Sherry: 12 Most Commonly Asked Questions

Sherry, once a drink of the past, has become highly fashionable in recent years. Here is our practical guide to sherry basics:




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Is Sherry a Wine?

Sherry is the English version of Jerez, a fortified wine made from white grapes made in the designated Jerez region in Spain. It can be made from three grapes. Palomino is the dominant grape, accounting for 95% of all sherry produced. Pedro Ximenez (PX for short) is used to make sweet sherry. Moscatel is generally used as sweetening.

What are the different styles of Sherry?

Sherry Basics Guide and Types

Fino and Oloroso are the two broad categories. Fino is fresh, tangy, and light bodied. Oloroso is intentionally oxidized giving it a nutty, fuller-bodied style.

A fino that is aged in Sanlucar is called Manzanilla. Compared to a typcial fino, Manzanilla has a greater salty tang. A fino that goes through extensive aging [3 years with flor plus 3+ years without flor] is called Amontillado. True Amontillado is bone-dry, amber in color with a rich, nutty flavor.

Palo Cortado is extremely rare, a fluke of nature (see below). It is Amontillado on the nose and Oloroso on the body.

Oloroso could also be aged. VOS means Very Old Sherry or Vinum Optimum Signatum, referring to sherry blends at least 20 year old. VORS means Very Old and Rare Sherry or Vinum Optimum Rare Signaturm for blends at least 30+ year old. Many of the VOS and VORS are highly sought by collectors and command ultra-premium prices.

How do I know if a sherry is sweet or dry?

Most sherries are traditionally crafted dry, with the exception of Pedro Ximenez. In the 1970s, Harveys of Bristol added sweetening and color to a base sherry to create a new style of Pale Cream sherry for the UK market.

  • Fermented Dry: Fino, Manzanilla (Fino aged in Sanlucar de Barrameda), Oloroso, and Palo Cortado.
  • Sweetener added to a dry base sherry: Pale Cream, Medium or Abocado, and Cream or Oloroso Dulce.
  • Fermented Sweet (no sweetener added): Pedro Ximenez, Moscatel.

What is the best serving temperature for sherry?

Different type of sherry has different serving temperature:

  • Fino or Manzanillo: 7-9ºC or 44-48ºF
  • Pale Cream: 9ºC or 48ºF
  • Medium or Cream: 10-12ºC or 50-54ºF
  • Dry Amontillado or Oloroso: 12-14ºC or 53-57ºF
  • VOS / VORS: 15ºC or 59ºF
  • Pedro Ximenez: 14ºC or 57ºF.

How long can I keep an opened sherry?

It is important to note that sherry has varying shelf life. For example, an opened bottle of Fino is best consumed within a week vs. an opened bottle of Oloroso VORS can be kept for up to a year. The below sherry guide summarizes the shelf life for different types of sherry.

Once opened, it is important to store delicate fino air-tight, in the fridge.

Sherry Serving Temperature Sherry Shelf Life

Do I store sherry on its side or standing up?

Unlike wines, sherry is best stored standing up to minimize the amount of air in the bottle. In addition, standing up would prevent its higher alcohol from drying up the cork.

Does sherry further age in bottle?

Unlike vintage port, sherry would not further age in bottle. Fresh sherry such as Fino is meant for immediate enjoyment. A VOS / VORS, though it would not age further in sealed bottle, does have a longer shelf life. See chart above for recommended drinking window.

What glassware to use when drinking sherry?

If you don't have a specially designed sherry copita, the best way to enjoy a good sherry is to use a tulip shaped white wine glass. Use a glass that allow the different notes to be funnelled to your senses. Avoid using a champagne flute like glass or a small sake like glassware.

What food pairs well with sherry?

Sherry goes well with so many dishes, from aperitif to desert partner.

Fino / Manzanillo Seafood. Oysters. Tapas. Vegetables. Cheese. Charcuterie. Olives.
Pale Cream Cake. Figs. Nutty desserts. Pears. Pear deserts.
Amontillado Cheese. Chicken. Game. Nuts.
Oloroso / Palo Cortado / VOS / VORS Beef. Lamb. Mushroom. Hard Cheese. Nuts. Pate. Soup.
Pedro Ximenez Ice cream. Chocoloate. Chocolate based deserts. Pecans and nut based deserts. Blue cheese.

Does sherry have a vintage?

No, most sherries go through a solera system where older wines are topped off with younger wines every year. A simple solera system could have 3-4 age groups of sherry butts. A complex solera system could have 14 or more groups.

What makes Palo Cortado so rare.. and expensive?

Palo Cortado is an amazingly delicious sherry made by a fluke of nature. The wine was originally pre-selected to be a fino or an Amontillado. For some rare reasons, the cask of wine did not develop or sustain its protective layer of flor yeast and ended up aging in an oloroso manner. Because of this, Palo Cortado has the elegance of an Amontillado with the power and body of an Oloroso. It is the rarest category of sherry. Extremely low production volume when it comes to single cask VOS / VORS Palo Cortado. Its uniqueness and rarity commands a larger market premium over a similar level Oloroso or Amontillado.

How is sherry made?

Like wines, grapes are harvested and fermented to get wine. Wines with more finesse is selected to make Fino; while coarser wine is destined for Oloroso style.

A neutral spirit is then added to the wine, generally fortifying a Fino to 15% and an Oloroso to 18%. The fortified wine is transferred to old barrels for maturation. Finos is matured under a layer of yeast, known as flor, which protects the wine against oxidation giving it a fresh character. Oloroso, on the other hand, is intentionally oxidized without the protective layer of flor thus resulting in a rich, nutty style.

Our final expert tips on sherry:

Even though most sherry label won't tell you when it is produced, don't despair. There is a way to tell. Look for Lot number. Most sherry houses follow the standard labeling code. For example, L3120. L refers to the lot. The first digit 3 refers to the year, 2013 in this case. The last 3 digits is the day of the year so 120 means the 120th day of 2013, or May 1, 2013.

As with wines, producers matter. We have listed the top sherry producers as well as some great value sherries here.

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