Once a drink only enjoyed as an aperitif or as an after-dinner digestif, sherry - the fortified wine made from white grapes - is enjoying a heady renaissance.
"There's a sherry for every taste, every occasion and every moment of the day"
Most of us know sherry as the bottle we dust off at Christmas shindigs and sip sparingly from a thimble-sized glass, as it comes with a sweet, syrupy aftertaste and deep and dark mahogany colour. But if you thought this was the only variety of sherry, and the only way of drinking the Spanish tipple, you thought wrong.
Ranging from light to dark, very dry to super sweet and each perfected with different ageing processes, there's a range of sherries for 'every taste, every occasion and every moment of the day' according to certified sherry educator, Shawn Hennessey.
Shawn tells us: "Sherry is not only the most misunderstood wine in the world, it is also one of the most complex and versatile wines. Sherry enhances the flavours of our favourite dishes and offers pairings and sensations that other wines simply cannot."
One of the factors which makes this wine 'unique' is that you can only call a drink 'sherry' if it's made in the 'Sherry Triangle'. This refers to the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda in the province of Cadiz, south-western Spain.
Another unique factor of sherry is the different and rather complex ageing processes which help create dry and delicate sherries like Manzanillas and Finos to very rich and velvety types like Pedro Ximenez and Cream.
So as the countdown to Christmas begins, now's the time to fully understand the wine that we'll all be talking about from this festive season and beyond.
This type of sherry is only produced and matured around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which is known for its high humidity and cooler sea-air temperatures than those found inland. And it's these conditions that help to produce a higher yield of flor and gives it its distinctive taste.
In Spanish, chamomile tea is called 'manzanilla' so there are no surprises that this dry and fresh wine has flavours reminiscent of chamomile tea.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Shellfish, white fish, salted fish, caviar, olives and pickles, salted almonds, cured meats, asparagus, salads, cold soups, sushi and ceviche.
Finos are similar to Manzanillas as they are both aged in the same solera system (the maturation process of ageing sherry), however, the latter can only be produced in one area. Finos are bright straw yellow to pale gold in colour and are light, dry and delicate on the palate. It also usually comes with an aftertaste of almonds.
PAIRS WELL WITH: All of the above.
This type of sherry is an aged Fino which has been moved to another solera system to age oxidatively without flor for an additional 3 to 4 years and it's this process, which makes it 'extraordinarily complex'. It's darker in colour ranging from pale topaz to amber and it's distinctively nutty with hints of hazelnut and fine woods.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Cured meats, nuts, cheeses, smoked fish and white meats, soups and consommés, vegetables and mushrooms.
Often made from the second pressing, Oloroso is aged while exposed to oxygen and without flor, as it will be fortified to 17 or 18 degrees which makes it impossible for the yeast to survive. Due to evaporation the resulting oloroso will grow more concentrated and is often left for many decades to mature. According to Shawn it's 'warm, rounded, complex' and has 'powerful' and 'leathery aromas'.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Grilled meats, stews, game, tuna, mature cheeses, beef bourguignon.
This rare variety of sherry is originally created to become a fino or amontillado but 'inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins ageing oxidatively as an oloroso', according to the Regulatory Council of Sherry Wines. This could be down to the yeast behaving weirdly, specific abnormalities of the grape juice or a slightly off-beat cask. And all in all, only around one to two percent of the grapes pressed for sherry naturally develop into this variety.
Nonetheless, the finished product is perfect paired with mature cheeses and game as it has the richness of Oloroso and the crispness of an Amontillado.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Mature cheese, stews, game, stewed meats.
This, perhaps, is the most famous variety of sherry as it's known for its semi-sweet qualities. It's made from oxidative ageing and involves blending Oloroso with Pedro Ximenez. Ranging from chestnut brown to dark mahogany in colour, this wine has a dense syrupy appearance, is velvety in the mouth and has a well-balanced sweetness.
Pairing: Fois gras, paté, fresh fruit, flan, dates and almonds.
Another favourite in the world of sherry, the dark, ebony-coloured Pedro Ximenez, which has a velvety and syrupy aftertaste, is made from the overly ripe grapes of the same name. The grapes have been dried in the sun to obtain a high concentration of sugar and its ageing process is exclusively oxidative.
Paring: Ice cream, dark chocolate, strong cheeses, cheesecake.