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.
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.