How to Pick Spanish Sherry

Sherry wine and almonds

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Sherry wines or Vinos de Jerez are Spanish fortified wines from the southern Spanish region of Cadiz. The wines come from what is known as the Sherry Triangle, three cities (Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda) that when placed on a map form a triangle.

Sherry wines have been around for centuries and are some of the most interesting (and, possibly, underappreciated) wines in the world. Sherry was even mentioned in Greek texts in the 4th century B.C.

Many people (especially residents of the UK) have heard of cream sherry, but there are 10 official types of sherry that range from the very dry and pale manzanilla, to dark and sweet Pedro Ximenez. That's part of what makes sherry so confusing to people—the word itself carries little meaning as it can be one of the driest wines in the world or one of the sweetest. Contrary to popular belief, sherry is not only a dessert wine but can be drunk before a meal as well. 

Another fun fact about sherry is that it is wine that's meant to be paired with food. That's not to say you can't enjoy a glass of it on your own, but it truly comes alive when accompanying food. Below you will find the most common types of sherry wines and some suggested food pairings. 

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    Fino is one of the driest sherries. It's aged under a naturally occurring layer of yeast called flor. This layer protects it from oxygen, meaning that even though your average fino might be an average of seven years old, it is still very fresh tasting. It is clear, straw yellow, bone dry, light and fragrant. It contains 15 to 17% alcohol by volume.

    Pairings: Almonds, olives, Spanish jamón, and seafood

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    Manzanilla is a type of fino that can only be produced in the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is very pale and dry and often has a natural salinity to it since it produced so close to the sea. It contains 15 to 17% alcohol by volume.

    Pairings: Almonds, olives, Spanish jamón, seafood, and fried fish

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    Amontillado starts its life as a fino (meaning it ages in barrels under a protective layer of yeast, so that it doesn't oxidize). But later in life, the yeast is killed off, and it does age oxidatively. The contact with oxygen makes this wine take on notes of almond and hazelnut. It's still a very dry wine, however. Amontillado contains 16 to 18% alcohol by volume.

    Pairings: Chicken, meatballs, chicken pot pie, roasted turkey, roasted vegetables

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    Oloroso is aged in contact with oxygen and does not have yeast to protect it. This means that it takes on lovely notes of dried fruit and spice. Oloroso is a dark, golden color. It contains 18 to 20% alcohol by volume.

    Pairings: Red meats, game meats, aged cheeses, mushrooms, braised meats

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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    Palo Cortado

    This is a rare style of sherry that is supposed to occur by accident. Historically, it was wine that began as a fino, but then developed more like an oloroso—so it was treated as such for the second part of its life! It contains 18 to 20% alcohol by volume.

    Pairings: Nuts, blue cheese, vegetables, game meats

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    Pedro Ximenez

    This intensely sweet style of sherry is made with at least 85% of Pero Ximenez grapes that have been dried in the sun to increase sugar content. A good PX (the abbreviated term for Pedro Ximenez) also has enough acidity to balance the sweetness. It contains 15 to 22% alcohol by volume. 

    Pairings: Blue cheese, vanilla ice cream, almond tart

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    Similar to a PX, moscatel sherries are made using at least 85% of moscatel grapes. They are also allowed to dry in the sun to increase sugar content. It contains 15 to 22% alcohol by volume. 

    Pairings: Lemon tart, fruit tart, pies, ice creams

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    Cream sherries come in a variety of sweetness levels. There is "pale cream," which is sweetened fino. There's also "medium," which is usually sweetened amontillado. And there's "cream" which is sweetened oloroso. 

    Pairings: Nuts, blue cheese, foie gras, fruit desserts