Anyone with even a fledgling interest in drinking wine would have probably gone through their untempth delivered-to-your-doorstep bottle by now. Sherry, however, remains wine’s underappreciated, massively understood cousin. We’re not talking about the Bristol Cream that’s been sitting at the back of your grandmother’s cabinet since the Great War, but bottles meant to be drunk like — and made with the same care as — fine wine. The Spanish fortified wine is, well, wine after all; and we’re here to make a case for it.
“Not a lot of local people buy sherry unless they’ve been to Spain and experienced it. Those are more open to trying the different categories,” shares Inflorecense Asia’s Tan Meng Teck, a Singapore-based winemaker, distributor, and sherry enthusiast.
(Related: This is the new wine list)
For one, sherry makes an excellent pairing choice for many Asian dishes. With a nuttiness similar to Shaoxing wine and a relatively high alcohol percentage, it’s an ideal companion for the spicy, intense flavour profiles of many Asian cuisines. This is especially true for the ones heavy on umami — a flavour profile that’s generally accepted to be difficult to pair with wine. “Spicy curries, sushi, and sashimi all work particularly well with sherry. One very good pairing is prawn paste chicken with a light to medium sherry,” shares Tan.
Sherry also keeps significantly better than wine thanks to its higher ABV and — in the case of heavier styles like amontillado and oloroso — its oxidative nature. If you’re only having the occasional glass, that means no more half-drunk Chablis painfully deteriorating in the fridge.
Some of the most compelling bottles of sherry that Tan has for sale include those from Equipo Navazos, a company – not estate – that started out as a group of lovers and connoisseurs of Andulusian wine. Much like how independent whisky bottlers work, Equipo Navazos selects particularly interesting, and exceptional casks from all over sherry-producing regions to bottle directly, with minimal filtration or clarification — both of which are rarely missing with most sherries.
Serving and keeping sherry
To serve, Tan recommends to treating sherry like you would white wine — lighter styles like fino sherry should be drunk at the same temperatures as one would sparkling wine: about 8°C; while richer styles should be had at about 14º C. If you’re drinking quality product, it makes sense to be able to fully enjoy it — drink sherry out of proper glassware like a universal glass or a tulip-shaped copita. For those unused sherry’s flavour or even ABV, rebujito cocktails are also a popular way to consume the wine –simply add ice and a splash of soda or tonic water to your fino sherry.
Unlike wine, sherry rarely improves with age in the bottle, and should be stored upright to minimise contact with oxygen. Once opened though, bottles tend to keep much better, after re-capping and storing them in the fridge. “I’ve left bottles in the fridge for up to a few months and they were actually OK,” shares Tan. As a general rule of thumb, the lighter a sherry is, the shorter its shelf life.
A brief guide to sherry styles
Like most categories of wines, sherry has its own fairly complex system of rules classification governing everything from style of production to appellations. Most sherries are made with the Palomino grape, although there’s also a small amount made with Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel — primarily sweet styles. Grape must is first fully fermented before being fortified with a neutral grape spirit. All sherries are solera-aged, with two recognized average age categories: VOS for a minimum of 20 years; and VORS for a minimum of 30 years.
The driest and most delicately-flavoured style of sherry. Fino sherries are made by aging wines between 14.5-16 per cent ABV in partially-filled barrels under the right conditions. A layer of yeast called flor forms on the surface of the wine, protecting it from oxygen, preserving its fresh, bright flavours, and imparting a bread-like characteristic to the wine. Manzanilla sherry is a type of fino, made under the Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda DOP — a coastal region where the high humidity, low temperatures , and salt air lends the product a thicker flor cap, fresher flavour, and a saline quality.
This style of sherry starts off like fino with a layer of flor. The flor is then removed — either by design or because it dies off on its own for whatever reason — and the sherry is allowed to age with exposure to oxygen. This creates a wine with some of the oxidative characteristics of an olorsso, but also some of the levity of fino, giving it a unique complexity.
Perhaps the least common, and most ambiguous category, palo cortado sherry is basically an amontillado that’s spent less time under flor — creating a wine that’s close to a delicate, lighter oloroso. Because it spends less time in contact with flor compared to amontillado, Palo Cortado sherries will also have a heavier body because the yeast hasn’t consumed all the glycerol — which contributes to body and a perception of sweetness — in the wine.
Because its fortified to a high degree at an early stage, wines destined to become oloroso sherry never form a layer of flor, allowing it to age in its barrel for a long time oxidatively, developing nutty, complex flavours.
These are usually made with Pedro Ximénez (PX) or moscatel grapes. PX (which is also the name of the resulting wine) is made from partially dried grapes, creating an intensely sweet must that only ferments to a very small degree before being fortified. Cream sherries – which is probably best associated with that “grandmother’s tipple” – are created by blending any of the wines mentioned so far, usually oloroso with PX, to create a semi-sweet product.
Browse Inflorecense Asia’s sherry portfolio here.