Sherry 101

Sherry 101

Without Sherry, we wouldn’t have quite as many great Whiskies, the reason being that many Whiskies are matured in Sherry casks.

If you really want to know about Whisky, then you need to know about Sherry, so we’re here to tell you everything there is to know and more.

What is Sherry?

There are 3 things that really define Sherry: grapes, terroir and the way it’s aged.

Sherry is essentially a generic term for an aged white wine ranging from 15% ABV to an incredibly boozy 22%. The youngest Sherry you will ever drink will be three years old.

  • Traditionally three grapes can be used for the production of Sherry: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez. Since 2021 a number of other historic grape varietals are also allowed.
  • It can only be produced in a small region in Andalusia, in South-West Spain. Until 2021 there was a so-called Ageing and Maturing Zone where wines had to be matured – this was the Sherry Triangle. The Sherry triangle is an area made up of three points: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santamaría.

    Besides this triangle, a larger Production Zone included six neighboring municipalities (Trebujena, Chipiona, Chiclana, Rota, Puerto Real, and Lebrija). They were allowed to grow grapes for the production of Sherry, but wines could not carry the seal of the denomination, nor the name Sherry. Now all nine municipalities are treated equally as one large Production and Aging zone.
  • All Sherry is aged and blended with the Solera system.

Why is Sherry called Sherry?

Each bottle of Sherry bears a label with the name in three languages, as Jerez-Xéres-Sherry.

Jerez (Spanish) - Xérès (French) - Sherry (English). >
It takes its name from the province of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. Sherris, after the Arabic name for the city of Jerez, later became Sherry, Sherry being an Anglicization of Jerez.

How is Sherry matured?

Sherry makers use the Solera system. This is a way of maturing spirits that replaces contents from the bottom barrel with contents of the one after it, in chronological order.

So when you get to the last row, the barrel at the bottom has been created using the liquid from all the barrels below. Basically, as you take liquid out of the first barrel, you use the next one to top it up, and so on and so forth.

Different Types of Sherry

There are so many different types of Sherry. So. Many.

Let's begin with the main types and then we can move into their sub-categories. Sherry wine can be dry, naturally sweet, or sweetened through blending.

Sweet Sherries:

Within Sweet Sherries, we have Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, both of which are matured by oxidative aging. The sugar levels are so high that they never develop Flor.

  • Pedro Ximenez: This is a dessert Wine where the grapes are sun-dried to produce more sugars. This creates sweeter flavors such as treacle and syrup once the grapes have been processed.
  • Moscatel: Moscatel is also a dessert Wine that produces a honeyed and floral flavor.

Next we have Dry Sherries, with main sub-categories being in Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Amontillado.

Dry Sherries:

  • Fino: Fino is a delicate Sherry that is not allowed to oxidize and is matured entirely under Flor. It is a light Wine with notes of almonds, herbs, and chalk.
  • Oloroso: In Spanish, Oloroso means scented. The ABV is increased to 17% as soon as it is placed in the barrel, so no Flor forms and it matures entirely through oxidative aging. It is intensely nutty, especially compared to other Sherries.
  • Manzanilla: Manzanilla is exactly the same as a Fino Sherry, except that the bodegas differ in location. This means the environment, and influence of winds and temperature will change. The name means chamomile and it has a delicate character. Manzanilla is only made near Sanlucar de Barrameda, which is a port. This means it's slightly salty to taste, from chalky soil and the fact that it has so few other flavors that salt becomes more obvious.
  • Palo Cortado: Palo Cortado is an intermediate type of Sherry and probably the most ambiguous of all. Palo Cortado straddles the border between rich sweetness and crisp dryness. A happy accident led to its creation. If during the winemaking process the protective flor dies unexpectedly, the wine takes on oxygen, changing the flavor. First discovered this way, Palo Cortado today is made by intentionally oxidizing Sherry.
  • Amontillado: ​​In the early stages of its life, Amontillado Sherry begins as Fino or Manzanilla, which is characterized by its aging under flor, a layer of yeast on the surface of the wine. Following this initial period of maturation (usually two to eight years), the second period of maturation begins where the wine is exposed to air (without flor). Amontillado Sherry is darker in appearance than Fino and Manzanilla, and it has a range of more complex, savory flavors. This is due to its long aging process.

