Ma Sherry

Sherry and I have a past I’m not proud of. Sherry was always there for me, even when I was checked out. It believed we could love each other, even as I cavorted with everything from Napa Cab to Jura Poulsard . Yet Sherry was patient, Sherry was kind. It gave me my space when I needed it, and was there for me when I finally came around. We aren’t lovers now so much as friends that can go some time without seeing each other, but effortlessly pick up where we left off. And at the bottom of the glass we say, “we should do this more often!” All of which is to say that you and Sherry should have at least a fling. I know! I know. Sherry has a complicated soul. It has been misunderstood. It has a lot going on, and really understanding Sherry is hard, but to know it is to love it. So let’s dive in. The most basic fact: Sherry comes from a region in Andalusía, Spain. Depending on the style of Sherry, the grapes can come from a few different delimited areas, and there are even more complicated rules about where wines can be grown, produced, and matured, but that’s like Sherry 301. For now just remember that Sherry is fortified wine from Spain. If you just want to know how the different styles taste, skip the next couple of paragraphs about the crazy production process, and go to where I give tasting notes where you can feel free to ignore terms like ‘solera’ and ‘flor’. It’s okay sometimes to just enjoy wine. For the overachievers, the next overarching Sherry Fact, and I’m afraid I’m still oversimplifying the process, is that Sherry ages using fractional blending in a ‘Solera system’. To understand fractional blending, it helps to picture rows of barrels stacked upon each other. You put some fortified wine in the bottom level of barrels. And some in the row of barrels on top of that, then more on the next row and so on. At some point you drain and bottle some of the bottom barrels, then drain some of the second row and add it to the bottom. Then you drain some of the third row and add it to the second, and so on until you reach the top layer which you will top up with freshly made fortified wine. However, before Sherry gets to the Solera, there are a few other things that happen. It has to be determined whether the wine will be aged under flor, a film of yeast that forms over the wine, creating all sorts of flavor compounds and preventing the wine from oxidation, or whether it will be allowed to oxidize. If the wine develops flor, it will be fortified to 15-15.5%. If flor does not develop, it will undergo oxidative aging and it will be fortified to 17%. There are quite a few terms you’ll see on a bottle of Sherry to clue you in to what you are about to drink. There’s Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso. The sweetened versions of those are Pale Cream, Medium, and Cream Sherry. Then there is Palo Cortado. Plus Pedro Ximenez, Manzanilla, and Moscatel. You also may see the term ‘en rama’ here and there. While not legally defined, it loosely means the Sherry is unfiltered. Some Sherries also come with age indication. See what a can of worms Sherry is? Before I go any further, I just want to advocate please serve Sherry with some degree of chill, and you may want a snack handy. Sherry is heady stuff and one of the ultimate wines to snack to. Know how you can dance to music? Well you can snack to Sherry. And now to dial into some of those aforementioned styles: FINO / MANZANILLA I’m putting these in the same category because they are made the same way, but in different locations. Both are of the Palomino grape. Both aged under flor. Or as I was taught, aged ‘biologically’. The flor gives Sherry a bready note, the compound acetaldehyde brings in notes of bruised apple, hay, and particularly in Manzanilla, chamomile. Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda and develops a thicker flor than Fino, so is more protected from oxygen, meaning it is somewhat lighter and crisper than Fino. I enjoy them both. Emilio Hidalgo Fino When I want a Fino, this is what I am thinking of. Hay and apples and bread and salinity. It is crisp, fresh, and quenches your physical thirst but has layers that keep you thinking, thus thirsting in your mind. Bodegas De Los Infantes Orleans-Borbon Manzanilla It swishes boldly across the palate, taking no prisoners! Then gives you just a little something something at the end. Refreshing and also a hint of amber, like something is crystallizing, if not in the wine, then in your nutmeg-and-walnut-and—dare I say—Swiss-cheese detecting palate? You know how cheese is salty and nutty? I get this on this wine. It courses like a wave across your mouth. A cheese and salty nut wave. The best kind. OLOROSO The oxidative style! No flor freshness here—just all the roasty toasty fun of oxidation. I have to tell you, I had a hard time finding a lot of examples. Perhaps because us age-conscious humans are a bit obsessed with anti-oxidants? I dunno, maybe we should