There are three main groups of sherry: dry, naturally sweet and sweet. Within these categories you will find more specific sherry styles, which I will explain in more detail below.
Dry sherry wines have gone through a full fermentation, meaning there will be a minimal amount of sugar left from the grape juice. The barrel is never filled to the top as the wine needs room to breathe or to develop yeast.
Sherry can be aged in using two methods: biologically and by oxidation. Biological ageing means that the wine is only fortified up to 15% ABV to allow yeast to develop. The yeast then grows a layer on top of the wine to protect it from the air. This layer of yeast is known as flor. Oxidation means the wine will age by being in contact with the air. Normally when you make wine, the final product is ruined if it comes in contact with air, but when you let it mature for years, or even decades, the final product is well balanced and rich in flavour. Some sherries are made using both methods.
The dry category includes sherries aged biologically or by oxidation.
What is Sherry? Learn more about sherry production and the Solera method.
Fino is aged biologically and is always covered by the veil of flor. Ageing usually takes two to ten years. Fino sherries are fresh, herbal, and slightly nutty on the nose and very dry and crisp on the palate. These are usually around 15% ABV.
Due to its fresh and bitter flavours, Fino makes a great aperitif. It works well as a palate cleanser, bringing out the flavours of each dish.
Oloroso has gone through a full oxidation process. When the grape juice is added into the cask, it starts off as clear as Fino, but over time it takes colour from the wood. This type of sherry can be aged from five to 25 years. Oloroso sherries are full of nutty, leathery and spicy aromas. On the palate the texture is often smooth and slightly oily. Obviously, the colour, aromas and taste will depend on the time spent in the wood. Oloroso sherries are rich in taste with strong dried fruit and spicy flavours. Oloroso is fortified to 18 to 20% ABV.
Amontillado begins as Fino, but after the biological ageing, the flor is disturbed and removed so that the wine will be in contact with air. In this case, the wine needs to be refortified to up to 18% ABV to avoid further growth of the yeast.
The colour of Amontillado sherries ranges from golden to mahogany. On the nose you get aromas of hazelnut, herbs and tobacco. On the palate, it has more body than Fino yet it remains fairly dry. Plenty of wood, spice and nuttiness. The strength ranges between 17 and 20% ABV.
When a lack of flor is unexpected, the Fino will have to be refortified and aged with air to become another type of sherry, Palo Cortado. Palo Cortado used to mainly develop accidentally, but these days it can also be created deliberately. These sherries taste somewhere between Amontillado and Oloroso, with notes of bitter orange, hazelnuts and dried fruit. The colour ranges from chestnut to mahogany. Palo Cortado is fortified to around 18 to 20% ABV.
This style is protected by Denomination of Origin, Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, meaning it can only be produced in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla is basically a Fino, but due to its coastal location, the microclimate impacts the flor, which then brings new flavours into the wine. It is lighter, floral and fruity with a subtle saltiness to it.
Naturally Sweet Sherry
The grape juice is stored in stainless-steel vats where it starts to ferment naturally. When the juice from the Palomino grapes has used all the sugars to process the alcohol, the result is similar to dry white wine. To create naturally sweet sherries, the fermentation is cut short by the addition of wine-based alcohol, which results in high sugar content (over 220 grams per litre, at times even as high as 400). Naturally sweet wines get their name from the grape used, and the flavours of these sherries are closely linked to the type of grape.
Pedro Ximénez, and sometimes Moscatel, grapes are left in the sun for hours, or even days, so they lose some of their moisture and gain more sweetness. The grapes start to look like raisins. Pressing these will require higher-pressure methods. This process of concentration of sugars by evaporation of water from the grape is known as asoleo, or sunning the grapes.
Moscatel is made from the grapes of the same name. Depending on the production method, these sherries are known as Moscatel de Pasas (pasas mean raisins) when the above asoleo has been carried out, or Moscatel Oro or Dorado when it has not. Moscatel grapes grow close to the sea, which influences the soil.
Each of these has a unique colour varying from gold to dark mahogany. The mouthfeel of each style depends on the sugar content. Flavour wise, however, they remain similar. You can expect floral, herbal and citrus aromas on the nose and a sweet yet fresh feel on the palate.
Pedro Ximénez (PX)
As mentioned previously, PX sherries are always made from sunned grapes. This keeps the sugars at 250 grams per litre or above. Pedro Ximénez is dark in colour, often nearly black. Due to the high sugar content, the texture is almost syrupy, and it sticks to the glass. On the nose you can expect cocoa, plenty of dried fruit (raisins, fig, dates), all the Christmas flavours. On the palate it has a velvety mouthfeel with flavours of toasted coffee, liquorice and more dried fruit.
The sherries in this category go through cabeceo, the blending of wines. In this process dry sherries are blended with naturally sweet wines. The sweetness of these varies, but it will always remain above 5 grams per litre (yet, confusingly, the category is still known as sweet).
There are three sherry styles under this category: Pale Cream, Medium and Cream.
Pale Cream has the freshness of flor wines but with added sweetness and texture to it. The colour is yellowish, and on the nose you get a touch of nuttiness and fresh dough. The usual bitterness of biologically aged wines is clearly reduced, and the palate has subtle sweetness instead.
This category has a wide variety of wines based on their sugar levels. Anything from 5 to 115 grams per litre can be called Medium. The sugar levels of Medium Dry range from 5 to 45g/l and Medium Sweet from 45 to 115g/l.
The colour goes from amber to dark chestnut, and the flavours are close to Amontillado with spice, baked apple, pastry and woodiness. On the palate, Medium starts off as dry, gradually growing sweeter.
Cream is a blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. It can also be called Sweet Oloroso. The colour ranges from chestnut brown to dark mahogany. On the nose you can get a sweetness similar to nougat. The palate is velvety and syrup-like with notes of dried fruit and spice.
Due to its texture and rich flavours, Cream can be enjoyed on the rocks with a slice of orange.
As you can see, there are several sherry styles, each with their distinctive flavour profiles. If you are new to sherry, it is a good idea to explore the full range to help you find the most palatable style for your tastebuds. When I first tried a few of these sherry styles, I wasn’t instantly convinced. But once I paired these sherries with finger foods, the flavours were transformed. Both the sherry and the food somehow tasted better together.
As sherries range from dry to very sweet, you can serve them at different times. Dry, fresh sherries taste great on a hot summer’s day or as an aperitif to prepare your palate for the food that follows. Sweeter wines work nicely as dessert wine but can also be paired with cheeses, fresh fruits and various other foods.
Sherry Week 2020! Many events will take place online and in various bars and restaurants worldwide between 2-8th November. Check here what’s happening near you!
Are you familiar with sherry? Which one of the sherry styles do you prefer?