By Lanee Lee
As they say in fashion, if you wait long enough, it’ll eventually come back in style. Sherry, long associated as granny’s drink, has been one of the world’s most overlooked wines—until now. The fortified wine, made with white grapes and brandy, is finally shaking off its stodgy image. Due in part to the craft cocktail movement and savvy wine drinkers, sherry is so very vogue, just as it was over two centuries ago.
“Sherry is definitely making a comeback. You’re starting to see restaurants with sherry flights or a sherry-dedicated section on the wine menu. And most craft cocktail bars throughout the country have at least one cocktail with sherry as an ingredient,” says Mollie Casey, sherry educator and sales director for the Henry Wine Group.
Peter Liem, co-author of Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A Guide to Traditional Wines of Andalusia, credits the renewed interest to the adventurous palates of modern day wine drinkers. “Sherry’s recent resurgence can be attributed to today’s wine-drinking audience, particularly in the United States, that are more sophisticated now than ever before. Rather than simply seeking out blue-chip wine regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, wine drinkers are enthusiastically exploring previously unheard of areas, and Jerez is one of them,” says Liem.
To fully appreciate it, as Christopher Columbus and Shakespeare did in their day, it’s beneficial to learn of its rich history and elaborate journey to your glass. Dating back 3,000 years when the Phoenicians planted grapevines in southern Spain, sherry is one of the oldest wines in the world. As cognac or tequila have strict domain designations, sherry can only be produced in the Andalusian region of southwestern Spain. Established as one of Spain’s first protected appellations in 1933, the region is referred to as the “Sherry Triangle”. It encompasses the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Puerto de Santa María. In this region, the soil—rich in chalky limestone—is ideal for growing sherry grapes amidst the scorching summer temperatures. The three grape varietals sherry can be made from are Palomino, Pedro Ximénez (PX for short) and Moscatel. Depending on what types of grapes are utilized, sherry is made in three styles: dry, sweet and blended.
After harvest, the juice is fermented in tanks; brandy is added for fortification and then transferred to oak casks (also known as sherry butts) for aging. This method is referred to as oxidative aging. For Fino or Manzanilla sherries, the cask is filled nearly to the top, allowing oxygen to react with the wine. This produces a thick layer of yeast or ‘flor’ (pronounced like floor) that protects it from oxidizing. Unique to sherry making, this technique is known as biological aging and aging under the flor can last up to ten years.
After the oxidative or biological aging is complete and brandy has been added, sherry goes through an intricate aging process known as solera. The solera system is essentially blending wines of various ages from different casks. Consequently, most sherries don’t have vintage dates; a bottle of sherry could have wines aged from five to fifty-plus years. However, there are a few age classification exceptions: VOS (very old sherries) are at least 20 years old; VORS (very old rare sherries) are at least 30 years old; and añadas are vintage sherries from a single year.
Types of Sherry
Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time to experience the Spanish aromatic wine, there’s always something more to explore with the myriad of styles and flavors. Based on the method of aging and type of grape utilized, the six major sherry categories are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Sweet Pedro Ximénez (also known as Sweet PX) and Cream. Contrary to a popular misconception of sherry as a dessert wine, even on wine menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, the only two types of dessert sherry are Sweet Pedro Ximénez and Cream.
Fino, ubiquitous with the Tio Pepe brand, is straw-colored and bone-dry. It’s best served chilled (serving it room temperature would be like serving Chardonnay at room temperature: not good), paired with salty snacks like cured olives, Marcona almonds or Spanish ham. Because it’s only 15-16 percent alcohol, its shelf life is only a few days, similar to a bottle of wine. We recommend the Inocente Fino from Valdespino, Spain’s oldest Sherry bodega (winery) founded in 1430.
Also dry and pale in color, Manzanilla is essentially a Fino that can only be made in the coastal town of Sanlucar. As the lightest-styled sherry, Manzanillas pair well with seafood. Try Hidalgo’s Pastrana Pasada Manzanilla, the only single vineyard Manzanilla.
If the flor doesn’t hold (there’s no way to ensure it does), sherry makers will simply add brandy and it becomes an Amontillado. Deeper in color than a Fino, Amontillados have a lovely nutty flavor with a predominate nose of hazelnuts. One of our favorites is the 20-Year Baco Imperial Amontillado by Bodegas Dios Baco S.L. Only 300 cases were produced.
Not aged under the protective layer of flor at all, Olorosos are dark amber in color with a raisin, walnut aroma and caramel notes on the palate. Olorosos can be sweet or dry in style, depending on if Moscatel (sweet) grapes were used. Lustau, Almacenista ‘Pata de Gallina’ Oloroso is one of our favorites. In sherry making, the term Pata de Gallina (hen’s foot in Spanish) refers to the chalk mark placed on butts that display an above average richness and smoothness.
