Varieties of Spanish Sherry

Pouring sherry into a glass

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Sherry, or jerez, is the Spanish wine from the southern region of Cádiz and is enjoyed all over Andalucia. Sherry has been around for many centuries, in fact, it was mentioned in Greek texts as far back as the 4th century B.C.

Sherry is particularly popular with the English and has been for centuries. In fact, in Shakespeare’s play King Henry IV, Part II, Falstaff speaks in detail about the virtues of sherry or “sack,” as it was called. He ends his speech on the subject by swearing "If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

There are actually a number of official types that range from very dry with pale straw-like yellow, to sweet with a dark mahogany color.

Dry Sherries

The following sherries are dry. This is due to the fact that their musts or grape juices have been through a complete fermentation process:

  • Fino: This is a clear, straw-colored sherry that is dry, light and fragrant. It is aged with yeasts called flor. It contains 15 to 18% alcohol.
  • Amontillado: It has an amber color and it a light and smooth sherry with a certain hazelnut bouquet. It contains 16 to 22% alcohol.
  • Oloroso: The color of Oloroso sherry can range from amber to dark mahogany color. As the name indicates, this sherry is “fragrant.” It contains 17 to 22% alcohol.
  • Raya: This is part of the Oloroso group, but it is less delicate and does not have as much aroma.
  • Palo Cortado: This mahogany-colored sherry falls between Amontillado and Oloroso. It is dry and has a hazelnut bouquet. It contains 17 to 22% alcohol.

Sweet Natural Sherries

These types of sherries are primarily made from two varieties of grapes—Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. After harvest, they are put through a process called soleo or “over-maturing” that results in a high concentration of sugar in the grape. This makes a very sweet, dense must. Once it is made into wine, it is aged through oxidation and put in the soleras.

Solera is the name for both the special process that this sherry goes through as well as the barrels. In the solera process, sherry is put into a series of barrels for aging. A portion of sherry from the last barrel is poured out and the barrel is then filled with sherry from the next-to-last barrel until the first barrel is filled with new sherry.

  • Pedro Ximenez: This sweet sherry is made from grapes of the same name. It is very dark and aromatic, having a bouquet of raisins. It has a high alcohol content.
  • Moscatel: Muscat is the English name for this sweet raisin wine from the Moscatel variety of grapes. It is produced in the province of Málaga and is warm and sweet, and has a dark color.

Blended Sherries

Dry varieties of sherry are blended with sweet ones to make somewhat sweet sherries.

  • Pale Cream and Cream: Both are sweet wines. The Pale Cream variety is light-colored and only slightly sweet, where the Cream sherry is sweet, dark and has a very intense aroma. Cream sherry is actually made from the Oloroso variety of sherry. These are good dessert wines and contain between 15.5 and 22% alcohol.
  • Manzanilla: This type of sherry is produced only in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the bodegas actually have a special microclimate. This wine has its own Denomination of Origin and can only be produced in the town. It is very pale and dry and contains 15 to 17% alcohol.