One of my favourite regions to visit in Europe is Southern Spain’s Andalucía for a multitude of reasons; the fascinating history of European/Christian and Arab/Muslim cultures highlighted by the stunning world heritage sites of the Alhambra in Granada and the Mesquita in Cordoba; the laid back culture (sleeping a siesta is still common in certain areas!); the tapas which is absolutely delicious and a fantastically social way of eating; the many hours of bright sunshine and warmth (especially welcome to a Brit!); and of course the local wines, of which sherry is the most famous. Unfortunately for the sherry producers, but more fortunately for us sherry aficionados, sherry is incredibly good value for the quality of the wine. Sherry wines are absolutely delicious and versatile, and I would strongly suggest a visit to the region, or failing that, getting a taste of the wines, which can be from bone dry to lusciously sweet and pair well with many types of cuisine.
I was fortunate to win the “Sherry Scholarship” when I passed the fortified wines exam for the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Diploma. The prize involved a week in “sherry country” in 2008, which cemented sherry amongst my favourite wines, and after a long absence, I went back there in January 2020 to visit the region and a few of the wineries (bodegas). There are three major towns in the region, termed the “Sherry Triangle”, which are Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria & Sanlúcar de Barrameda. I would suggest visiting all three as they are located about an hour’s drive of each other. Seville and Cadiz are the closest major cities and would be good places to arrive/leave and base yourself from, and there are a better selection of hotels and restaurants in the larger cities.
And so onto the wine itself: Sherry is a fortified wine produced typically from Palomino Fino grapes. The strength of fortification is key to producing the two main styles of sherry, which are Fino (it is called Manzanilla if produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, but effectively a similar style to Fino) and Oloroso.
Fino/Manzanilla: These are fortified to about 15 degrees alcohol in order to produce a pale yellow coloured wine, which is light bodied, bone dry with subtle bready, yeasty and herbal aromas, with almond flavours and a saline freshness on the palate. The main reason for the wine’s character, is that the level of alcohol fortification allows a protective layer of yeast (called a flor) to grow on the top of the liquid when ageing in barrels and this protects the wine from oxygen, called biological ageing, and gives it the bready character. These wines pair with superbly with jamón iberico, olives, almonds, fish, gazpacho and the local salmorejo (a chilled soup made of pureed tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic). Fino should be served very chilled, a perfect accompaniment to a meal on a hot summer's day.
Oloroso: Conversely these base wines are fortified to a higher degree, typically 17 to 18%, which does not allow the yeast to grow and thus will not have the protective layer. These will age oxidatively in barrel and develop into deeper tawny brown coloured wines with aromas of caramel, walnuts, raisins and dried fruits, and even old wood furniture, and are fuller bodied with rich & intense tangy dried fruit flavours. These pair with more robust foods, such as mature Manchego, stews and casseroles and with red meats.