I don’t like sherry. That’s what I thought, at least. I didn’t like it the first time I tried it. That was a few years ago, and I had avoided it since. I saw that the Binny’s Lakeview location was having a sherry tasting and seminar, so I decided to give it another try.
Sherry is a fortified wine, like Port and Madeira, which means that a neutral spirit (basically an unaged brandy) is added after fermentation. This means the alcohol content will be 15% and above. The unique aspect of sherry is the aging process. Unlike with most other wines, the barrels are not filled up all the way. This allows more oxygen to be in contact with the wine (pretty much everywhere else that would be considered a bad thing). It is aged using the solera system. It would take a whole blog post to explain how the solera system works, so if you are interested just read about it. Suffice it to say that each new vintage is added to older vintages as the wine ages. This results in consistent non-vintage wine.
The Four Most Common Types of Sherry
Fino is the lightest variety of sherry. It is fortified to less than 17% alcohol. The lower alcohol level allows for a layer of yeast to grow on the surface of the wine while it ages. This layer of yeast is called flor and protects the wine from oxygen as it ages–which keeps it light in color. Fino is always dry and the dominant flavor is typically of salted almonds.
Oloroso sherry is fortified to more than 17% alcohol, which is too high for a flor to form. This means that the wine oxidizes while it ages. Despite being made from a white grape, oloroso sherry is dark brown in color. Like fino, it is dry, but with flavors of hazelnuts and toffee.
Amontillado is like a cross between fino and oloroso. A flor is allowed to grow at first, but part way through the aging process more alcohol is added which kills it off.
Pedro Ximenéz is a sweet style of sherry. After harvest, the grapes are allowed to dry until they are almost raisins. After fermentation and fortification, it is allowed to age in the presence of oxygen like oloroso sherry. PX is a dark brown, almost black, and syrupy sweet. I’ve heard several people say that it’s really good drizzled over vanilla ice cream. I think I need to try that soon.
I’m glad I decided to give sherry another try. As it turns out, I do like it a lot. Well, I like the darker sherries, at least. I still can’t say I’m a big fan of fino.
Because of all the oxygen it was exposed to during aging, the darker dry sherries don’t seem to have any fruit flavors at all. It’s still rich in flavor though, with lots of nuts, toffee, and sometimes even caramel.
My favorite part: you can take your time to finish a bottle. With most wines, an open bottle is a ticking time bomb. As soon as you pop the cork, the countdown begins. All sherries (except fino) are already oxidized. Once you open the bottle, it will stay good for days, if not weeks. I love being able to just have a glass or two without wasting half the bottle. I’ve even been told they’ll last up to two months — if you can go that long without finishing it off.