Sherry – The Forgotten Gem

Summer has crept up on us and it should be time to be getting excited about our holidays away and breaks in the sunshine. Obviously, the events of the last few months have put a kybosh on that one and although Mother Nature has been doing her best to give us all a sun-tan, it’s just not the same.

I’ve been keeping my hopes high that there may be time for an early Autumn getaway, and have been looking at places where the wine is free-flowing and interesting.

One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Andalucia and it’s world famous ‘Fiesta de la Vendimia’ or ‘Wine Harvest’ Festival. Taking place on the weekend closest to the 8th September, it forms part of the festival celebrating the 2 best things to come out of Southern Spain; Flamenco Dancing and Sherry

Not particularly one for watching women throw around a ruffle skirt, my attention is more firmly drawn to the delicate, but unbelievably unfashionable, nectar that is created in the Jerez de la Frontera area.

Far from being the favourite drink of your Nan, the booze that you throw into a trifle to make it a bit more ‘grown up’ or the drinks cabinet ‘MIA’ bottle, these wines offer fantastic value for money in comparison to so many others that promise the world and fail to deliver and I am going to convince you why.

Firstly, the craftsmanship that goes into making the wines is phenomenal. Made from either the Palamino grape, or for the super sweet styles, the Pedro Ximenez grape, they are made in a very specific way.

Starting off as a still wine, the wines are tasted individually to decide which wines will be which style of sherry, then fortified using grape spirit to anywhere between 15%-20%, depending on the style of wine being created.

They are then aged in what is called a ‘Solera’ system; a series of between 3 & 9 barrels, where a portion of wine is drawn from the top row of barrels and transferred into the barrels in the row underneath to replace the wine that has been transferred out of those in to the barrels underneath those, and so on. This ensures that you get aged wines being blended in with younger wines, to create a distinct style.

Secondly, the different styles are vast. When people think sherry, they think sweet & sickly. Not at all!

The main styles are:

  1. Fino – The driest style, with a salty twang
  2. Amontillado – Slight aspects of a Fino, but has been oxidised slightly, giving it a nutty, light caramel note.
  3. Oloroso – A full on oxidised style, with roasted nuts, light coffee bitterness and a salted caramel note.

You can also get Cream and Pale Cream Sherry, which are more popular on these shores than in Spain (Harveys Bristol Cream), which are Amontillado style sherries which have been sweetened; Manzanilla sherries, which are slightly saltier and lighter than Fino wines and made in a different area of Southern Spain or Pedro Ximinez wines, which are made from the grape of the same name, which are super sweet and dark coloured, with mouth-coating amounts of flavour.

Thirdly, and finally, they are fantastic to use in modern-day cocktails too! Like a Bloody Mary? Take out the vodka and replace with Amontillado Sherry instead for a more savoury kick. Enjoy a brandy and coke? Zuzz it up a bit by popping in a serving of blackberry or cherry brandy instead of the normal Courvoisier, a shot of dry sherry and a shot of sweet sherry, mix in the coke and you have a luuurvly drink.

My top choices to try, for beginners and experts alike are:

  1. Tesco Finest Fino 37.5cl (£6 at Tesco)
  2. Made by probably the most respected producer of Sherry, Gonzalez Byass, in their 19th Century cellars
  3. Aged for at least 6 years in the solera system (remember, that means that they youngest wines in this blend will be 6yrs old – the rest will be older!)
  4. Yeasty and nutty aromas and a savoury finish.
  5. Drink with salted almonds, or olives
  • Pedro’s Oloroso 75cl (£12.99 on the Mix Six deal at Majestic)
  • Average age of the wines in here are 20 years old!
  • Wines pre-blend were picked as they were the most robust, so could stand up to being left in open barrels to oxidise, without turning to vinegar.
  • Rich flavours of toasted nuts, burnt caramel, salted toffee and coffee bean. Such a good wine!
  • Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Pedro Ximinez (£8 from Sainsburys)
  • Completely the opposite end to Fino and Manzanilla styles, this is sticky, syrupy and very decadent.
  • 12 year average age of wines.
  • Grapes are left to desiccate on straw mats, so as to increase the sugar level in the grapes and reduce the acidity.
  • Sweet dates, raisins, coffee, nuts, burnt sugar – Try it over ice cream during these summer months, or as an after dinner treat on its own!

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