Spirits Around the World: Sherry

From sweet to dry, this fortified wine is a versatile delight

For decades, sherry has suffered from a PR problem. 

Some people think it’s a spirit—it’s not, it’s a fortified wine, aged in wood casks, sometimes for decades, before being fortified with a neutral grain spirit to increase its alcohol content, usually to about 15 percent. Others say sherry is far too sweet, yet the wine has several variations, some of which are dry. 

Still, some believe that the drink is dated and staid. The beverage has been on the map at least as far back as the first century B.C., when Greek geographer Strabo wrote that the first vines were brought to the Spanish Jerez region by the Phoenicians. (Today, the town of Jerez de la Frontera remains a proud sherry producer.)

Fast-forward a few centuries, and perhaps one of sherry’s biggest boosters was none other than the Bard himself: William Shakespeare was a devoted fan of the drink and refers to it in many of his works. In Palinodia (1619), Pasquil declares that “all drinks stand hat-in-hand in the presence of sherry.”

But, despite its past life, industry experts say hipsters have embraced and revived sherry in recent years, especially artisan varieties. And as the drink hits its renaissance, many people are awakening to its versatility, pairing well with desserts and main courses alike, as a stand-alone drink or as a complementary ingredient in a cocktail.

For attendees who might not be tapped into sherry’s coming of age, try offering guests samplings of different varieties to showcase the wine’s versatility in flavor and color. Here are some popular sherries to include in your tasting:

  • Fino: The driest and the palest of the sherries, fino is often made from high-acid Palomino grapes. It pairs especially well with salty snacks, like Marcona almonds and potato chips. A close cousin is manzanilla, a sherry variety produced and matured in the Spanish seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sushi and seafood are ideal pairings. Serve either sherry well-chilled. 

  • Amontillado: This aged, dry sherry has a brown hue and a nutty, almost umami flavor. Amontillados work well with paella, poultry and cheese.

  • Oloroso: This variety can be both sweet and dry in style. Full-bodied, rich and nutty, olorosos pair well with heartier fare, such as stews, chorizo and game meat. 

  • Palo Cortado: The wild card of sherry, palo cortado was created more by accident than design. A hybrid of amontillado and oloroso, the drink is lightweight and delicate, pairing well with soft blue cheeses, nuts and spicy Asian foods.

  • Medium/Cream, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel: The sweet sherries of the troop, these varieties should be served at room temperature. They pair especially well with blue cheese and desserts, especially vanilla ice cream, fruit and dark chocolate.

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