by Kevin Keith
It has been a long struggle for me and Sherry - the venerable fortified wine produced from what is known as the Sherry Triangle (which are the regions Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María) in the Spanish province of Andalucía. It’s taken me most of my time in this business to come to appreciate, and even enjoy Sherry. Not sure what it was initially. Was it this saline quality that shocked me when early on in my wine knowledge, I associated fortified wines solely with port and its sweet, sugary dessert qualities, or was it my earliest exposures to sherry from Taylor or Fairbanks? Regardless of the trepidation, it was Emilio Lustau that transcended me into the graceful beauty that truly is Sherry.
So what is sherry exactly?
Yes it is a fortified wine - which means to say that brandy has been added to increase its sugar and alcohol contents - but what does that mean exactly? It would be a discussion left up to the poets in my mind, but essentially these wines are mostly dry, and of two types: biologically-aged and oxidatively-aged. Biologically-aged sherries (wines that age beneath a film of yeast called a flor) and are dubbed either Fino or Manzanilla. The oxidatively-aged sherries are aged without the flor, and are known as Oloroso. Wines that begin as biologically-aged yet lose their flor at some point and this mature oxidatively are called Amontillado or Palo Cortado. All of these wines are finished dry. There are sweeter versions of Sherry. The naturally sweet wines are called by their varietal names of Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, while the artificially sweetened wines are known as Cream or Dolce.
Breaking the types down in a bit more detail:
Sherry is vastly complex, and far more labor intensive than still wines. Utilizing the Solera method, the wine is placed into a wine barrel that is the beginning of an anywhere from 3-8 barrel system. The wine is gravity-fed from top-to-bottom, mixing with older wine until it becomes the consistent blend of the house.
While I could go into a great more detail, the gist of this wine is that it is vastly more complex, more compatible with food, more cerebral a beverage than a simple glass of still wine. Personally I am still transcending the boundaries of sherry, which seem right now to be infinite. In the meantime, begin your journey with these amazing wines: