Sherry is a fortified wine which hails from the region around the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía, southwest Spain – a region of drought and baking heat. It’s a drink for all seasons, running the full gamut from bone dry to super-sweet, and one of the planet’s ultimate food wines.
It starts out as a light wine but is subsequently fortified with the addition of a neutral grape spirit to between 15 and 17% or so. The wines are aged in the celebrated ‘solera’ system, a scheme of fractional blending using a tiered network of casks to concurrently mature and blend, maintaining both consistency and excellence.
Awaken your senses this summer with four stunning gastronomic bottles that are tailor-made for quenching drinking on sweltering days. These bone-dry sherries are made from the Palomino Fino grape, purportedly named after one of King Alfonso X’s knights. Remember the old Andalusian adage: fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it walks. Purchase the freshest, most youthful bottlings of low-acid, quintessentially non-fruity, summery, bone-dry fino and manzanilla and serve chilled in a stemmed regular white wine glass with a generous bowl (not in thimbles!).
If it’s a real scorcher, follow the insiders and relax with a Rebujito, the classic Andalusian aperitif and darling of Spanish outdoor festivals (ferias). I make mine with one part fino/manzanilla to one part lemonade/soda water, with lots of ice and a garnish of lemon/lime wheels, plus a sprig of mint. Or you could simply try these classics…
1) A very delicate, bone-dry sherry from a historic firm in humid Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy for 2022, at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir
Agreeably inexpensive, sprightly, saline, tangy, elegant, sea-breezy, appley, floral manzanilla (the Spanish word for ‘camomile’) with a super nutty, yeasty, briny, iodine and almond skin thump on the lingering finale. Switch it happily for white wine at the table. An exquisite revivifying aperitif. Hello salted almonds, smoked salmon, mackerel, sushi, sashimi, raw oysters, pasta alle vongole, olives and tapas. I’ll pour it with barbecued sea bass from Sankey’s with saffron aioli later this 26th National BBQ Week. Serve well chilled at around 7-9°C. Textbook bone-dry stuff (the residual sugar is just 0.03g/l!). No wonder manzanilla is the most consumed sherry style in Spain. Opened bottles last no more than one or two days.
2) Magnificent single-vineyard fino that spent around 10 years under a layer of yeast called flor
This stunning, dry, complex, umami-rich, single-vineyard (Macharnudo) fino comes from wines fermented in 600L American oak barrels and is aged for around 10 years. The flavours are an Aladdin’s cave of never-ending delights; sea salt, green apples, toasty yeast and almonds and herbs bouncing off each other. It has terrific finesse, line, length and balance. Every inch of it feels classic. A beautiful dry vinous partner for food, it effortlessly passes the second glass test! Sip it with Marcona almonds, fish and chips, garlicky Pan con Tomate, tortilla, young Manchego, Mojama and Ibérico ham. Swap dry vermouth for this fino in your next Martini! Like most white wines, aim to drink an opened bottle within two to three days.
3) A cult, much sought-after raw and alive fino bottled on March 23 from a selection of 96 barrels with minimal filtration
This is the 13th annual issue of the cult limited release ‘en rama’ (‘from the branch’) Tio Pepe fino produced from ‘biologically’ aged wine drawn off the cask when the film of oxygen-loving ‘flor’ – the strange white bread-like protective frothy carpet of Jerez yeast, which isolates the sherry from the air – is at its most abundant. One for aficionados who thirst for a palate-cleansing, flavoursome, minimally filtered fino that tastes more natural, pure, saline, fresh and as close to that in the producer’s cask in spring. Think apple skin, hay, grilled almonds, fresh sourdough, yeast, salt and lemon peel, plus a soupçon of Marmite. Try it with Esqueixada, Gazpacho/Salmorejo or a bowl of green olives. Serve cool (10°C) rather than well-chilled. Immensely characterful.
4) An aromatically refined, rich-yet-dry, rare and full-bodied treat for the connoisseur
Palo cortado is a rather rare kind of sherry that started life in the cellar as a fino, but at some point forsook its flor prematurely to age oxidatively. It combines the finesse and delicacy of an amontillado with the richness and body of an oloroso (and is aged ‘oxidatively,’ without flor). Splurge on this delicious, refined, aged, concentrated, amber-coloured, satiny example with its endless layers of smoky dried fruits, spice, crème brûlée, orange marmalade, roasted hazelnuts, burnt toast and tangerine rind. Its length and aftertaste are truly exceptional. Utterly silly price for a sherry of this age – it averages over thirty years in age. Aged Manchego, meaty curries, Iberian charcuterie and Dukkah are a must. Serve around 12-14°C. It will hold well for four weeks once opened so enjoy it as a gloom-lifter on a cloudy summer’s day.