Sherry baby! It’s back
If you think sherry is just that unfashionable fortified wine drunk by grannies at Christmas, think again. It's making a major comeback, says wine educator Deborah Zbinden, and here's why.
No longer just drunk by an older, only-at-Christmas sort of a drinker, a new generation of Sherry drinkers are discovering the enormous complexity of this tipple. It’s not just one style, it’s certainly not always sweet and even when it is sweet than doesn’t mean it can’t be great quality.
While the mention of Sherry can be met with either sighs of appreciation and tales of late nights and tapas, all too often it more of a shudder and a mention of a dusty bottle. But a quiet and overdue sherry revolution has been rippling through a welcome number of bars and restaurants across the UK for a few years now, proving it’s a drink for all ages and absolutely not just for Christmas.
If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of being reintroduced, it’s time we busted a few sherry myths.
1. Sherry is a wine. A fortified wine but a wine nonetheless. This means anything not finished the first time you open the bottle needs to be safely resealed and kept in the fridge. Store your Sherry like this for up to a week for lighter styles or a month or two for Oloroso and Palo Cortado (although this point is purely theoretical in my experience).
2. Sherry isn’t just an aperitif. You can pair it with a range of different foods, just as you would any other sorts of wine.
3. Like any other wine it likes a bit of space in the glass. Any dusty old sherry “schooner” glasses need to be ceremoniously ditched.
4. It’s not just a style, it’s a protected in the same geographic way as Champagne and Parmesan. Sherry can only be made in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”, a relatively small area nestled in Andalucia’s south-west corner, focussed on the town of Jerez, the first Spanish wine region to take on Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) status in 1935.
5. Most Sherry goes through a very special type of ageing process called the Solera system. Legally the wine needs to be aged for at least 2 years to be called Sherry but in practice even the lightest styles are often over 5 years old.
6. Sherry doesn’t then need any further ageing, thanks to this time-consuming process. Great news for wine drinkers looking for something unique and complex without having to cellar the wines – and something that the very accessible prices of Sherry just don’t reflect.
7. Despite the variation in colour, all of these styles are actually white wines. All dry Sherry wines are made from the Palomino grape variety, a lowish acidity variety which is also enjoyed by some scale as a “normal” still white wine in Spain.
8. Sherry rarely improves in the bottle and the lightest Sherry styles of Fino and Manzanilla are all about freshness. Despite being fortified, the alcohol level of these styles (around 15% abv) isn’t dissimilar to that of a Californian Zinfandel in a warm vintage. Where Fino is all about almonds and herbs, Manzanilla can be distinctly floral but both share a yeasty, appley taste profile. Enjoy well chilled, from a normal wine glass giving it lots of room to breathe and treat it like a white wine, it will only stay fresh kept in the fridge for a few days.
9. Sweet styles fall into two broad categories, those made from partially dried grapes and fortified before all the sugar has turned to alcohol leaving very high levels of sugar in the wine, either made from Pedro Ximenez (stunning, treacley nectar) or from Moscatel (floral, scented and one of the few wines that actually smells and tastes like grapes). Unless you see these grapes mentioned on the front label then a sweet Sherry is a blend of one of the dry styles plus either PX or Moscatel or very concentrated sweet grape juice and the descriptor will be an English word e.g. Cream or Medium. If you’re interested in some exciting food and wine pairings you would write off the better cream Sherries at your peril.
Deborah Zbinden is a WSET Certified Educator who has worked in the wine industry for almost 20 years. She run wine education courses, corporate events and private wine parties, throughout Surrey, through her company Wine Confidence.