Types of Spanish Sherry
Thanks to the long history of Sherry in Spain as well as the creativeness of the Sherry makers in the country, there are a number of different varieties of the wine available today; each with its own name, technique and flavour.
Fino Sherries are the driest and palest of the various types of Spanish Sherry. Compared to the other varieties, they are not aged as long and should be drunk as soon as possible after opening the bottle as the exposure to air can lead to the wine losing its flavour.
This type of Sherry owes its light and fresh flavour to the yeast used in its production. The flor yeast forms a protective layer over the top of the wine when it is being aged, which shields the wine from over oxidation. This technique was not fully understood until way into the 19th century.
Fino Sherry is to be served chilled, at a temperature between 7 and 10°C. Often the Sherry is served before a meal, but you might also see people drinking Sherry with some Spanish tapas when you visit Spain.
Manzanilla is another form of fine, dry Sherry which is produced around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla Sherry is made in the same way as fino Sherry however; the cool sea temperatures mean that the yeast often grows better. The resulting thicker layer of yeast protects the wine from the air even further; giving the Sherry an even finer and more delicate flavour than other fino Sherries.
There is an ongoing dispute surrounding the name of this variety of Spanish Sherry however. Some people believe that it is named after apples as it tastes a little bit like the fruit. Others believe that it tastes like chamomile tea which is often known as manzanilla in Spain. Other theories claim that the grape vine used at the beginning of the existence of this drink was called manzanilla and that the wines resemble those that came from the town of Manzanilla during the 15th century.
Manzanilla Sherry is best drunk when chilled to a temperature of 7-10°C, and goes particularly well with Spanish tapas such as olives, almonds, Jamón serrano or seafood. This Sherry variety should also been consumed as soon as possible, just like finos, as the wine can lose its flavour very quickly.
The Amontillado Sherry is a Sherry that is darker than a fino but still lighter than an oloroso. Normally, an amontillado begins as a fino Sherry which contains around 13.5% alcohol. The cap of yeast though that makes a fino is the key to amontillado as well, however it is the inadequacy of such layer that makes the wine. Without this layer, the amontillado Sherry has to be fortified until it contains 17.5% alcohol, after which the Sherry is allowed to slowly oxidise in porous oak casks. The resulting Sherry is therefore darker in colour and richer in flavour than a fino.
The name for this type of Spanish Sherry comes from the Spanish region of Montilla, which is where the variety of Sherry originally began to be produced during the 18th century. However, sometimes the term is used to describe any Sherry that has a colour between a fino and an oloroso Sherry.
Amontillado is normally served chilled as is often drunk as an aperitif or to accompany food such as chicken or rabbit. This type of Sherry is much more stable than fino and can be stored for a few years before opening. Furthermore, if corked and refrigerated, an amontillado can keep up to two weeks.
Oloroso Sherry, which those of you who study Spanish will know means 'scented' or 'pungent' in Spanish, is a darker Sherry than amontillado as it is produced by a longer period of oxidation. This Sherry has a high glycerine content which tends to make it smoother and less dry in taste.
The yeast layer on the Sherry is suppressed earlier by fortification which then exposes the wine to oxygen. The ageing process leads to the wine becoming darker and stronger, and oloroso Sherries can often be left for decades to age fully. Oloroso is also used as the basis for other sweet Sherries such as Bristol Cream.
Olorosos tend to be served lightly chilled, at a temperature of around 12-14°C- Dry olorosos make great aperitifs while sweet olorosos are normally drank after the meal as a dessert wine. Oloroso Sherries can be stored for many years before opening and once opened, will last for around 2 months if corked and refrigerated. Older Sherries will keep for longer, some up to 12 months.
Palo Cortado is actually a rather rare variety of Spanish Sherry - only around 1-2% of the grapes pressed for Sherry naturally become palo cortado Sherries. This variety begins life as a fino or an amontillado thanks to the layer of flor yeast. However, to become a palo cortado, the Sherry must lose its layer of yeast and begin to oxidise. As a result, the wine is a mixture between the richness of an oloroso and the crispness of an amontillado.
'Palo Cortado' means 'cut stick' which refers to the mark made on the wooden cask when it is determined to be this style of wine. A fino would have a single line on the cask, and so the overseer would put a line through this one in order to make a cross. As time passes, additional wine may be added to keep the wine developing. Most measures means more lines hence the existence of denominations such as 'dos cortados' (2 cuts), 'tres cortados' (2 cuts) etc.
This type of Sherry should be served lightly chilled and works well as an aperitif. It is also a relatively stable type of Sherry which means it can be stored for a few years before opening and can be kept for a few weeks if it is corked and refrigerated.