What is Sherry? Your Guide to Sherry Wine!

Posted by Ann Brydle on
DipWSET, Certified Sommelier (CMS), Certified Sherry Professional, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar

The world of Sherry is diverse and complex! With endless styles, cocktails, and occasions to explore there’s sure to be something for everyone.

But of course, with endless diversity, the world of Sherry can be a bit tricky to navigate on your own. That’s where we come in! We’re here to be your Sherry guide, demystifying this unique drink and helping you discover your new favourite drink.

Lustau Don Nuno Oloroso, Harvey's Bristol Cream, Hidalgo La Gitana Napoleon Amontillado and finally, Tio Pepe, sherry wine bottles all lined up beside each other on a table

What is Sherry?

At its core, Sherry is a fortified wine from the southern tip of Spain, Andalucía to be exact. But this definition is far too diminishing! Sherry wines span a wide range of flavours and styles: from the tangy and dry Fino and Manzanilla to the nutty and oxidative Amontillado and Oloroso, and the sweet and luxurious cream Sherries.

Tio Pepe sherry wine bottle and two glasses

This area of Spain experiences extreme summers, with temperatures regularly exceeding 40C. This kind of climate doesn’t make for particularly interesting or tasty table wines, but it is the perfect backdrop to create complex and exciting Sherries through fortification, long ageing periods, and blending.

Sherries start off their life as a white wine that is rather neutral and bland, but after fortifying and ageing in neutral barrels with the help of a special type of yeast, they begin to transform into something totally different.

The Magic of Sherry

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Sherry is the use of Flor. This is a unique type of yeast found only in Andalucía that grows on top of wine as it sits in barrel, after the base wine has been made. This yeast creates a thick, protective layer over the wine that protects it from oxidizing and produces distinctive flavours of bread dough, salt, and almonds.

Sherry barrels in a cellar in Spain with a worked to the left side

Some Sherries are aged under Flor for just a few years before bottling, while others are aged for longer periods. These older wines will lose their layer of Flor and become oxidized; the colour deepens to amber or mahogany tones, and flavours of toasted nuts, coffee, and sweet tobacco evolve. Sherries aged under Flor are typically fortified to about 15% alcohol, while the longer aged Sherries are fortified to a higher level, around 18%.

Flor or no Flor, the lengthy ageing period takes place in a system of barrels, called a solera, that are blended together. As the wines age, the older barrels are continuously topped up with younger wines. This blending process develops complexity and nuance. Once each style of Sherry has aged for just the perfect amount of time, it is bottled and can be enjoyed straight away, or for oxidative styles, further aged in your cellar at home.

Sherry Styles

Fino & Manzanilla

These two Sherries are aged for less time than other styles and spend their entire time in barrel under a thick layer of Flor. They are pale in colour, light in body, with a dry and tangy taste that is very refreshing! These Sherries have flavours of briny olive, chamomile, lemon peel, and blanched almonds.

Oloroso

These Sherries are aged for much longer in barrel, and without the protection of Flor. They are darker in colour and richer in flavour with aromas of nuts, tobacco, baking spices, and caramel. They are dry but full bodied with a smooth mouthfeel.

Oloroso sherry bottle with cheese platter on a table cloth and wine glasses

Amontillado

This style of Sherry lies in between Fino and Oloroso, having spent some time ageing with Flor before finishing as an oxidative wine. It is heavier than Fino, lighter than Oloroso, and blends together fresh and tangy flavours with nutty and dried fruit notes.

Naturally Sweet Sherries

Some Sherries are made sweet by using grapes that have been dried, to concentrate sugars, then had their fermentation stopped early to preserve the natural sweetness in the wines. Moscatel is a sweet Sherry with pronounced floral notes, and PX is a dense, lusciously sweet Sherry with notes of dates, coffee liqueur, and liquorice.

Blended Sherries

These are sweet Sherries that are made by blending together dry wines with sweet ones. Pale Cream Sherry taste of Fino or Manzanilla with a delicate sweetness blended in. Medium and Cream Sherries will taste similar to Amontillados or Olorosos, but with a soft and sweet character that makes them perfect to serve alongside dessert.

Sherry and Food

Because there are so many styles and flavours of Sherry, it makes for an excellent pairing wine. The versatility of Sherry and food pairing is captured in the old adage of if it swims, pair with Fino, if it flies, pair with Amontillado, and if it runs, pair with Oloroso.

 Tio Pepe sherry wine bottle with fresh fruit and a cheese platter

Fino and Manzanilla make for great aperitifs, and match perfectly with all manner of salty foods, and of course nearly anything that comes from the ocean. Richer and more structured Sherries like Amontillado and Oloroso can both be served with bolder dishes or main courses that involve poultry or beef.

Sweet Sherries are an excellent complement to cheese platters, nutty desserts, or simply as a sweet treat to close out a meal.

Sherries to Try

These are a few of our favourites, but make sure to check out our online selection for more! We’ve made it even easier than ever to filter through our wide selection of sherry wine.

Harvey Sherry Bristol Cream bottle

Harveys Bristol Cream

A classic sweet sherry with the perfect balance of fig and nutty flavours and sweetness. Try this Sherry chilled with a squeeze of orange alongside hard cheeses or pecan pie.

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Tio Pepe Fino sherry bottle

Tio Pepe Fino

This Sherry is light and dry with a lemony, salty, and doughy flavour – a perfect match for salty snacks and appetizers.

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Lusau Don nuno Oloroso sherry wine bottle

Lustau Don Nuno Oloroso

Intense and complex flavours of dried walnuts, bitter cocoa, dried fruits, and toffee. This dry Sherry is a great match for hearty stews, braised meats, or earthy lentil dishes.

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Hidalgo La Gitana Napoleon Amontillado

Hidalgo La Gitana Napoleon Amontillado

Caramel, toasted peanuts, and a slight hint of brine make up the flavours for this mid-weight Sherry. It pairs best with roast chicken with a light gravy.

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