Jane Parkin­son says spring is the ideal time for sherry

Ex­plore the many ex­cit­ing styles of sherry this sea­son. Jane Parkin­son makes a case for this for­ti­fied wine – and its suit­abil­ity to spring – and shares 12 star ex­am­ples.

Halliday - - Contents -

I’m just as happy with a glass of for­ti­fied wine on a cold win­ter night as the next per­son, but I’m also in­creas­ingly keen to see these wines saved from be­ing en­joyed in only one sea­son, as they sadly so of­ten are.

Sherry’s sea­sonal pi­geon­hol­ing is per­haps the most crim­i­nal of all for­ti­fieds, given its vast ar­ray of styles; it’s di­verse enough to suit any sea­son – and spring best of all. It of­fers ev­ery­thing from zingy re­fresh­ment for those warm spring days to cosy hug-in-a-glass rich­ness for chilly spring evenings, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. What’s more, sherry is firmly back in fash­ion now, thanks to the world’s love of share plates, which have been in­spired by tapas. Sherry is a nat­u­ral bed­fel­low with this way of din­ing and its many flavours and tex­tures be­cause it also cov­ers all these bases.

Granted, though, sherry’s shop­ping list of styles can mean there’s quite a lot to get your head around, es­pe­cially with the mod­ern sherry in­dus­try’s de­vel­op­ments, but more on that later. The grape va­ri­eties are sim­ple enough – it’s largely made from one rel­a­tively neu­tral-flavoured grape called Palomino Fino. But there are two oth­ers: Pe­dro Ximenez plays a very im­por­tant sup­port­ing role when it comes to mak­ing sweeter sher­ries, as does Mosca­tel, but to a much lesser de­gree.

The light­est sherry styles, both in flavour and al­co­hol, are Fino and Man­zanilla. They are the ul­ti­mate in salty, zingy, bone-dry re­fresh­ment, plus they make a killer match with fried seafood.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween them is a ge­o­graph­i­cal one, with Fino com­ing from the in­land com­mer­cial hub of the

sherry busi­ness Jerez de la Fron­tera, while Man­zanilla is made in the coastal town of San­lu­car de Bar­rameda. The prox­im­ity to the coast is what stands Man­zanilla apart from Fino, giv­ing it an even greater de­gree of salty zing.

These par­tic­u­lar styles have created a new sherry buzz in re­cent years thanks to its an­nual lim­ited-edi­tion re­lease of En Rama Fi­nos and Man­zanil­las. En Rama [mean­ing ‘raw’] wines have been bot­tled af­ter be­ing drawn straight from the bar­rel in the bodega. They aren’t fined or fil­tered to re­move those un­harm­ful bits float­ing around the bot­tle. In­stead, En Rama de­liv­ers the sherry in its purest state. It’s be­come a bit of a cult ini­tia­tive for in-the­know wine drinkers in re­cent years as it gives these su­per-dry sher­ries a slightly chewier tex­ture as well as an ex­tra boost of flavour, which might oth­er­wise have been stripped out dur­ing fin­ing or fil­ter­ing.

While Amon­til­lado, Palo Cor­tado and Oloroso can all ei­ther be dry or sweet de­pend­ing on their styles (check the la­bel be­fore buy­ing), an­other trend com­mon­place among them is the re­lease of wines from al­macenistas (sherry store­houses) that can be as small as a cou­ple of bar­rels knock­ing about in some­one’s garage. There is real ca­chet and value at­tached to these smallscale wines nowa­days, and they have been given a new lease of life as they’re in­creas­ingly un­earthed by es­tab­lished sherry bode­gas that then re­lease them un­der their own brand, even though they usu­ally credit the al­macenista too. I have never tasted a dis­ap­point­ing al­macenista sherry to date.

The mod­ern sherry scene also now in­cludes a shelv­ing of the tra­di­tional age­ing pe­ri­ods for par­tic­u­lar styles. It used to be that Fi­nos and Man­zanil­las would be aged for four years or so be­fore be­ing re­leased, and Amon­til­la­dos seven to eight years, build­ing up to a good 20 years or so for an Oloroso. But as some of the wines se­lected here show, the clas­sic age­ing pe­ri­ods have gone out the win­dow across the var­i­ous styles and, in­stead, the bode­gas fol­low their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of how that sherry style should be.

All these de­vel­op­ments show this pocket of for­ti­fied wine from south-west Spain is keep­ing its hall­mark tra­di­tional flavours while be­ing bold enough to ex­per­i­ment. From what I have seen so far, it’s usu­ally with ex­tremely im­pres­sive re­sults. So let’s cel­e­brate the bode­gas that have bro­ken with tra­di­tion for the bet­ter and get these sher­ries out there. There’s no bet­ter time than spring.

Sherry’s sea­sonal pi­geon­hol­ing is per­haps the most crim­i­nal of all for­ti­fieds, given its vast ar­ray of styles; it’s di­verse enough to suit any sea­son and spring best of all.

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