Exploring sherries

Sherry from the shelf at Bar Ferdinand.
Sherry from the shelf at Bar Ferdinand. (.    YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 02, 2012

MANY of us remember only the sweet "cream" sherries, like Harvey's Bristol Cream, that were popular several decades back. Those sweet sherries, as Javier Hidalgo, winemaker at La Gitana puts it, "still give the image of granny and the priest taking cream sherry after Sunday service."

The most exciting sherries, however, are the drier finos and manzanillas, and my absolutely favorite style is the slightly longer-aged amontillado. Fino and manzanilla are essentially the same - the only real difference is that manzanilla comes specifically from the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the sea breezes off the Atlantic Ocean are said to impart a special briny character. Amontillado is essentially fino or manzanilla that has been aged longer, to the point of oxidation.

The best way to introduce people to sherry is through food; the complex, nutty flavors cry out for tapas.

No matter what style you prefer, an important thing to keep in mind is that sherry is a wine, and therefore will spoil quickly, even more quickly than vermouth. Finos and manzanillas need to be consumed within a week of being opened; amontillados maybe two to three weeks; olorosos and creams within a month or two.

Some brands to look for include Tio Pepe (in particular for its fino), Hidalgo La Gitana (in particular for its manzanilla and amontillado), Lustau, La Garrocha and Gutierrez Colosia.

"Sherry is a way of aging wine more than anything else," said Carmen Pou, of Gutierrez Colosia, referring to the unique solera system of stacked casks, in which young sherry is added to the casks at the top, and then transferred lower as the sherry ages, with the oldest wines at the bottom. The younger wine therefore takes on characteristics of the older wine, and the older wine retains a liveliness and vitality.

- Jason Wilson

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