A guide to selecting Sherry Wine


Sherry or Jerez is a fortified wine, meaning that a small amount of brandy (neutral grape spirit) is added to the wine in order to increase its alcohol content. A vast majority of Sherry is dry as opposed to being sweet hence taking on a fine whiskey taste.

History of sherry

The Sherry wine production history dates as far back as 1100BC when the wine-making process was introduced by the Phoenicians. Sherry drinking has seen its highs and its lows, with some of the best years being in the 1970s, when Sherry production was a booming business in the region. The far southern region of Spain with its extreme summer temperatures tempered by cool Atlantic breezes has seen the successful growth of the grapes that make the Sherry wine. Sherry’s Triangle, which is formed by the Sherry towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria is the exclusive region of Sherry wine production in Spain. The soil to the region, known as Albariza is a chalky, brilliant white colour which retains just the right amount of water to sustain the growth of the grapes that help in the production of the Sherry.

Styles of Sherry wine

Sherry wine is either dry or sweet. The dry styles of sherry, which have different production methods include; Fino, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Amotillado. The sweet styles include Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.
Fino is very dry, crispy with a pale white colour. Alcohol content is between 15-16% and it is best served chilled. It is generally made from high-acid Palomino grapes and it kept under flor (a blanket of yeast that protects it against oxidation) for the entire time it is being fortified.
Manzanilla is much lighter than Fino although the same techniques as Fino apply in its making. It is made near Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Amontillado which takes on a brown hue due to the exposure of oxidation when the flor doesn’t hold is a mildly dry sherry that is slightly darker than Fino and has an alcoholic content of about 18%.
Oloroso which means ‘scented’ in Spanish is a richer, deeper and darker wine that is aged for a longer period of time than other varieties such as Fino. Its alcohol content is between 18-20%. Although majorly dry, the sweet variety (Moscatel) is also available.
Palo Cortado is like Oloroso, only richer
Pedro Ximenex(PX) which encompasses a wide range of sweet wines from the creamy ones to those with viscosity much like motor oil.

Sherry Production Process

The production process of Sherry wine makes it uniquely different from other categories of wine. The most commonly used white grapes in the production of the wine are the Palomino variety. Once the grapes have been collected, they undergo a fermentation process either in stainless steel tanks or in wooden barrels. The fermentation process will depend on the style of sherry to be produced. For example, Moscatel and PX undergo a shorter fermentation process as compared to Fino or Oloroso.
With time, a large layer of flor naturally occurs over the wines thanks to the climatic conditions in the area. Next in the production process is the fortification process in which neutral grape spirit is added, depending on the style and desired alcohol content. Naturally sweet wines don’t need the flor as a higher degree of fortification is required.
Once the fortification process is done, the wine is then left to ‘age’ in a solera (a collection of barrels) for at least two years. At this stage, old wine is mixed with new wine in the barrels. The final stage is filtering, stabilization, bottling and consumption.
Ultimately; selection of Sherry wine will depend on the level of viscosity, alcohol content, dryness or sweetness that you desire.

Photo source Fareham Wine
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • zeedame July 10, 2015, 7:23 am

    This was really informative. I have such little experience with sherry that I wasn’t even entirely sure what it was. I remember having cooking sherry in the house growing up, but that mostly tasted like vinegar to me. Once I got into college, I decided to give it another try. I picked up a bottle of cheap sherry having no idea what to look for or expect and ended up with a disgustingly sweet bottle that I couldn’t do anything with. That first sip was enough to turn me off for years. Maybe I’ll have to go back and try one of the dry varieties and see if that improves my experience.

  • CoolCat August 1, 2015, 2:26 pm

    I knew that there were sweet sherries and dry sherries, but I didn’t know there were so many variations between them. I’ve used cooking sherry in marinades before. (I know, you should only cook with wine you’re willing to drink, but the marinade recipe was based on cooking sherry and I wouldn’t know how to account for the difference in salt. I assume that’s an important component in meat marinades to help tenderize it.) I’ve also used sweet sherry in a tiramisu recipe.

    How long would a bottle of sherry stay good once it’s been opened? Is it similar to other white wines, where the answer is a vague “sometime before it starts turning to vinegar”? My tiramisu recipe didn’t call for a lot, but we didn’t have any other real uses for it and it was too sweet to drink so we threw it out after a couple of days.

    If I wanted to substitute real sherry for the bottle of cooking sherry in my pantry, which variety would be the best fit? I assume I want a dry variety, but other than that I’d be lost. I know I’d need to go to an actual wine store as well, because when I picked some up at Trader Joe’s I think they only had one variety of dry and one variety of sweet.

  • Tipes August 15, 2015, 8:27 pm

    This was very informative, I personally don’t have much experience or knowledge when it comes to sherry. It sounds like a good drink for a sweet tooth like me. 🙂 I’m not that big of a drinker, but on special occasion I would I think I’ll definitely try a Sherry. What your favorite types of Sherry? I think I’ll would like a taste of Pedro Ximenex, thought would it taste better chill?

  • Gail September 18, 2015, 8:50 pm

    I originally started buying Sherry because it was an ingredient listed in recipes I was making. It is actually an excellent addition to your pantry let alone bar. Sherry is often my first choice when deglazing a pan and building layers of flavor into any dish with shallots and mushrooms, something about it just works so well. It is rounder and softer than wine alone and can be that special secret ingredient that really makes a difference. Being a fortified wine, it can be stored in your cabinet and used as and when you need it for cooking. That’s what I used to do but then found that I actually developed a fondness for sipping it on its own. I now buy a better quality Sherry’s than I used to just for cooking because it’s a really pleasant drink on its own.

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