It’s said that good things come in threes, and that really applies to Sherry. Hailing from an area called the “Sherry triangle” in southeastern Andalucía, the region officially known as DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry gets its nickname from the city of Jerez de la Frontera along with neighboring towns El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Although regional authorities recently added a handful of varieties allowed in the production of Sherry, it is traditionally made with three grapes: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez (PX).
If your only image of Sherry is in the hands of an older relative enjoying a “nip” from a tiny, ornate glass in the afternoon, it’s time for an update. After all, if this region, whose winemaking history stretches back more than 3,000 years to the Phoenicians, has just amended its regulations for the first time in 50 years, we can all dust off whatever notions we may have held onto.
The four types of dry Sherry are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso. Manzanilla specifically comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda; Fino is produced elsewhere in the region. Both styles get their distinctive taste from barrel aging under a layer of yeast known as flor. Visually a clear, bright yellow, they exhibit flavors of lemon, apricot and peach with soft toasted nut and saline notes. Antonio Flores, winemaker and master blender at Gonzalez Byass, recommends olives, salted almonds or jamón with his Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, but also suggests creative pairings like shrimp tacos, falafel or vegetable tempura.
Oloroso is made without flor; it starts with a heavier base wine and is fortified with brandy to 17 or 18% alcohol to inhibit the presence of flor. Long barrel aging causes evaporation, further concentrating alcohol; Oloroso can be as high as 22% abv. It’s darker than Fino, the color of brewed tea, with flavors of cooked apples, dried apricot, caramel, walnuts and dried herbs. Alberto Orte, owner and winemaker of Bodegas Poniente, likes to pair his Oloroso with hearty entrées like mushroom-based pastas, rice dishes, grilled pork or beef stew.
Amontillado, in short, is a Sherry that started its life under flor, as a Fino, but finished its aging like an Oloroso and, thus, shares qualities of each.
Sweetened Sherries (dry Sherries blended with a sweetening agent) include Cream, Medium Cream and Pale Cream, which can have flavors of caramel, orange marmalade, coffee bean and clove. They are excellent with strong cheeses like Cabrales, Comté or Epoisses or foods that combine sweet with salty: blue cheese-stuffed dates or bacon-wrapped figs.
Naturally sweet Sherries are made from overripe, often raisined grapes that are so concentrated with sugars fermentation stops at 4–6% abv, resulting in lusciously sweet wines. Though made with both Moscatel and PX, the latter is most common with flavors of dried fig, cherry preserves, almonds, baking spices and orange zest. It is wonderful with desserts: dark chocolate, ginger cookies, rum raisin or dulce de leche ice cream.
Sherry Bottles to Try
Bodegas Poniente NV Oloroso Palomino (Jerez)
95 Points Wine Enthusiast
Aromas of cherry pipe tobacco, toffee, walnut and orange zest set the stage for flavors of apple, toasted nuts, vanilla and a touch of curry. This wine has a full body and rich texture that coat the palate, with an orange zest finish. —Mike DeSimone
González Byass NV Tio Pepe Fino en Rama Palomino (Jerez)
94 Points Wine Enthusiast
This deep straw-colored wine has aromas of dried apricot, roast almond and rising pizza dough. Flavors of almond, hazelnut and pineapple with a touch of salinity fill the mouth and then evaporate into a bright and slightly salty finish. Best Buy —M.D.
Viña Palaciega NV Medium Dry Sherry (Jerez)
91 Points Wine Enthusiast
Aromas of mixed nuts, milk chocolate and honeysuckle prep the tastebuds for flavors of roasted apple, peach nectar, gingerbread spice, delicata squash, slivered almonds and clementine. This Sherry rides a fine line between sweet and dry, with a vein of vivid acidity keeping it alive on the palate from start to finish. —M.D.
Bodegas y Viñedos Diez Merito NV Pemartín Medium Sherry (Jerez)
92 Points Wine Enthusiast
This deep-hued wine has aromas of candied chestnut, dried stone fruit and orange blossom. It offers flavors of holiday fruitcake, marzipan, chocolate-covered espresso bean and almond blossom. A luminous note of candied orange peel plies the palate from first sip and gently lingers. Best Buy —M.D.
Bodegas y Viñedos Diez Merito NV Bertolo Cream Sherry (Jerez)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
This deeply colored Sherry offers a bouquet of roasted chestnut, diced candied fruit and apricot marmalade, with a touch of iodine. Flavors of Earl Grey tea, caramel, candied chestnut, honeycomb and orange marmalade are backed by satiny tannins and a soft note of almond blossom. —M.D.
González Byass NV Noe Viejo Pedro Ximénez (Jerez)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
A wonderfully balanced and giving wine with sweet raisin and prune aromas and an overall richness akin to crude oil. Flavors of baked black plum, brown sugar and molasses are both juicy and rich, and then toffee and mocha take over on the finish. Sweet and thick for sure, but with discernible fruit and vitality. —Michael Schachner
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!