Sherries are wines that are fortified with brandy.
Sherries range from dry to sweet in taste; the pale-coloured ones are dry, the dark ones will be sweet. Brits have preferred sweet styles, the Spanish have preferred dry. Brits are now, though, acquiring a taste for dry. Sweet ones are better after dinner. Dry ones can be used before dinner to accompany appetizers, canapes and tapas.
Dry Sherry (labelled “fino”) is good in savoury dishes and sauces. It is allowed to age in casks with a layer of white yeast on top to prevent oxidization. It is very pale in colour, with a tang to the taste that vaguely reminds some people of the tang that green olives have. To drink, serve chilled from the fridge.
Manzanilla is another dry, “fino” style dry sherry, also pale in colour and aged with a yeast layer on top, with a hint of a refreshing salt tang to the taste. Traditionally, it’s made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, up the coast a bit from Jerez, Spain. It’s good with smoked fish such as salmon, pickled fish such as mackerel or eel, grilled fresh sardines, seafood, slices of Spanish ham, manchego cheese, chorizo sausage, etc. To drink, serve chilled from the fridge.
Manzanilla is more delicate than fino. A fino sherry is more robust.
Amontillado lies mid-range between Dry and Sweet Sherries, making it a more versatile bottle to have on hand for cooking. In fact, if you’re going to have one bottle on hand for general use, Amontillado is a good choice. Amontillado is allowed to age for a bit with the yeast layer on top, but then the yeast layer is deliberately killed off. It is darker in colour, and nuttier tasting than fino or Manzanilla.
Light Sherries are Manzanilla, Fino and pale Amontillado. These are best served straight from the bottle, very chilled. They are good with salty foods, and some say with Indian food. The bottle should be drunk within a week of opening.
Heavier, richer Sherries are Oloroso and Amontillado. Oloroso is good with cheese. Serve either room temperature — cool, but not chilled. After opening, the bottle should be used up within a few weeks.
Use Sweet Sherries in desserts.
There is a Sherry called PX Sherry (Pedro Ximénex) that is so sweet that it is fantastic on ice cream. But don’t chill PX first, or it would be almost too hard to pour from the bottle. It’s dark brown, with a taste that hints of molasses and raisins.
Cream Sherry was created for British tastes for sweet sherry. It is made by mixing different types of sherries together. Serve chilled.
You don’t decant sherry.
A dash of Sherry in scrambled eggs will make them a totally different dish; people will rave about them.
To jazz up a pound cake, cube it, place cubes in dishes, drizzle with Sherry and serve topped with whipped cream.
For Dry Sherry, you can substitute dry white vermouth (aka French Vermouth). For Sweet Sherry, try sweet red vermouth (aka Italian Vermouth).
Dry Sherry will deteriorate more quickly than sweet once opened. Sherry will last longer in a resealable cork-top bottle than in a decanter: in a decanter, it is good for three to four weeks tops. If a Sherry goes cloudy, it isn’t good for drinking, but still fine for cooking.
Sherry was originally made only in the southern tip of Spain, where the soil is chalky.
Literature & Lore
“A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use.” — William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616. Henry IV, Part 2. Act 4, Scene 3.)
The word “Sherry” comes from the name of the port in Spain, Jerez, from where it was mainly exported from at one time.
Beckett, Fiona. In praise of sherry. Manchester: The Guardian. 19 February 2011.
Moore, Victoria. Why you should serve sherry. London: Daily Telegraph. 14 April 2011.