Sherry is a fortified wine made in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Although fortified wines bearing the name of sherry are produced around the world, true sherry comes only from a demarcated region in Spain. There are three main centres of production - Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sherry is made using the solera system of topping off older wines with the more recently made sherry, so there are no vintage sherries and the quality is consistent year after year. As with any wine, however, sherry ranges from connoisseur quality to inexpensive mass-produced versions. True connoisseur's sherries are bottled after ageing in casks, but many commercial sherries are sweetened by the addition of the juice of raisins to which grape spirit has been added.
Sherries range in colour, flavour, and sweetness.
- Fino sherries are dry and light, and one delicate fino, manzanilla, has a hint of saltiness. These pale dry sherries develop a film of yeast culture called fior on their surface as they ferment in giant barrels called butts.
- In some barrels, though, the layer of fior consumes all the nutrients in the wine, dies out, breaks up, and sinks to the bottom of the butt; the colour of the wine then deepens through oxidation. This gives rise to nutty-flavoured amontillado sherries of medium sweetness. Amontillados are softer and darker in colour than finos.
- Some wines develop no fior at all and turn a deep, woody brown colour. These sweet oloroso sherries are fuller flavoured and darker than dry or medium sherries; they are aged longer and are more expensive, and are often labeled cream sherry.
Sherry can be consumed as an aperitif, or after dinner. Dry sherries are usually drunk chilled, sweet sherries at room temperature. Dry sherries are classically paired with salted almonds, olives, and anchovies, while sweet old olorosos match well with dark fruitcake or hard cheeses.
Opened bottles of sherry will keep for up to a month, so you don't have to consume the whole thing at one sitting. Which is a blessing, for sweet sherries in particular have been known to produce violent headaches when over-indulged in.