If you think sherry is a sweet sticky drink kept in your sideboard year after year and only brought out at Christmas for your grandmother to enjoy, served in a thimble size glass, then think again!
Today, it seems everyone is talking about sherry, even attracting a younger consumer, suddenly sherry has become cool and trendy, so read on to find out more about this underrated wine.
A word of warning though sherry is not for everyone and is an acquired taste but it’s definitely worthwhile persevering with and you’ll also find it’s a match for most foods but do remember sherry is also a wine, so throw away the small old-fashioned elongated glasses and drink out of a proper wine glass, this way you will fully enjoy the wonderful pungent aromas and fully appreciate the taste.
Now to the event itself in which I was lucky enough to be invited courtesy of Brian Elliot’s Mid Week Wines. The venue was the OXO Tower, London by the banks of the Thames.
The moment I walked through the doors the aromas in the function room left you in no doubt you were at a sherry tasting, there was a doughy yeasty smell in the air along with a pungent nuttiness not to mention the strong waft of alcohol.
After checking in at reception I grabbed a clean glass and after checking the brochure trying to form a plan which turned out to be less of a plan than I thought I proceeded to taste my way around the drier styles first, these being the Fino’s, Manzanilla’s and Amontillado’s, leaving the thicker sweeter Palo Cortado’s, Oloroso’s and Creams/PX (Pedro Ximénez) until later. Remember sherry is a fortified wine which means that additional alcohol or wine spirits have been added.
Below is a quick basic summary of the popular styles how I understand them…..
Fino – Clear, bone dry with aromas of bready dough and almonds, aged in barrels with a covering of yeast on the surface which is referred to as Flor to prevent oxidation, must be served chilled and is great with salty Tapas including olives, nuts and Jamon Serrano. Best drunk young. Typically around 15 -17% abv
Manzanilla – the driest sherry and clear, very similar to Fino (still with layer of Flor) with perhaps a sharper taste and slightly salty, again great with Tapas, nuts and salty dishes. Typically around 15 – 17% abv
Amontillado – Aged under Flor initially then fortified again with alcohol again this time at a higher level (16 -18% abv) which breaks up the Flor allowing for oxidation, creating a darker colour wine with a more pronounced nuttier caramel like flavour although still on the dry side.
Palo Cortado – One of the rarer sherries, starting out as a Fino under a layer of Flor, when the Flor dies off naturally it starts to resemble an Amontillado style then for some unknown reason begins to develop a richer more complex flavour like that of the next darker style, Oloroso. 16-18% abv
Oloroso – No Flor here, still quite dry, darker browny amber gold colour with more pronounced flavours, still nutty with prunes, raisins and butterscotch. 16-18% abv
Pedro Ximénez (PX) / Moscatel – Extremely sweet style, made with PX grapes that have been dried out in the sun to increase sugar levels. Usually dark brown in colour thick and syrupy and very sweet with flavours of figs, raisins, toffee, chocolate and liquorice. Moscatel is similar, both styles labelled under their grape variety. Normally around 17-17.5% abv.
Above is a pretty basic summary of the major types of sherry but I hope it gives you some idea of the different styles. Now on to some of my favourites at the actual tasting. Lots of well-known producers (Tio Pepe and Harveys) and a some not so well known and looking for a foothold in the UK market.
I tasted lots of brilliant sherries too many to mention here but a few highlights were the Emilio Lustau stand, for me the best on show, their Fino was, bright and fresh but with a very distinctive pronounced burnt wood flavour, along with almonds, a saltiness and lemon fruit. Their Manzanilla was equally as good but with a touch of salinity and lovely kick of spice. The Amontillado was excellent with spice, nutmeg, caramel and toffee but still retaining a lovely freshness. The star was the stunning Oloroso with its toffee, butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon flavours.
Tio Pepe is perhaps one of the more recognisable brands by producer Gonzalez Byass and their Fino which is widely available and keenly priced is a very drinkable introduction to the delights of dry sherry but undoubtedly the star of their show was the 30 year old Palo Cortado Apostoles and even at £20 for a half bottle in my opinion worth every penny with its buttery, dried peel, toffee flavoured, nutty delight, I even underlined it with the word stunning written underneath.
Another Producer which most people know about is Harveys. Their Palo Cortado was another excellent offering with its sweetish, nutmeg, caramel and coffee flavours for around £26 (50cl).
Lots of others that I could mention and the overall standard of sherries on show were exceptional, to finish off with I signed up for a Masterclass of the nations favourite sherries hosted by Beltran Domecq (President – CRDO Jerez -Xeres – Sherry y Manzanilla Sancular de Barrameda) this included the two styles of sherry the bone dry Fino and Manzanillas and the sweeter styles of medium dry, medium sweet and cream, a very informative class and an enjoyable tasting to finish the day.
If you like very dry wines that pair beautifully with most foods and you are partial to the odd glass of sweeter wines then sherry may well be for you.
So the next time you are offered a glass of sherry try it, you’ll either love it or hate it. My guess is that you will love it.
Great sherry tasting 2017
My Rating 8.5/10 Corks