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2017-01-01 / Wine Notes

Oh Sherry, Baby!

Robert D. Richards, CSW


At one time it seemed that only characters in soap operas drank Sherry. Its utility was limited to punctuating a particularly dramatic twist. Today, the fortified quaff from southern Spain is making a comeback, and not just on the set of The Young and the Restless.

Sherry comes from a region near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. Made primarily from a white grape that grows there called Palomino, the wine initially is fermented dry. Grape spirits are then added to increase the alcohol levels.

The aging process is what gives Sherry its uniqueness and its classification. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries reach alcohol levels of 15 to 16 percent and age in barrels under a protective yeast coating called flor. Flor keeps out oxygen, and that barrier helps to maintain the freshness and color of the wine, along with a touch of salinity. These wines are lighter in style and less complex.

With Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries, flor is eliminated either naturally, in the former, or by the winemaker, in the latter. Here the goal is to permit oxidation, which contributes to the darker color and more savory or earthy notes. Alcohol levels in these wines rise to 17 to 18 percent.

Sherries also use the solera system of aging and blending. Solera is a complex system of fractional blending — the organized transfer of younger vintages into casks of older vintages on a rolling basis prior to bottling. For that reason, you don’t see a vintage (year) on bottles of Sherry because they are a blend of wine taken from casks from different years. Here’s a sampling of what’s available in the state stores. •SCM

Gonzalez Byass Cristina Oloroso Abocado (#38138, $18.99)
With caramel and toasty, nutty qualities, this Sherry has the characteristic hint of salt.

Bodegas La Cigarrera Manzanilla(#30529, $11.99)
The influence of the ocean affects the flor (protective yeast) and gives it a salty note.

Alvear Oloroso Asuncion(#11545, $28.99)
This toasty, nutty, rich golden-colored Sherry has great aging potential.


Robert D. Richards, CSW, is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and has passed the first-level certification of the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers.

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