How long can you store/drink a bottle of Sherry?

Here are some quick tips for storing a bottle of Sherry.

Always try to store Sherry bottles in a cool, dark environment, with no sudden temperature fluctuations, in an upright position. This ensures the wine oxidizes as slowly as possible.

When it comes to storing open Sherry bottles, you should seal them tightly with its cork and put them into the fridge.

TIP: All types of Sherry are best consumed within a year after they are bottled.

Most types of Sherry, excluding some Fino sherries, don’t benefit from aging after being bottled. The quality of some sherries remains the same for years, while the quality of others declines significantly within a year or two, depending on how the wine was aged.

How to serve Sherry?

You should drink Sherry as it is served in Spanish bodegas - cold for certain styles, chilled for others, and in a small 3-ounce glass.

How to drink Sherry?

Sherry is a delicious treat when served on its own but is also an integral part of many iconic cocktails. You can make a delicious Sherry sour by shaking rich Sherry with ice, egg white, sugar, and lemon juice.

How to pair Sherry?

Sherry is a brilliant cooking wine and can be found in many traditional boozy desserts.

For instance, dry Sherry is a great meal pairing. Fino Sherry pairs well with white meat like pork, ham, and seafood. Meanwhile, a glass of Oloroso Sherry goes well with a strong-flavored game. Try it with red meat, creamy blue cheese, or a rich chocolate mousse. Amontillado works well with soup or particularly fragrant varieties of fish.

Last but not least, sweet Sherry is best enjoyed with dessert. Pastries, fruit, and ice cream are all great choices. After all, sherry and mince pie is a Christmas favorite!

Why Sherry casks?

So why does the Whisky industry use Sherry casks? Well, that stretches back centuries.

Sherry first came to Britain in 1587, as the spoils of war with Spain, when Sir Francis Drake brought over 2,000 barrels back from his siege on the city of Cadiz.

It made sense to reuse casks and not spend money on new ones, and they discovered it also made the malt look and taste a lot better.

Whisky became massively popular over the preceding decades, especially with the invention of the Column Still, allowing for continuous distillation, and the fall of the Brandy industry, when France suffered loses to their grape harvest.

Whisky was in demand, and they needed barrels, fast. Sherry was there to answer the call, and it improved the malt massively.

Sherry casks became the number one casks for maturing Whisky for over a century and only dropped in popularity when Whisky itself did.

This came with a change in Spanish law, which said that Sherry had to be bottled in Spain, meaning it was harder to ship the casks in good condition.

But many providers battled on and continued to use Sherry casks, and as such, they are still popular today.

Sherry and Whisky have long gone hand in hand and they prop each other up market-wise. When one succeeds, so does the other.

The tradition of maturing Whisky in Sherry casks goes way back, and it is not one that the industry is giving up anytime soon.

What happens when you use a Sherry Cask to mature Whisky?

The Sherry seeps into the wood when it is being matured, and when Whisky is added, some of that Sherry comes back out and flavours the Whisky.

This is the process of maturing and the flavors of the Sherry will be evident in the Whisky produced. It is important to consider what type of Sherry is used as well, as the flavour profile of the Sherry will be what is evident in finished Whisky.

Each Sherry will produce a different flavor, and will not be the only influencer. Factors like the wood of the cask, the level of char, the grains used and the environment the cask is kept in will also have an effect.

The number of flavors transferred will also depend on how long the Whisky is kept in the barrels. It can either be fully matured or finished for only a short period of time. The longer it is in the barrel, the more flavour that transfers.

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