Pedro Ximenez (PX for short) is made from sundried grapes of the same name, and is the sweetest sherry-style with fig, toffee and molasses flavors. Cream sherry begins as an Amontillado or Oloroso and is sweetened with PX. Although there is no cream in it like Kahlua or Bailey’s, it works well with creamy desserts. Valdespino NV El Candado Pedro Ximénez is a smooth sipper, splendid with a mild cigar.
The Rebujito, a mix of Sprite with fino or manzanilla, is the only sherry cocktail you’ll find in Spain. In contrast, there has been a long history with sherry cocktails in the States, dating back to the 1800s. Classic sherry drinks from that time period include: Bamboo (with dry vermouth and bitters); Sherry Cobbler (sherry, sugar, muddled fruit); and Coronation (a Bamboo with maraschino liqueur). Being a fortified wine, like vermouth, modern day bartenders are rediscovering its versatility as a mixer.
“It’s a great substitute for vermouth because it’s a bit more dry. It also works really well with many scotches and brandy that are aged in sherry barrels anyway, making it a great match to mix with,” says head bartender Dave Kupchinsky of Eveleigh in West Hollywood, CA.
Head bartender Will Peet at Donostia, a Basque tapas bar in New York City with the largest by-the-glass sherry collection (over 45) in the U.S., is also a fan of a sherry’s diverse uses. “Personally I love the pairing of brandy and sherry, a ‘if it grows together, it goes together’ sort of thing. One of my favorite examples is a cocktail called the Sancho Panza, which blends rich cream sherry with dry Brandy de Jerez, high proof Apple brandy, and walnut liquor,” says Peet. In addition, he’s a proponent of swapping vermouth out for sherry in classic cocktails, such as a Manhattan or martini. On the West coast, you’ll find stellar sherry-cocktail programs and sherry wine lists featured at Nopa or Gitane in San Francisco.
To further illustrate the wine’s rise to stardom, sherry has its own holiday and dedicated U.S. festival. Celebrated for the first time in 2013, World Sherry Day is May 26. SherryFest, launched in 2012, is a weekend of sherry seminars, dinners and tastings in San Francisco and New York, usually held in June.
Obviously, granny was much more hip that we ever gave her credit for. Whether sipping it straight from a traditional copita glass or in a cocktail, sherry is one of the most glorious wines to explore. ¡Salud!
“If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them, should be to foreswear potations, and to devote themselves to Sherry” – Shakespeare
Should you decide to try making sherry cocktails at home, here are five recipes created by top bartenders from around the country.
Julep, Houston, Texas
by Kenny Freeman
2 sprigs Fresh Oregano
1 oz Carpano Bianco vermouth
.75 oz Beefeater dry gin
.5 oz Fino Gomme Arabic syrup (the sherry component)
.25 oz Lemon juice
Shake and fine strain into a Rocks glass with Crushed Ice and garnish with more fresh oregano sprigs. The Fino Gomme Arabic is made with Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino sherry.
Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon
by Jeffrey Morgenthaler
1 oz Tanqueray No. TEN
1 oz Amontillado Sherry
.5 oz lime juice
1 tsp Demerarra syrup
Shake, top with 2 oz ginger beer, strain into collins glass. Rocks, lime
Donostia, New York City, New York
By Will Peet
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/4 oz Grenadine
1/4 oz Ginger syrup
1/2 oz vanilla syrup
1/2 grapefruit juice
3/4 lime juice
3/4 oz Bodegas César Florido Moscatel Especial – Moscatel Sherry
1 1/2 oz González Byass Viña AB – Amontillado Sherry
2 oz Tio Pepe Fino González Byass - Fino Sherry
Whip shake with crushed ice, pour over crushed ice in footed beer glass. Top with Peychaud’s bitters and big mint plouche.
Siena Tavern, Chicago, Illinois
By Revae Schneider
1.5 oz Mount Gay Black Barrel
1.0 oz Templeton Rye Whiskey
.5 oz Lustau East India Solera Sherry
.25 oz Le Sirop Lavender Honey
1 Dash Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
Add Mount Gay Rum, Templeton Rye Whiskey, Le Sirop Lavender Honey, sherry wine, and Scrappy’s Lavender bitters to empty pint glass, add ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Pour into the glass either up or over ice. Garnish with orange swath.
The Rose and the Woodbine Twine
Eveleigh, West Hollywood
By Dave Kupchinsky
1 oz Auchentoshan 3Wood Scoth
1oz Lepanto PX Solera Brandy de Jerez
.75 oz Olorosso Sherry
.25 oz Benedictine
Stir, strain, and serve up with a lemon peel.