15 best sherries that are much more than just a Christmas tipple
This Spanish tipple is making a comeback, so here are the bottles we recommend you try
Once thought of as merely a Christmas staple, sherry is at last taking its rightful place in the wine world as a superb example of Spanish winemaking.
It’s standing in the wine world is perhaps best summed up in the subtitle of the newly published and wonderfully researched history of the wine by Ben Howkins Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! (Académie du Vin, £20).
It still has some way to go, but no other wine offers such quality, such flavour and such history at prices which are still eye-wateringly modest.
For those new to it, here’s a quick rundown of the different types of sherry, a fortified wine which officially can only come from a small area around Jerez in southern Spain known as the “sherry triangle”:
Fino: The classic dry sherry, pale in colour and a superb aperitif that has aged under a layer of yeast (or “flor”). In recent years it’s also been the basis for some splendid sherry cocktails.
Manzanilla: This sherry can only come from the seaside city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The flor is thicker and that salty coastal tang is evident in its taste.
Amontillado: A sherry that has been kept in the cask until the flor dies off, giving it a darker hue and a nuttier, less dry flavour.
Palo Cortado: This started life as a fino or amontillado until, for some reason the flor disappeared leaving a sherry that’s less dry but with more depth of flavour.
Oloroso: Either dry or sweet, this is a dark sherry with stronger more concentrated nutty and dried fruit flavours. A sherry to linger over.
Pedro ximénez: Unlike the sherries above which are made using the palomino grape, this is made using the grape which give this style its name, usually shortened to just “PX”. This sweet grape is left longer on the vine and then dried in the sun to an almost raisin-like state. Sweet and luscious it’s a superb dessert wine.
Finally, a word about the solera system used in the production of sherry. Huge casks are housed in ground-level wine cellars called bodegas. When wine is taken out for bottling it’s replaced by younger wine from the cask above.
The wine in this cask is then replaced in turn by wine from the cask above that and so on. So eventually, each cask contains a full blend of different vintages while maintaining a consistent style.
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Berry Bros & Rudd dry oloroso Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 18%, 75cl: £11.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
This is a dark and dry oloroso which should light up any winter’s evening. It’s made, as are all but the sweetest sherries, from the palomino grape it has a darker hue and more concentrated flavour than other styles, with notes of dried fruit, toffee and caramel and hot-cross-bun-like spices. “Oloroso” means fragrant, so be sure to swirl it round the glass and take a good sniff before sipping. It will double your enjoyment.
Bodegas Lustau fino en rama (2019 release) Puerto de Santa María, 15.5%, 50cl: £17.50 Berry Brothers & Rudd
If any sherry style can be considered “classic” then surely fino fits that bill. It is the driest and some would say the purest form of the sherry blender’s art. Doubly so in this case since it’s an “en rama” sherry, ie, a “raw” one taken straight from the cask without any additional treatment. Made from grapes grown in El Puerto de Santa María, one of the three towns in Spain’s sherry triangle it offers stringent peach and apple flavours with a long and savoury finish. The perfect aperitif.
Williams & Humbert dry sack fino sherry, 15%, 75cl: £10.21, Amazon
Bit of a history lesson here: sack is nothing to do the stuff people used to hump coal or potatoes in. It derives from the Spanish word “sacar” meaning to draw out which is what happened to the sherry before it was shipped to England back in the days of Shakespeare. Like all good finos, this is dry, distinctive and intense and at this price an absolute bargain from one of the sherry world’s great names.
De la Riva manzanilla fina Miraflores, 15%, 75cl: £21.50, Indigo
Manzanilla is similar to fino but because it’s produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the climate produces a thicker layer of flor (yeast) it results in a lighter, slightly zestier sherry. There’s also a slightly salty or saline note which is evident in this superb manzanilla from Casilla Verde family estate about 7km from the sea in Pago Miraflores Baja. From an organic bodega, it’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Gonzalez byass del duque VORS amontillado sherry, 21.5%, 37.5cl: £21.95, Whisky Exchange
For those who know Latin, VORS stands for “vinum optimum rare signatum”, and for those who don’t, “very old rare sherry”, the highest accolade a sherry can achieve. It signifies that it has been aged for at least 30 years, resulting in a beautifully textured and layered amontillado with notes of honey, nuts and dried fruit. You’re not just buying a bottle of sherry here, you’re buying history and heritage at a bargain price.
Croft Particular sherry, 17.5%, 100cl: £10, Sainsbury’s
There’s no doubting the popularity of this sherry staple from one of the big names. A market leader, Croft Particular is a pale dry fino that, with careful ageing, has acquired the smoother and softer character of an amontillado. It has a light and elegant taste and a medium dry sweetness, making it an ideal introduction to lighter forms of sherry for those new to the market.
