The Styles of Sherry
Sherry, the so-called fortified wine, is an extensive part of both Spanish and British history. Seen by many as a drink fit only for the older population this isn’t and shouldn’t be the case. Sherry is a rapidly decreasing market, with prices to match. Much of this is to do with reputation and a lack of knowledge. Sherry isn’t just a ‘sweet’ fortified wine, there are in fact more dry styles than those that contain vast quantities of sugar. Secondly, ‘its not just for Christmas’ the biologically aged wines are the perfect summer aperitif. Finally, it's more than just a drink to cook with, Sherry and certain foods make excellent pairings this again comes down to the chosen style.
Fino and Manzanilla are the names of the wines that have been produced through biological ageing.
Fino- this is quite possibly the most famous style of sherry around the world and the most commonly consumed dry style in the UK. The dry style is pale lemon to gold in colour and looks the same as many still white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. The aroma however immediately gives the style away, there is immediate evidence that yeast has been used. Aromas of dough, especially sour dough, are matched with salty and nutty notes. Almonds and seaweed are often seen and there can be umami (savoury) flavours especially in the better, more complex wines. It’s a refreshing, light style that is never overly acidic therefore an easy wine to drink particularly when served chilled.
Manzanilla is very similar, the only difference arising from where the grapes were grown and the wine matured. The area, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, is much closer to the sea than the likes of Jerez therefore is thought to have had more influence from the cooler sea breezes. For those, like me, who are not sherry experts it is extremely difficult to tell the two apart as they are so similar in style.
Both Fino and Manzanilla should be consumed soon after bottling to retain their fresher characteristics and once opened they will not last long as contact with oxygen will change their style.
The sweet sherry made from this biologically aged style is known as pale cream. This has similar characteristics and flavours as the Fino and Manzanilla sherries but with an obvious sweetness. The sugar element is often added from concentrated grape juice of the palomino grape itself. This doesn’t alter either the colour or the flavour due to its neutral style and therefore only increases the sweetness level. The term pale cream (medium and cream seen below) are actually a British invention made to suit the palate of people in the 1960’s!
Oloroso on the other hand has been aged with oxygen contact, this is easy to understand due to having the same first letter! The wine (having gone through alcoholic fermentation and fortification) fills 5/6 of the barrel, called botas. The air (oxygen) therefore has a huge impact on the style of wine. The colour is darker and much closer to brown. The aromas and flavours consist of treacle, molasses, dried fruits such as raisins and figs and strong notes of dried or burnt walnuts are often apparent. It’s an interesting mix that will appeal to some more than others. Cigar smokers often find this style makes a great pairing. Of course one of the most appealing benefits is a bottle will last for a while, in the same way spirits can be opened and then resealed, the affects of oxygen have already occurred so Oloroso sherry can be consumed throughout the year being a cost saving option.
Again, as in the lighter styles, Oloroso can be made sweet. Commonly known as medium or cream sherry these have had the addition of a sweetened element. Often Pedro Ximénez (PX) is the grape of choice. The finer bottles will use PX wine rather than concentrated juice to add more complexity and concentration of flavours.
This is a combination of both styles. Starting its life as a biologically aged sherry with the presence of flor therefore gaining these distinct characteristics. The flor then dies (due to lack of nutrients or changing conditions) or is killed by the winemaker. The wine is fortified to a higher level usually around 17% ABV preventing further yeast growth. The next stages of ageing then occur in the presence of oxygen. The wines' character is therefore a mixture of both and often depends on the amount of time under each individual maturation style. The colour will range from amber to brown. The aromas and flavours a mixture of savoury, yeasty notes mixed with dried fruit and molasses.
Finally, there is a somewhat confusing style Palo Cortado, this has little or no rules and is the rarest form of sherry. It again undergoes both biological and oxidative ageing however the exact requirements are not driven by laws. This style gives the wine maker the greatest ability to express their own style. Often the wines have characteristics somewhere between an Amontillado and an Oloroso and the better versions can be some of the most special forms of sherry.