terrain, the right grapes and the hands of passionate winemakers come together to create Sherry; that’s the secret recipe.

Sherry’s Fantastic History

Sherry’s region has been the stage for many significant moments in History. The Phoenicians, expert sailors and merchants, often visited the area and probably brought the first grapevines as far back as 1100 BCE. The region’s viticulture thrived under Roman rule but withered during the country’s Moorish occupation that lasted 700 years; the Muslims didn’t encourage the production of alcoholic drinks.

By the 1500s, Sherry was the hottest trend in England, a country of avid wine drinkers, and the wine style became an essential commodity during the Age of Discovery. Sherry gained worldwide acclaim. The unique fortified wine lost some of its appeal during the twentieth century, but it’s now back stronger than ever.

How Is Sherry Made?

The Sherry-making process is incredibly complex, but it all starts in the vineyard when the grapes are harvested and taken to the winery where they are crushed and pressed.

The first press, the most delicate and pure grape juice, is sent to make the most delicate Sherry styles, Fino and Manzanilla. The juice extracted from a second press, a more robust and astringent grape juice, is sent to make Oloroso. Then the grape juice is fermented to dryness.

Here’s a twist to the story. The fermented wine is fortified with a clear grape spirit. For Oloroso Sherry, the alcohol content is elevated to between 17 and 22% ABV. For Fino and Manzanilla Sherry, the strength is fortified to between 15-17% ABV because producers what to create the perfect conditions for the development of the veil or ‘flor.’

What is Flor? A type of yeast that grows on Fino and Manzanilla’s surface while they age in barrels. The yeast veil protects the wine from spoilage while allowing it to oxidize in a controlled way. That’s crazy, right?

Then comes the ageing process, and here’s where the famous solera system comes in. If making Sherry wasn’t complicated enough, producers will blend every year’s wine with the wine from previous vintages. They repeat this process, blending younger with older wines until they get a wine that can be a blend of vintages as old as 30 years!

In a nutshell, over-ripe grapes, fortification, oxidation, and solera blending give Sherry its personality. We could go deeper into the elaborate production method, and you totally should if you want to know more about the extraordinary, fortified wine.

Types of Sherry to Know and Love

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the Sherry-making process, let’s see what the result is. These are the most important dry Sherry styles, what makes each unique, and why you’ll love them.

Fino

Made with Palomino grapes, fermented to dryness and fortified just enough to allow ‘flor’ or yeast veil to form. Fino Sherry can be aged for over ten years in a solera ageing system. The type of biological ageing gives Fino a bouquet reminiscent of citrus, nuts, brined olives, and spices.

Food pairings: Olives, nuts, cured meats, salt fish, salads, baked fish, fried fish, shellfish, white meat.

Wine to try: Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry

Manzanilla

Manzanilla is a Sherry style remarkably similar to Fino. The most significant difference is that Manzanilla can only be produced in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which has its own Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Manzanilla shares a flavor and aromatic profile with Fino Sherry but has added complexity thanks to the city’s proximity to the sea. The flor yeast thrives in the humid climate, and the wine is infused with the most subtle saline minerality.

Food pairings: Olives, nuts, cured meats, salt fish, salads, baked fish, fried fish, shellfish, white meat.

Wines to try:

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry

Bodegas Barbadillo Manzanilla

Oloroso

Oloroso Sherry is made with the same grapes known in the region, but it is fortified to at least 17% ABV preventing the flor from forming. Without the protection of the thin yeast film, the wine ages in an oxidative way, meaning it gains rich, nutty flavors and is more robust both in the nose and palate.

Food pairings: Nuts, cured meats, mature cheese, soft creamy cheese, fresh tuna, mushrooms, game, stews, spicy dishes.

Wine to try:

Emilio Lustau ‘Solera Reserva’ Dry Oloroso Don Nuno Sherry,

Barbadillo Oloroso Dry Sherry Wine

Amontillado

Amontillado Sherry starts like a Fino, meaning a layer of yeast is allowed to grow on its surface. After about two years, the wine is fortified even further, which kills the flor. Amontillados spend the rest of their maturation process oxidatively like the Oloroso.

Food pairings: Nuts, cured meats, mature cheese, salads, baked fish, shellfish, smoked fish, fresh tuna, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, game, spicy dishes.

Wines to try:

A.R. Valdespino Amontillado Tio Diego Sherry

Or this one from Amazon is excellent as well:

Barbadillo Amontillado Medium Dry Sherry Wine

How about sweet Sherry styles?

Well, they’re a whole other beast with their own intricacies. Producers make the sweetest Sherry styles with honeyed Pedro Ximenez grapes and Moscatel grapes often dried under the sun to achieve more significant sugar levels. The super-sweet musts are then classified and fortified up to 15 to 17 degrees of alcohol before undergoing a solera ageing process.

Two great examples of sweet Sherry wines made from Pedro Ximenez grapes are:

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