Xeco fino, 15%, 50cl: £15.99, Xeco Wines
The founders of Xeco have an admirable aim. As three 30-something “fino fiends” they hope to introduce sherry to a new generation of imbibers by giving it a stylish and contemporary edge. So, teaming up with the already long-established Diez Merito bodega in Spain’s sherry triangle they have brought out a fino which not only looks good but also has that crisp and savoury taste which should bring in the punters. They’re also exploiting the fact that it can form the basis of a host of simple but effective and attractive sherry cocktails.
Pedro's almacenista selection amontillado, 19%, 75cl: £13.99, Majestic
With a label adapted from 1950s wine festival poster, you may think this is old school sherry. But there’s nothing old fashioned about this amontillado which in fact is an en rama sherry with minimal filtration. Nutty and fresh but mellow on the tongue this is a sherry to match with Manchego or Cheddar cheese or even pair with Asian or Japanese dishes.
Gonzalez byass apostoles palo cortado VORS, 20%, 37.5cl: £21.95, Whisky Exchange
We’re in VORS territory again here with a superlative palo cortado from Jerez. Palo cortado is a sherry that apparently occurs almost by accident. The flor or yeast layer that covers fino or amontillado sherries will sometimes disappear leaving a sherry that’s a cross between a fino and an oloroso. This example has been aged for up to 30 years resulting in a rich and textured sherry with hugely concentrated flavours. A mouthful of magic.
Don PX vino dulce de passas 2017, 17%, 37.5cl: £16.80, Indigo
Fancy something on the sweeter side? This PX comes from the Montilla region, north-east of Jerez where the grapes are dried under the hot sun. Sweet and raisin-like, they produce a wine which is rich in caramelised date, fig and almost-toffee-like flavours. Luscious and delectable, a little of it goes a long way.
Mil Pesetas cream sherry NV, 18%, 75cl: £12.99, Laithwaite’s
Cream sherries, usually of dubious origin, used to be the low point of Christmas visits to relations or neighbours. Sickly sweet and served in dusty glasses, it was a thing to avoid. But how things have changed. A product of the renowned Barbadillo bodega in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, this is a sweet sherry that sings out with flavours of nuts, dates, dried fruit and caramel. Serve slightly chilled with salted almonds as a refreshing aperitif or just enjoy it at room temperature with the odd mince pie or two.
Vino oloroso seco Alfonso De González byass, 18%, 75cl: £8.94, Wine Buyers
Golden amber in colour, this is a dry oloroso from Jerez which, like all good sherries, can be enjoyed with a variety of culinary delights, from salted nuts to creamy cheeses or a chicken liver pâté. Aged for eight years in the traditional solera system, it revels in concentrated hazelnut, walnut, fig and dried fruit flavours and is the perfect antidote to a chilly winter evening.
El Maestro Sierra amoroso medium, 19%, 37.5cl: £13.50, Indigo
A blend of palomino (90 per cent) and pedro ximénez (10 per cent) grapes that gets its romantic name from the story that local workers would stop at the bodega on their way home and ask for a bottle of oloroso with a touch of pedro ximénez, which they claimed made the wine taste more “amoroso”. One hopes this smooth, elegant medium-dry sherry with its flavours of caramel and dried fruit made their loved ones react the same way as Doris Day in the song “S’wonderful”: “You've made my life so glamorous, You can't blame me for feeling amorous.”
Deliciosa manzanilla 2019 en rama valdespino, 15%, 37.5cl: £12.95, Lea & Sandeman
This is a limited edition en rama manzanilla which has been lightly filtered to ensure it has that “straight from the cask” taste. Produced in the coastal area, it has that distinctive saline sea breeze tang along with deep flavours of green apples, almonds and pear. Served slightly chilled, it’s one to enjoy with a range of tapas dishes or Japanese sushi.
Manzanilla la goya delgado zuleta halves, 15%, 37.5cl: £8.25, Corney & Barrow
From the oldest family-owned winery in the Jerez and Manzanilla districts comes a sherry named after a famous flamenco dancer, Aurora Jauffre, popularly known as “La Goya”. Like her, it claims to be intense, powerful yet elegant, which would seem to be a pretty accurate description of this manzanilla with its citrus notes and hints of almonds and olives. Manzanilla is Spanish for chamomile and there’s evidence of that too in this dry and quaffable sherry.
The verdict: Sherries
No other fortified wine has such a wide range of styles to choose from at such attractive prices. And with half sized or three-quarter bottles available, there's nothing to go to waste, too.
We think the best buy has to be the Berry Bros & Rudd dry oloroso Sanlúcar de Barrameda, with it’s concentrated nutty flavours of fruit, caramel and spices. A world of sunshine in a glass. But if you’re looking for bone dry but elegant then the Bodegas Lustau fino en rama, the Williams & Humbert dry sack or the attractive newcomer Xeco fino all fit the bill.
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