A Beginner’s Guide to Sherry
A terrific tasting of Spanish wines was held in Cork recently. Visiting winemakers and Spaniards resident in Ireland sold their products very well – not too difficult considering the quality on offer, with good value to be had in many wines, despite punitive taxes in Ireland. More about red and white wines later.
A sherry masterclass was given by César Saldana, the Consejo Regulador de las Denominacion de Origin de los Vinos de Jerez, the official institution of the Sherry wine industry . He clarified how Sherry (the wine of Jerez/Xeres) is made, and how different types vary in weight, fruitiness, richness and degrees of sweetness and alcohol.
Sherry is made only in and around Jerez and is always aged in Jerez, Puerta de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda – all worth a visit while on holiday in the area. There you will see the system of the solera and criadores where the sherry is siphoned off and moved from one barrel to another, adding new wines to old ones. Sherry often has up to 150 vintages in one bottle. There are particularly good restaurants in San Lucar where you will eat the best ever prawns. For dessert enjoy vanilla ice-cream drizzled with sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry, a trouble-free treat easily replicated at home. But back to the business of tasting Sherry and its interesting differences:
- Manzanilla is aversion of a fino sherry and can be quite a pale, despite being left in barrels for five years. It doesn’t pick up the colour because it is protected from oxidization by a flor cap/crust which forms on top from natural yeasts, which tend to be greater in Sanlucar de Barrameda where it is made. Manzanilla in Spanish means Camomile and it is thought the taste has hints of the flower, though in this sample, I didn’t get that. I did get the saltiness that seems to come from being made near the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river near Cadiz. You can find dried nut flavours too, particularly hazelnut with some almond, and green apples. While fresh in the mouth, it has low acidity and suits seafood well. Try it with oysters, and salads with vinaigrettes. Senor Saldana says that 7 degrees is the ideal temperature to drink it. Chill it in iced water (cooler than icecubes). We tasted La Goya, the best seller in Sanlucar. Not surprising for this elegant sherry. RRP €10 for 37.5cl. Imported by Vinostito.
- Tio Pepe, the best selling fine sherry is aged for 4.5 years with the protection of the flor crust keeping its pale colour. More wild yeast and herbal flavours and scents here. On the palate it is open and has more structure that the La Goya. More persistent flavours here giving good length. ‘More vinosity’ is how Senor Saldana described it! For me the fruitier finish was its selling point, still dry and refreshing. RRP €15.99 for 75cl. In the course of tasting other sherry at the general tasting later, I discovered Tio Pepe en Rama, the unfiltered, unclarified version of the sherry which needs to be drunk within five months of bottling. This one was deliciously nutty and fresh tasting. A terrific introduction to dry sherry. Available from Barry & Fitzwilliam Cork.
- If a fino or manzanilla is allowed to age further, the flora will be killed off and the sherry starts to oxidise to become a rich, copper colored sherry Amontillado. More fruit on the nose, it’s closer to a sweet sherry on the palate as the water evaporates over time. This makes all the flavours more concentrated, while staying quite lean. Filling the mouth with a general richness, it has some pungency combined with nutty and woody notes. Complex from biological and oxidation ageing, this Monteagudo from Delgado Zuleta is delicious. RRP €14.37 for 37.5cl. Imported by Vinostito.
- A sherry becomes an Oloroso when the flor is got rid of and the wine is fortified with alcohol to reach 20%. At 17 degrees of alcohol the wine starts oxidizing and becomes more of a mahogany colour. With a slightly green tinge to the mahogany, the nose on this Villapanés Oloroso Seco is powerfully round and redolent with hazelnuts, dried fruits – not surprising as oloroso means powerful smell. In the mouth there is leather, hazelnuts, warmth, persistent length, with a fresh finish. Magnificent! At a price from Emilio Hidalgo: €49.99 for 75cl. Imported by Celtic Wines.
- Harvey’s Bristol Cream is an example of a sweet sherry made from Palomino and Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes. On the nose you get mainly alcohol (it has alcohol of 17.5%), but on the palate a warm, smooth feel with nice acidity so it’s not too cloying. Orange peel, raisins, an easy drinking, sweet, medium length sherry. €14.99. Generally available.
- Gonzalez Byass Pedro Ximenez Noé has 100% PX grapes and is typically sweet from sundried grapes and fermentation stopped to maintain sweetness. It has a tawny colour to the edge of it, indicating age, and it’s hard to believe that this dark brown coloured sherry was once a white wine. A young PX sherry would have lots of fruit, but here we have a hint of coffee and some liquorice and the toffee taste that comes with ageing. While syrupy and unctuous, it is still fresh tasting. Very raisiny and delicious. This is the sherry which the Spanish pour over vanilla icecream. The easiest dessert ever. Imported by Barry & Fitzwilliam.
Enjoying sherry with tapas is one of the ultimately satisfying food and wine experiences. Take it slowly, though, as it’s quite powerful for the uninitiated. In Spain they take a walk between glasses, going from one tapas bar to another for its speciality. What a great lifestyle!