Your monthly wine article by Colin Harkness


Mostly misunderstood, often maligned and sometimes abused – Sherry is one of the greatest treasures of Spain!

However, Sherry remains largely undiscovered, languishing at the back of the drinks cabinet, indeed if it’s even present at all. This is largely because it is not quite understood. So, here is a simple guide to Sherry, hoping that, like myself, you will become an aficionado!

Firstly, there are different styles of Sherry. It can be: lean, salty and dry; medium bodied but still dry; rich but dry as well; medium sweet; and as sweet and rich as you like! Also most Sherry is fortified with wine spirit raising its alcohol content*.

Let’s start at Dry. Fino and Manzanilla (though this is not strictly a Sherry as it has its own DO, but is usually considered as a valued part of the Sherry spectrum). These wines are very pale in colour, the Finos can even look a little like water; Manzanilla has a little pale golden glow. They are the driest style of Sherry, traditionally drunk as an aperitif and with seafood tapas and starters. They are as refreshing as an Atlantic wave!

Note also that over the last few years an older style of Fino and Manzanilla (and sometimes, the next style, Amontillado) has been brought back into play. Fino En Rama and Manzanilla En Rama, are probably the best examples of this style. Translating roughly to ‘wild’ these wines have hardly been filtered and are thus fuller whilst retaining their very dry, saline freshness.

Next up is Amontillado – until recently my favourite (more on the change later!). This is a Sherry that starts off as if it’s going to be a Fino or Manzanilla ageing under a veil of yeast (flor) which develops on the surface of the liquid because of the deliberate gap that is left up to the top of the horizontal barrel. However, after a time this yeast disappears exposing the wine to oxygen. Therefore Amontillados enjoy both types of ageing, gaining a slightly oxidative flavour and becoming a more golden colour. It’s dry, richer and fuller than the previous styles. Try it with mushroom dishes, the wonderful dried tuna, mojama, chicken and turkey, as well as olives and dry-fried almonds.

Oloroso is a darker colour, browning nicely as it is aged with oxygen, the yeast layer not having appeared as wines destined to become Olorosos are fortified to a higher degree where yeast cannot survive**. These older wines remain dry, also full, and quite rich. A range of tapas will go so well with this style – olives, nuts, jamon and other dried meats etc.

Palo Cortado is the next style, definitely dry still, but perhaps a little richer with very slight touch of sweetness, depending on the producer. With greater complexity and depth Palo Cortado balances the aromas of Amontillado with the body and palate of Oloroso. It has a beautiful, inviting, golden brown colour and is a richer, yet perhaps more elegant alternative to pair with the above tapas.

Pale Cream is the first of the sweeter Sherries. Along with Cream Sherry and Medium Sherry these are the ones largely to blame for the misunderstanding of Sherry! Great Aunts and Grannies of yesteryear were largely responsible! A sweeter style suited them. They brought it out at Christmas, didn’t finish the bottle – so served it again next Christmas, without even finding it a place in the fridge! Needless to say, it was often served some way past its best!

These three Sherries are usually made from the same grape variety as the above, Palomino, but have had a little of the sweeter Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel varieties added to increase their sugar content. If you prefer Sherry to a cup of tea, these are the perfect pairing for cakes, scones, biscuits et al!

Finally, well almost finally, there are the Dulce, Sweet Sherries, made from the above PX and Moscatel, which have been left on the vines for longer than normal gaining more sugar. These are always a very dark mahogany colour, luscious and, yes, a little naughty! Such wines go well with cakes and many desserts, including simply pouring some over vanilla ice cream (sumptuous!). Plus, it can be enjoyed at the end of dinner instead of a dessert!

* In fact very recently there has been a change in the rules – not all wines under the Denominación de Origen have to be fortified now.

** Two years ago a new style of Sherry has been discovered, so new it has only provisionally been named, Raya Cortada, and there is hardly any available to buy yet. A long story, but against science, all previous knowledge and experience a few barrels that had been fortified to 18% abv (two degrees higher that the 16 degrees maximum!) developed, after four years a layer of yeast!

Colin Harkness is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers; a Wine Broadcaster; a Cruise Line Speaker; and an Author. He is a retired International Wine Judge; Features Journalist; Wine Writer and Critic.