"There are only two kinds of sherry, the good and the better."
Upon my return from Spain, especially as I relive the memories in my mind, I still find myself sherry obsessed. It was a compelling journey through the sherry region, both informative and fun. And without question, extremely delicious. Though I had some knowledge and appreciation of sherry prior to the trip, it was expanded, honed and enhanced from my experiences exploring this region. If you really want to better understand a wine, then visiting the region where it is produced can be very helpful.
I will be writing numerous posts about my travel experiences, and figured that a good place to begin would be to list the top ten things I learned about sherry. This list should be useful for all wine lovers, giving them some important basics about sherry, and hopefully inspiring them to give sherry a try. There are plenty of preconceptions and myths about sherry that need to be shattered and I want to do my part in tearing down those barriers. Plus, introducing people to an incredibly tasty wine is always a benefit.
1) Sherry is a wine.
Near the start of our trip, we began with an introductory lesson on sherry, from its history to method of production. The class was led by César Saldaña, the director general of the Consejo Regulador, who was both personable and interesting. This was not a dull, school room lesson. César stressed, and which was supported by several others during the rest of the trip, that "sherry is a wine." It may be fortified, but it is still a wine and consumers should view it as such, and not as some special apertif or after-dinner drink. As such, sherry has its place like any other wine, both on its own and with food. When you are considering which bottle of wine to open, sherry should be one of the potential choices.
2) Sherry is intriguing.
Though sherry is a wine, it is also quite an intriguing one. It has a fascinating history, which I have previously detailed in my History of Sherry articles. The Palomino grape, which is the staple of about 95% of all sherry, extends back about 3000 years. That is a true taste of history in ever glass of sherry. The production process is unique and equally compelling, from the mysterious flor to the use of the solera system for aging. The sherry bodegas often have some interesting stories, many which captivated me. How many other wineries have albino peacocks, Piccaso artwork, or leave out wine for the mice? By learning more about sherry, I have faith you too will fall for all its charms.
3) Sherry is unique to the region.
True sherry can only be produced in the Denominacións de Origen of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This region constitutes the “Sherry Triangle,” formed by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcarde Barrameda. The term "sherry" deserves respect and protection, the same we give to such names as "Champagne"and "Port." Though other countries produce wines they call sherries, they are not true sherries. It was recently good to see Australia making a big stride to respect the name "sherry," by renaming their sherry-like wines as Apera. It is also important to note that sherry-like wines made by wineries like Alvear, which are located outside the Sherry Triangle in Montilla-Moriles, are also not true sherries either.
4) Most Sherry is Dry.
Although most of the Sherry imported into the U.S. is sweet, overall, most Sherry produced is actually dry. And it is the dry Sherries that are drank most often in Spain. Fino and manzanilla, both very dry, are extremely popular in Spain. Why does the U.S. have such a sweet tooth when it comes to Sherry? It does share an affinity with Great Britain which also loves sweet Sherries. I found myself gravitating more to the dry Sherries, from fino to palo cortado, from manzanilla to amontillado. They are delicious wines, well worth drinking, and I encourage you to try some dry Sherries. Sweet wines are fine, but don't ignore all the pleasures of dry sherry.
5) Sherry production is unique.
There are very few other wines that are produced in a similar manner as sherry, with its flor and solera system. The flor, a combination of yeasts that coats the surface of the sherry in the barrel, is a natural way to protect wine from oxidation. Plus, it contributes to the flavor of the wine. The solera system, with its multiple barrels and fractional blending, helps to contribute to a consistent sherry, while enhancing it with older and more complex sherries. The sherry barrels are usually stored in above-ground bodegas, with very high ceilings, reminding you of a cathedral. Most other wines are aged in barrels kept underground, in cellars or even caves. Sherry production is a very intriguing process, and creates a special wine.
6) Aged Sherry can be superb.
Aged Sherries, including the VOS, VORS and Añada types, can be as good as any other high-end wine in the world, and may even be less expensive. I tasted a number of these sherries, from various producers, and they often very much impressed me with their aromas, flavors and complexity. They are wines to slowly savor, relishing each taste, rather than just gulping down. The 20 year-old (VOS) and 30 year-old (VORS) sherries may cost you $50-$100, which is often reasonable considering their age and quality. The Añada (vintage) Sherries are more expensive, generally starting at $100, but they are also very rare wines. If you try any of these aged Sherries, you will realize the vast potential of Sherry, understanding its allure and power. These are wines that will move you, which will surely make you fall in love with wine all over again.
7) Sherry is a great food wine.
In Spain, people drink Sherry throughout their meals. It is not seen as a mere apertif or an after dinner drink, like it often is in the U.S. While I was on the trip, I drank and enjoyed Sherry with all of my lunches and dinners. I found that the different styles of Sherry paired very well with a wide variety of foods, from seafood to beef, from salads to foie gras. The pairings worked as well as any other wine, and definitely should be a consideration for any wine pairing you contemplate in the future. Sherry, like most Old World wines, was always intended as an accompaniement to food. I suspect Americans would like Sherry even more if they drank it with food, rather than just on its own.
8) Sherry is often inexpensive.
Most Sherry is relatively inexpensive, and thus a very good value. As it still is not a very popular wine outside of Spain, the prices have generally remained reasonable. You can find plenty of good Sherry for $10 or under, and most bottles won't run you more than $25. It is only the rarer Sherries that are more costly, such as the aged Sherries I previously mentioned. But to buy a good fino or manzanilla, you won't have to empty your wallet. Now, the more popular Sherry gets in the future, then the prices might see an increase. So enjoy Sherry now while its cost is reasonable.
9) Forget catavinos.
No, I am not talking about Ryan and Gabriella, the good people behind Catavino, the Iberian wine and food blog. I am referring to the catavino, a traditional, tulip-shaped Sherry glass. It is not a necessity that you drink from this glass. Many glasses made for white wine will make a fine substitute for the catavino. The main idea I am trying to put forth is not to let the tradition be a barrier to your enjoyment of Sherry. A catavino is a good glass for drinking Sherry, but it is not the only possible one. Experiment with different shaped glasses and find what works best for you.
10) I want to drink more Sherry.
After spending all that time in the Jerez region, drinking so many excellent sherries, I guess it is only natural that I want to continue drinking more and more sherry. It is a diverse wine, of many styles and flavor profiles. It pairs well with so many foods. Sherry has seduced me, embracing me tightly in its arms and I only desire to maintain that love affair. Like the other niche wines I support, Sherry takes its place as a very worthy wine which not enough other people have learned to embrace yet.
Please, give Sherry a chance. Get your friends together, have a dinner party and serve only Sherry. I bet you'll end up with some new Sherry converts.