Yesterday, I wrote about how sherry pairs well with Chinese cuisine, in part because of its resemblance to the shaoxing rice wine of China. Today I offer this brief guide to the various types of sherries and some of the better ones available here in the United States.
Sherry 101: The Versatile Wine
Fino and manzanilla are essentially the same except for one difference that is the stuff of sherry legend: Finos are produced inland, in Jerez de la Frontera, while manzanillas hail from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the sea air off the Atlantic Ocean reputedly imbues the wines with a delicate saline character. Served well chilled, these wines are marvelous aperitifs, and they pair well with salty and briny foods, such as olives or shellfish.
Amontillado is the stuff of Monty Python legend. It is essentially an aged fino that has been fortified to at least 16 percent alcohol, a level that kills off the flor and exposes the wine to oxygen. The wine turns slightly amber and develops more complexity. Pair it with mildly flavored fish, chicken or pork dishes.
Palo cortado is a fairly rare sherry that falls between amontillado and oloroso in style,
sort of a misfit that matures into something wonderful. It is quite versatile with food, as it
straddles the two styles.
Oloroso is darker and fuller-bodied than amontillado, due to greater exposure to
oxygen. Better examples are labeled “dry,” though most have some sweet wine blended
in. They feature pronounced flavors of hazelnuts and dried orange peel, and match well
with spicier foods and soy sauce-based dishes.
Cream sherries are indistinctly sweet, not really for dinner, not quite dessert either.
Sweet sherries, either from Pedro Ximénez or muscat grapes, can be rich and honeyed,
These sherries are listed in order of preference within the following categories:
manzanilla, fino, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso and dessert. Because sherries are
blended, there typically is no vintage listed.
Bodegas Hildalgo “La Gitana”
Manzanilla, $13 (500 ml)
The leading manzanilla in the United States, La Gitana features delicate, briny flavors
and impeccable balance. Bottling date is indicated on the back label; look for one
bottled within the year.
This wine is a bit darker and richer than La Gitana, as is the Lustau style across the
board. Nutty, briny flavors pair well with salty foods and lighter seafood dishes.
This offers a bit more power and nuttier flavors than the Lustau manzanilla, with a long
finish. The bottling date is shown by a four-digit code, the first digit indicating the year,
the others the day. So “8002” would have been bottled on Jan. 2, 2008, the second day
of the year. With fino and manzanilla, fresher is better.
This wine hails from Spain’s Montilla region, next to Jerez, the traditional sherry area. It
is fruitier than finos from Jerez, with bright, fresh flavors and excellent balance.
Alvear “Carlos VII”
Amontillado, $20 (500 ml)
From a top producer, this wine shows a bright color with hints of orange; a fine, complex
nose of dried orange peel and marcona almonds; and sweet candied-fruit flavors
leading to a dry, complex finish.
This amber wine hints of dried fruit and roasted, salted nuts, with fine complexity; it is
the most versatile wine with a Chinese meal.
Lustau “Los Arcos”
An excellent amontillado, featuring the nutty flavors and light body of a fino, with hints of
candied fruit that come with additional aging and exposure to oxygen in the cask.
Palo cortado, $21
Combining the best of amontillado and oloroso, this vibrant wine’s candied fruit and nut
flavors match beautifully with soy sauce, star anise and ginger in the heartier dishes of
Lustau “Don Nuño”
Rich and full-bodied, yet dry, this wine is a nice match for beef dishes with orange peel,
ginger and hoisin seasonings.
An unabashed dessert wine, this tastes of candied orange peel glazed with honey. It’s
delicious by itself and excellent paired with creme brulee or other custard desserts.
* Very good