Sherry, in all its forms, is one the most under-rated and least appreciated of all the European wines but is, without question, one of the most delicious. Coming from a very particular area around to Jerez de la Frontera in South West Spain, the climate is ideal for growing the Palomino grapes which are the base of the very dry “Fino” and the Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes which are used to make the slightly stronger but much sweeter wines such as the Creams. Mid-range, between sweet and dry, are the Amontillados and Oloroso wines and depending upon one’s taste they can be blended with Fino to make a drier or sweeter wine depending upon one’s personal taste thereby adding to the versatility of these great wines.
The mid 20th century reputation of sherry was ruined by the “vicar’s tipple” which was sweet, dark and invariably served at room temperature, whereas the wines should be served chilled. Fino especially is a living wine and despite a modicum of fortification to assist the fermentation, a bottle should not be left unfinished for any longer than one would leave red wine once opened.
In Spain, and especially in Andalucia, Spaniards may start their day with an Oloroso or Amontillado and then move effortlessly towards the fino which they might drink throughout a meal. Sherries are great mixers and the “rebujito” a mixture of fino and white lemonade is a popular long drink as is fino with tonic both served with ice and a slice of lemon. But perhaps the best is the cocktail known as “El Conde”, a jigger of Oloroso, top up with ginger ale and add a slice of orange and ice. Do not be confused between Fino and Manzanilla. They look the same, are incorrectly both called Sherry, but Manzanilla is very distinct, coming from nearby Sanlucar de Barrameda on the mouth of the Guadalquivir River and they say one can taste the salt from the nearby sea in the wine. It is lighter, different and definitely worth trying …… again, don’t forget to serve it cold.