BY JACK BAKER
At some point in our lives, usually as teenagers, we probably all sneaked a taste of sherry from the cheap bottle used for kitchen recipes. One awful taste was enough to put us off of it for good. But, wait, let’s try again.
The source of sherry is the province of Cádiz, Andalusia, in southern Spain. Styles range from clear, bone dry, and slightly saline fino to dark, thick, and syrupy pedro ximénez (also called PX).
Sherry’s unique method of production, the solera system, guarantees uniformity and quality by combining old and younger wines. Wine withdrawn for bottling (the oldest wine) is replaced with wine that is only slightly younger (and typically less complex). That wine is then replaced with wine that is a bit younger than itself, and so on, going back as many as 14 wine generations.
Sherries are fermented as wines, then are fortified with neutral grape spirit. The finos, manzanillas, and amontillados are made with mostly palomino grapes, fermented dry, and fortified up to about 15 percent alcohol. Oloroso, palo cortado, cream, and PX are fortified between 18 and 20 percent.
The fortified wines are placed in vats under layers of yeasts peculiar to the region (called veil of flor) to mature. There, the finos and manzanillas are protected from oxidation and their color remains clear, their flavors sharp. The flor on amontillado is removed partway through fermentation, exposing it to the air and producing a darker wine with character between fino and slightly sweet oloroso.
Savory & James Deluxe Dry Fino sherry (Big Red Liquors, $15.99) tastes of almond, sea salt, and lemon in a clear, light-bodied style. Deluxe Pale Dry Manzanilla (Big Red Liquors, $15.99) adds a flinty mineralness. Deluxe Medium Sherry Amontillado (Big Red Liquors, $15.99) is deep mahogany brown, medium bodied, with sharp acid and flavors of chocolate and fig.
Oloroso, palo cortado, and cream sherries are made with mixes of palomino and sweet moscatel or pedro ximénez grapes. The proportion of sweet grapes determines the final sweetness of the wine—oloroso only slightly sweet, cream very sweet. Pedro ximénez grapes are picked very ripe, dried in the sun, and fermented to make dark, thick, and super-sweet PX, with flavors of raisins, candied fruit, and dark chocolate.
Emilio Lustau Oloroso Don Nuño (Big Red Liquors, $31) is deep golden brown, medium bodied, slightly sweet, and sharply acidic, with flavors of bitter chocolate and chestnut. Savory & James Deluxe Quality Cream Sherry (Big Red Liquors, $15.99) is deep brown, concentrated, and sweet, with flavors of dried fruit and nuts.
Since you’re not a kid anymore, this time around you might try chilled fino with tapenade, manzanilla with smoked salmon, amontillado with mushroom risotto, oloroso with blue cheese, cream sherry with mince pie, or PX over ice cream. Yum!