A Beginner's Guide to Sherry

The illustrious Cole Larson at Metrovino. Believe or not, this picture was taken after tasting 6 kinds of sherry. 

The illustrious Cole Larson at Metrovino. Believe or not, this picture was taken after tasting 6 kinds of sherry. 

If you are like most people of a certain age, your opinion of sherry has been formed not by experience but by memories of your mother or maybe even grandmother drinking it on special occasions. Despite this lack of personal experience, you will agree when the drink connoisseur at the party explains how sherry is finally starting to have the moment it deserves, and you will nod enthusiastically when she says that there is a sherry for each course of a meal.

Although you grin and nod, the truth is, you live in complete and utter darkness when it comes to sherry.  We too once lived in this state of sherry ignorance, but we were lucky enough to have Cole Larson and Richard Harvey from Metrovino to elegantly guide us towards the light. 

Before we get into the particulars, we’ll start with the basics. Sherry is a fortified wine, most often made from the palomino grape grown in southwestern Spain. Sherry is produced in a solera system, which is comprised of tiered casks. Young wine is added to the upper casks to blend with the more mature wines kept in the lower casks. A “flor” forms on the top of the young wine, preventing oxidation.

We learned that sherry can range in profile from fresh and light to robust and rich and that there is a type for all your favourite dishes. Keep reading for a quick and dirty guide to shopping for and serving sherry. We hope that you are inspired to pick up a bottle to serve with one of your courses at your next dinner party.

INOCENTE FINO 

We began by tasting a fino, which is made by pressing palomino grapes right in the field after they are picked to prevent oxidation. 

Looks Like: 

Pale, golden colour. 

Profile:

Dry.

Tastes Like:

Almonds, fresh herbs, salt.

Drink With: 

The nutty flavour pairs well with anything salty, or smoked. Try serving this with salted marcona almonds,  olives,  or a firm cheese.

TIO DIEGO AMONTILLADO

The Amontillado sherry starts out as a Fino but then in cases where the flor fails to develop or dies, the ‘Capitaz’ decides it is time to fortify it. This prevents the sherry from further oxidation and allows it time to mature in the solera. 

Looks Like: 

Slightly darker appearance than a Fino, more amber.

Tastes Like:

Hazelnut, saline.

Profile:

Dry.

Drink With:

Manchego cheese, game and meat terrines, and rich pork dishes.

Contrabandista Amontillado

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The Contrabandista is considered off-dry, which means that it has just a hint of residual sugar. The sugar is a judicious amount of Pedro Ximénex added into an Amontillado base. This one was a team favourite with by far the coolest label.

Looks Like:

Amber. 

Tastes Like: 

Has a saline, nutty quality like the Tio Diego but it is slightly richer with a hint of sweetness.

Profile: 

Off-dry.

Drink With: 

Richer dishes with a touch of sweetness such as veal marsala, any small game birds such as pheasant or quail or duck.

ALMACENISTA OLOROSO BY LUSTAU

Oloroso means ‘scented’ and its easy to see why, this sherry is incredibly aromatic and much more robust and full-bodied than the Fino styles. 

Looks Like:

Dark Amber. 

Tastes Like:

Hints of spice and nuts. 

Profile:

Dry but can be sweetened to make a cream style sherry.

Drink With: 

To match the power of this bad boy, serve with heavier dishes like pork chops, red meat, stew, or  anything caramelized. 

 

ISABELA CREAM 

The Isabela Cream was our first foray into a sweeter style of sherry. A cream is typically an Oloroso blended with another grape called Pedro Ximénez, which you will learn a little bit about next. 

Looks Like:

Syrupy and amber appearance.

Profile:

Sweet

Tastes Like:

Hints of nut and caramel. 

Drink With: 

Sponge cake or any cake-like dessert.

PEDRO XIMÉNEZ

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By the time we reached the end of our sherry tasting, I had to grown to appreciate how different each variety could be. I was incredibly happy to try the Pedro Ximenez which is a lusciously dark, sweet and concentrated sherry. 

Looks Like: 

Very dark and very syrupy.

Tastes Like: 

Heaven. Or, sweet with hints of dried grapes. 

Profile:

Sweet.

Drink With: 

This sherry could be consumed on its own and be a completely respectable end to your meal. Or, you could up your game by serving with some dark chocolate or drizzling over your favourite vanilla ice cream. 

All of these fine sherrys can be found at Metrovino in Calgary, AB. 

All of these fine sherrys can be found at Metrovino in Calgary, AB. 

If you wish to learn more, Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla: A guide to the traditional wines of Andalucia by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin is the definitive book on sherry. Or go scoop up any of the bottles above from our friends at Metrovino located at 722 11 Avenue Southwest, Calgary, AB.