embrace getting nutty n’ caramelized. Could we all just be toffee? Doesn’t sound so bad to me… Alvear Asuncion Oloroso Pedro Ximénez I feel like every Oloroso I sampled this time around broke from what I considered ‘the norm’. This one was no exception being made of Pedro Ximenéz, not Palomino. As for how it tasted, think toasted rye bread spread with walnut butter, and sprinkled with diced dried apricots. AMONTILLADO / PALO CORTADO / MANZANILLA PASADA Tis no coincidence that this category has the most bottle recommendations—these are my favorite Sherries. To me, Amontillado also has the best of both worlds: the yeasty flor one and the oxidative one. Amontillado and Manzanilla Pasada start as wines aged under flor then get put into oxidative solera, so they have elements of both Fino and Oloroso. As for Palo Cortado, it is typically cited as a Fino whose flor didn’t stick around long enough, so it finishes in the Oloroso fashion, but methinks due to lack of legislation this may sometimes be posturing. The definition according to my WSET book is that they must have ‘aromas similar to those of Amontillado, but a palate similar to that of an Oloroso, as a consequence of its oxidative ageing once the initial film of flor has disappeared’. Here’s the catch—there is no real rule about how to achieve this! Generally they have a rounder mouthfeel than amontillado. El Maestro Sierra 12 Year Amontillado It’s like all the non-cheese components of a cheese plate (well maybe there is a parmesan rind in there) paired with lemon-infused water. Think salty almonds, briny olives (I hate olives, but it is mainly a texture thing; the flavor works in this mix) and dried apricots. Oh also some caramelized walnuts but not sweet. Sweet flavors that aren’t actually sweet seem to be a recurring thing in my tasting notes I am realizing. Valdespino Palo Cortado Viejo Calle Ponce It tastes like Christmas in springtime. So this is interesting—perhaps the first barrel filling was a failed Fino, but they top up the barrels with both a Fino and an Amontillado—resulting in a damn elegant wine. Caramelized nuts with a spritz of lemon as if you arrived at the party (THE party) and were nervous about small talk and hallelujah there was a bowl of mixed nuts. You grab a cashew, then a walnut, and chew on them thoughtfully, non-plussed, and don’t care if you don’t fit in because at some point some other flavor-seeking soul will come around, and you’ll spend the rest of the party hanging out with them in the corner. SWEET There are quite a few categories here. There are the Sherries that are naturally sweet, like Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. They are sweet because the grapes are left to dry in the sun—the sugars get concentrated. Drinking these might be a very acquired taste but lemme tell you…PX on ice cream, or as I tried in one of my Fast Food Slow Wine columns, drizzled onto a McDonald’s vanilla shake, is a special kind of heaven. Then there are the Sherries sweetened later on in the process. The typical sweetener for Pale Cream is RCGM (rectified concentrated grape must), but for amontillado and cream, Sherry PX is more likely. I think I have recommended a PX in the past so here are two new treats. !Salud! Lustau East India Solera Sweetened Oloroso! You have to look at the back of the bottle for them to admit it is cream Sherry—but it is, and a tasty one at that. Fruitcake—GOOD fruitcake—a dark and rich one with character that is moist and—oh actually there are such interesting caramelized yet baking spice hints. Is this the Christmas cookies of wine? It would be perfect with such, although tis spring, so I would love to pair it with a piece of carrot cake, or a crisp lemon cookie. I also tried this sherry on ice; that’s a good idea. Wine taboos sometimes are not. Bodegas Dios Baco Oloroso ‘Medium’ Of course, I am here to make things confusing again. This is an Oloroso but labeled as ‘medium’ because it is…medium sweet. Not because it is made of Amontillado. But not as sweet as a cream sherry. WHY IS IT SO CONFUSING? Dear Sherry, if you weren’t so delightful, I might be more frustrated when your labeling runs against my school training. So, forget school with Sherry; maybe just seek pleasure. It has the raisiny goodness you want. Pair with an oatmeal cookie. LASTLY is there a shower Sherry? I’d entertain a Manzanilla. It hits the right salty notes to make me imagine that I’m by a (very warm) seaside. I suppose I could just head to Venice beach but until my second vaccine is done, I’ll make due in the shower with Sherry. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Space Wine More Wine Women Guilty Pleasures All I Want for Valentine’s Day Is Some Skin Contact Bridgerton, Beverage by Beverage Make Your Own Wine Winter Whites Wine For Kamala Women in Castles Down by the Loire River You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! With Philippe André Wine Situation Final Five! With Theodora Lee

