Time to delve into one of my greatest liquid passions, the wines made around the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, southern Spain – known as Jerez in Spanish and Sherry in English. If you’re not yet a Sherry drinker, forget whatever you think about sweet cream “sherries” sipped by elderly aunts and open your mind to one of the most exciting and diverse wine categories around. Sherry comes in a range of styles, though most are made from the same white grape, palomino. Here’s a very brief overview of the five main Sherry categories and an introduction to five of the best bodegas with Sherries available in Australia.
The driest Sherry is aged under a covering of yeast called flor. This prevents it from oxidising, keeping it pale and delicate. It’s a great aperitif, especially wonderful with oysters. Most Fino is produced in the town of Jerez, but Gutiérrez Colosía, in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, produces the only commercially bottled Fino del Puerto. Manzanilla is Fino aged in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and is lighter still (learn more about it here).
Amontillado starts as Fino but is then further aged without flor, allowing it to oxidise and gain an amber colour and deeper, nuttier flavour, though still quite dry. It typically smells of almonds or hazelnuts and is ideal with hard cheeses. One of my favourite bodegas, Sanchez Romate, founded in 1781, produces the wonderful NPU Amontillado.
The rarest Sherry style occurs naturally when flor dies on Fino and the wine oxidises and develops some Oloroso-like characters. Tasting somewhere between Amontillado and Oloroso, it’s especially good with charcuterie. Gonzales Byass, best known for their Tio Pepe Fino, has a delicious Palo Cortado in their VORS (very old rare Sherry) range with an average age of 30+ years.
The palomino juice for rich, dark amber Oloroso is fuller-flavoured than that used for Fino and is aged oxidatively (without flor) from the outset. Oloroso is dry and nutty, like Amontillado, but with a richer texture and higher alcohol. The nuttiness is usually more like walnuts than almonds and it is delicious with game. El Maestro Sierra, an artisanal bodega on the outskirts of Jerez run (unusually) by a woman, María del Carmen Borrego Plá, makes a gorgeous 15 year old Oloroso.
Pedro Ximenez (PX)
Made from pedro ximenez grapes, PX is an intensely-flavoured, dark, almost syrupy, naturally sweet Sherry with rich, dried fruit flavours. It is the best beverage match I know of for chocolate. Equipo Navazos, founded in 2005 by a group of Sherry-lovers, seeks out and bottles small quantities of exceptional Sherry as limited releases, their PX is glorious.
Keen to know more about Sherry? Listen to my interview with Phillip Clark on Radio ABC.