In a way we didn't want to write this piece on Sherry. Fortified wine generally has been a long-guarded secret of we the 'inebriati' that work in the industry. Public perception of Sherry, Port, Madeira et al. has kept the prices, even for incredibly old back vintages relatively low. In a world where fine wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo are often beyond our budget, it's something we covet. But it seems only fair to share these secrets with you, our loyal customers!
Sherry in particular represents excellent value, as well as an enormous diversity of styles. While it's still not a bestseller on any wine list, the proliferation of Spanish-influenced wine bars like Vinoteca and Morito offering crisp Fino as an aperitivo has begun to shake the perception of Sherry in the UK as Nana's Little Helper.
I won't spend time here talking you through the terminology and nuances of the Sherry world, as this has already been quite satisfactorily here. However, to give you the headlines:
- Sherry is made in the South of Spain, with it's spiritual home being Jerez.
- Sherry is fortified with grape spirit after fermentation, meaning it is generally dry, with some sweet options available that are made a little differently.
- Sherry is produced non-vintage, or perhaps more accurately 'multi-vintage' in a system called the Solera. Here, Vintages from a range of years are slowly integrated meaning you will often get the complexity of a mature wine as well as the freshness of the young.
So, that's Sherry. Perhaps it's now best to show what we have on offer, divided by style:
Dry & Fresh (aperitif, or with olives)
Anything labelled Fino or Manzanilla is lighter and fresher, but having undergone a special process know as flor ageing, similar to the sous voile method in the Jura, They are also complex. As they age in a barrel, the wines develop a layer of yeast-like growth that helps protect the wine from excessive oxidation. Expect salty, tangy wine with notes of almonds and ripe apple plus a bracing acidity from the Palomino grape.
El Maestro Sierra is one of the oldest wineries in Jerez and one of the most traditional. All the wines are made in super old barrels, moved using manual siphoning, settled by time, and bottled unfiltered and unsulphured. Their Fino is briny, with citrus aromas and plenty of nutty, savoury depth. As it comes in a small bottle, it's categorically the best introduction to Sherry you could as for.
Meanwhile, in nearby Sanlucar, Gabriela is the flagship wine from Bodegas Barrero, made from the single vineyard 'Las Canas' with Palomino grapes. After fermentation with native yeasts, it is aged in barrel under flor for 5-6 years before bottling. Intensely saline with plenty of flor character and aromas of white flowers, walnuts, preserved citrus and a long, lightly bitter dried herb finish. This a little more full bodied than the Maestro Sierra Fino, but really demonstrates the complexity of these non-oxidised Sherries.
Though working of a very small scale Bodegas Cesar Florido is one of the most revered producers in Jerez. The Palomino grapes for this Fino come from the esteemed Pago de Miraflores vineyard near Sanlucar. Aged slowly under flor only 25m from the Atlantic Ocean, the wine was then bottled 'en rama', unfiltered direct from a single cask. Intensely fresh, sea spray aromas with pithy citrus, almond and fine minerality. Frankly this is as good as Fino gets. Insanely long finish too!
Rich & Nutty
This Oloroso is the archetypal oxidised Sherry. With it's rich brown colour you can almost taste it just by looking at it in the glass! With an average solera age of over 15 years, it's layered and intense with waves of caramel, coffee, toffee, chocolate, prunes, and toasted almonds over a bone dry palate. It's fantastic with pork chops, rich hard cheeses or just as a standalone warmer after a long walk.
The Amontillado is a great compromise between the supreme freshness of the Fino and the richness of the Oloroso. This style includes time in American oak barrels for a period under flor, followed by a period of oxidative ageing. A powerful, spicy and saline sherry with dried fruit, nut and citrus aromas. If you're curious come and try a glass at Gnarly Vines, we'll be pouring it most likely into November!
Pedro Ximenez is the sweetest style of sherry made from raisined PX grapes rather than Palomino. This one has a beguiling nose of exotic spices and fruits combined with more classic caramel overtones. With great acidity the wine is fresher than most, and not at all cloying. Have it with a creme brûlée or a sweet flan.