Emilio Lustau

East India Solera Sherry Palomino Fino Pedro Ximénez

Sheer fun if you aren’t up for full-on PX. Ice is okay. You do you in this (soon to be) post-pandemic world. — 3 years ago

Severn, David and 7 others liked this

Bodegas de los Infantes Orleans-Borbon

Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda Manzanilla Fina

Which swish shush anyone who has a word to say against this. This is fabulous. Fino Sherry always has a hint of mystique to me (is that salt or crystallized cheese?) and Manzanilla hops in the court ready to play. Really tho try this. — 3 years ago

Ron, Matt and 9 others liked this

Emilio Hidalgo

Fino Seco Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Palomino Fino

What I expect of a Fino. Sherry can be downright refreshing. The yellow apple/hay/bread notes on it all mingle gracefully. The texture is silky satin and there is a certain underlying floral nature that keeps all the other flavors from being stale. It’s like unsweet nectar in a springtime garden. If you could combine a back-to-school vibe with a spring break feeling that’s what I’m picking up here. — 3 years ago

Chris, Severn and 13 others liked this

El Maestro Sierra

12 Años Amontillado Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Palomino Fino

This is all the cheese plate items minus the actual cheese, in a glass. Omigod what if cheese plates included Sherry? Would that be overkill? What if I started a wine bar and it was all just cheese and Sherry? I guess I’d desire a crust of bread at some point too, but when do I not want bread?


Ahem. This is salty marcona almonds and deeply caramelized to the point of being pleasingly bitter-NOT-sweet walnuts and mildly olive-esque brine-y and then there are some dried apricots in the mix plus a glass of lemon water (not that I’ve ever been served lemon water with a cheese plate but maybe it’s the equivalent of the plate accoutrements plus a glass of Gavi).
Seriously though? This Sherry is a great cheese plate.
— 3 years ago

Chris, Severn and 10 others liked this


Asuncion Oloroso Pedro Ximénez

Well now this is different. An oloroso from PX but it is merely off-dry. If I wanted Sherry to replace a piece of rye bread, lightly toasted and spread with apricot jam and sprinkled with walnuts, it would be this. Sadly oloroso in the morning probably isn’t a good idea but why not have breakfast for dinner? Actually I think this would pair very well with French toast with an ample pair of amber maple syrup.
Good for dessert tambien.
— 3 years ago

Chris, Matt and 10 others liked this


Nice review!😃
Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford Influencer Badge Premium Badge

@Trixie thank you, m’lady! 🥂


Viejo C.P. Macharnudo Vineyard Palo Cortado Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Palomino Fino

Elegant as all get out. I can’t get over Palo Cortado, even with its shady requirement to be called “Palo Cortado”—pretty sure some are no more accidental “failed Finos” than chocolate chip cookies were a ‘whoops I dropped chocolate in the dough’—but that matters not. Mixed nuts and lemon and amaretto don’t sound like things I’d want to consume all at once but they are elements of this wine I love all at once. — 3 years ago

Severn, David and 9 others liked this


So posh you are! After dinner sherry.🍷
Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford Influencer Badge Premium Badge

@Trixie lol the things I do for work...albeit want to work Palo Cortado into my life post-assignment. Have you tried it?! I think it could be up your alley ❤️

Bodegas Dios Baco

Oloroso Jerez-Xerès-Sherry Palomino Fino

It is sweet. The label makes it a bit confusing to reason that and to be sure it is no PX but it has sweetness. And it is so good. Once I accepted it as a not-dry wine I was into it. — 3 years ago

Ron, Matt and 11 others liked this