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No other fortified wine has seen a renaissance with drinkers quite like sherry. Gone are the days where this style of fortified wine was synonymous with cocktail mixers, dusty bar shelves and grandparents’ sipping. In current times, sherry is seeing a revolution like never before and rightfully so. These complex wines hold their own against a variety of other still and unfortified wines, though knowing what you’re drinking is essential to understanding these intricate bottles.
Sherry is produced in the Marco de Jerez, otherwise known as the Sherry Triangle, in southern Spain. The three main towns in which sherry is produced are Jerez de la Frontera (Jerez), Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Similar to the beverages produced in Champagne, Cognac and other well-known areas, in order to be called sherry, wines must only come from this specific region in Spain.
It’s a fortified wine, which means that grape brandy is added to the fermenting must or the fully fermented wine. The time in which the brandy is added determines how dry or sweet the final wine will be. Due to the addition of grape brandy, sherry and other fortified wines have a higher alcohol content than do nonfortified wines, generally clocking in between 15% and 20% ABV.
Sherry is produced mostly from the palomino, moscatel and/or Pedro Ximénez grape varieties, depending on which style of sherry is being made. There are five main styles of sherry that currently dominate the market: fino, manzanilla, palo cortado, amontillado and oloroso. Contrary to popular belief, most sherry wines are in fact vinified dry.
In the realm of dry sherry, there are two main ways in which these wines are produced. Biologically aged sherries, such as fino and manzanilla expressions, are aged under a layer of flor (a thin veil of yeast), which keeps the wines closed off from oxygen. Oxidatively aged sherries (think oloroso bottlings) are aged without the presence of flor, which allows the wines to interact with oxygen during the aging process. Amontillado and palo cortado sherries are hybrid styles in that these wines begin their aging under a layer of flor, then undergo a second oxidative aging process to end their élevage.
Most sherries are aged using a solera system, which incorporates multi-vintage blending to create a final product featuring various ages of wine within the bottle. Imagine a solera to look like and operate like a waterfall. The oldest barrels of wine sit at the bottom of the stack and are continually topped off with slightly younger wine from the previous vintage, which are located directly on top of the older barrel. The barrels containing the youngest wine—that is, from the most recent vintage—are located on the top of the stack.
Wines produced from this style of aging contain a blend of various vintages. Generally, the age on the bottle represents the average age of all wines involved in the aging process. Single-vintage sherries are denoted as such on the label.
Sherries span the range of the entire flavor-profile spectrum from salty and bone-dry to sticky-sweet, depending on which style of sherry is being produced. Fino and manzanilla sherries tend to show briny flavors of sea salt, almonds, honey and roasted nuts, whereas sweeter expressions are marked by notes of dried fruits, figs, raisins, caramel and more.
Sherries are some of the most delicious food-friendly wines on the market, and since they feature significantly higher ABVs than an average bottle of wine, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re snacking on something while you sip. Fino and manzanilla sherries come alive when paired with salty Spanish-inspired tapas; think fresh shellfish, charcuterie, olives, marcona almonds and more. If the snack or dish is salty, you really can’t go wrong with those wines. Sweet sherries are at their best when enjoyed with dark chocolate or vanilla ice cream (drizzle the sherry over it for an even more complex experience), or simply sip the wine on its own in lieu of dessert.
These are the eight bottles—two of each type of sherry—to try.
Lustau Don Nuño Dry Oloroso (Reserva Solera)
Amber-hued, medium-bodied and undeniably delicious, this dry oloroso sherry from Lustau is loaded with flavors of burnt sugar, molasses, grilled almonds, chocolate and cedar. Tangy acid and a prominent saline character lead to a zesty palate-coating finish.
Lustau Los Arcos Dry Amontillado (Solera Reserva)
Complex, thought-provoking and affordable—what more could you want from amontillado sherry? Produced at one of Spain’s most well-known estates, this Solera Reserva bottling is marked by caramel-driven notes of roasted nuts, dried fruits and smoky wood.