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Sherry, Southern Spain's Iconic Wine

November 2017

You might have seen sherry popping up on menus around town. Jaleo, José's Spanish restaurant, has a whole sherry menu, and some of its cocktails include a splash of the stuff. Don't be intimidated if you don't know much about this famous southern Spanish wine - here's a primer to this perfect accompaniment to your tapas!

Sherry is made exclusively in the area around Jerez, in the southern Andalucían region of Spain (the name for the drink to Spaniards is jerez, after its homeland). All sherries start as wine - fermented grape juice - and are fortified with distilled alcohol to stop fermentation. Sherries are aged in barrels and are exposed to both natural yeasts and oxygen throughout their lives, giving them a wide range of flavors, from dry salinity to nutty toastiness to unctuous dried fruits. Most styles rely on a solera system of aging in which barrels of sherry are partially emptied and replenished, making each bottle a near-infinite blend of vintages. The flavor possibilities in a solera system are endless.

There are a range of sherries, depending on where they are made, how long they are aged, and the conditions of their lives. It can seem complicated, but with a little reading (and a lot of tasting!) you'll be ordering your favorite sherries with your tapas in no time.

Fino - These are the lightest sherries, dry, nutty, and a bit salty like the ocean. They are aged underneath a veil of yeast called flor. They are perfect with salty snacks and tapas - think olives and anchovies.

Manzanilla - A type of Fino, made exclusively around the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Proximity to the ocean makes Manzanilla bit more saline than other Finos, with a nice green apple fruitiness. Delicious with seafood - raw oysters or clams with a glass of Manzanilla will bring you right to the Atlantic coast.

Amontillado - Amontillado is aged under the flor for at least 3 years and is also exposed to oxygen, giving it a nutty, savory, caramelized flavor - a perfect pairing for the most famous southern Spanish soup, Gazpacho.

Palo Cortado - Palo Cortados are a mysterious breed of sherry, notable because the protective layer of yeast that covers an Amontillado inexplicably disappears. The process gives Palo Cortados a rich, salty complexity.

Oloroso - Oloroso is exposed intentionally to oxygen - usual a mortal sin in winemaking. This gives the sherry a deep, nutty, rich flavor. Oloroso can be absolutely stunning with blue cheese, and loves meat - jamón and oxtail especially.

Cream / PX - These might be the sherries that you think of when you think of the drink - sweet and a bit viscous. There are a variety of ways to make them, but most rely at least in part on PX grapes, that is, Pedro Ximénez. At their best, they are beautiful and rich, and are perfect with a cheese plate or on their own.

Now that you're a sherry aficionado, head to Jaleo and try them all!