Sherry: It's styles and where to find the best
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
Britain has a long historic relationship with the fortified wines from north of Cadiz, as trading from the three ports, Cadiz, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Salucar de Barrameda has gone on for hundreds of years. Shakespeare's characters often refer to "a glass of Sack," what they then called the wine from the area. This trade was often disrupted by various European wars, but the British love of Sherry always survived. Incidentally the British invented "Sack" as a name for the wine, but later an adaption or mispronunciation of Jerez to Sherry, became its name.
Some will remember the boom in "sherry" in the 1950's through to the 1980's. The Spanish hadn't protected the name, so there was Cyprus "sherry", Australian, English, South African, and others.
These days under EU law Sherry sold here now has to be from the triangle north of Cadiz and Salucar up to Jerez.
There are some lovely chalky "Albarizo " hills, Ideal for light fresh delicate wines and the Palomino grape. Other warmer sites are used for the sweet varieties Pedro Ximinez and Muscatel.
These days the most popular wines are now the bone dry Finos. Made from the Palomino with the wine protected from oxidation by a yeast layer over the wine in barrel, called flor.
Most Finos are fortified to only 14.5 or 15 % alcohol, and are best served fresh and young. Mostly serviced in Spain in half bottles, to ensure the wine is always "fresh".
The Brand Leader, Tio Pepe, comes from Gonzales Byass in Jerez de la Frontera, and is stocked widely at around £11 or £11.50, in Morrisons, Tescos, Sainsburys, and Waitrose, where it is often on promotion from as little as £8.50.
Even though Tio Pepe is a big brand, it is of superbly high quality. The Whisky Exchange stock Valdespino Inocente Fino, which is fine and full bodied yet fresh, for £11.25 per half bottle.
Is also bone dry, and comes from further south where it gets the cooling Atlantic breezes north of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. When very fresh, one can smell the saltiness from the sea breezes as well as the yeasty flor.
One of my favourites is from Hidalgo, called La Gitana (or the gipsy girl), and is stocked in the Whisky Exchange for £11.75.
Fortnum and Mason, who have a good range of their own label sherries also have the excellent Manzanilla Miraflores Baja, from Bodegas de la Riva, for £22.50 per bottle.
Made like fino, but then as it ages is blended with some younger wines which breaks down the yeasty flor, and
allows the wine to oxidise and develop nutty flavours.
These days all these are dry, and have higher alcohol. One can find 30 year old plus wines, these are wines that can age magnificently.
Master of Malt stock the Gonzalez Byass Del Duque 30 year old Amontillado for £23.68 per 375cl half bottle.
These are dry wines without the protection of flor, so develop more oxidatively with nutty complex flavours.
In the past, they were often sweetened with the addition of PX, but if this happens now, they cannot be called Oloroso, but Cream Sherry.
Again these wine age wonderfully. For a budget friendly option, Waitrose stock the wonderful Lustau E. India Solera Rich Oloroso for just £11.99 for a 50cl bottle.
PALO CORTADO SHERRY.
These sherries are from selected casks, where there is a richness of flavours, good ageing potential, and tend to be fortified to at least 17%.
Dry, these are some of my favourites, and Waitrose have Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado which is an aged complex and a great wine. They are selling it at £14.99 for a half bottle.
PEDRO XIMENEZ SHERRY. or "PX"
Made from the very sweet grape of the same name, this wine is lusciously sweet, and viscous. Great poured over vanilla ice cream. Waitrose carry Lustau's Pedro Ximenez Murillo for £16.99 for 50cl bottle.
Sherry, I am pleased to see is showing a come-back. Probably because these wines represent excellent quality and value. The variety is also a joy, a fresh cold glass of Fino or Manzanilla on a warm day before a meal. A nutty Amontillado or dry Oloroso on a cooler day, or with some "tapas" nibbles. Or a luscious PX with dessert or cheese.
Sherry is well worth exploring, lots to discover and enjoy, and none of the boring sweet English or Cyprus imitations of the past!