Ok, confession over- onward.
My friends most likely know that I'm a fan of Frasier. It's a funny show. I'm not ashamed. And, what do the finicky brothers Niles and Frasier drink ALL the time? Sherry (incidentally, their dad also dates a woman named Sherry for a while... coincidence?) But after all those years of watching, do you suppose people were wondering what Sherry is? Really? And what does it taste like? I'd tried it before in the past, but it never really left a huge impression- so I decided to do some more research.
Apparently, Sherry is seeing a rise in popularity- it is becoming a hip drink and mixologists are using it in cocktails a lot- who knew? So, to keep myself looking and feeling hip and trendy, here's my best attempt to explain and demystify Sherry-in a nutshell.
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near Jerez (if you wanna be snobby, you should pronounce it "hair-eth") in Andalusia in Southern Spain. It is impossible to universally classify Sherry because it is produced in a variety of styles made primarily from Palomino grapes. It ranges anywhere from light, acidic, dry versions (similar to white table wines,) such as Manzanilla and Fino, to darker and heavier versions that have been allowed to oxidize during barrel aging, such as Amontillado and Oloroso. Sweet dessert style Sherries are also made, usually from Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes. Cream Sherries are often quite sweet and syrupy- and subsequently, pretty popular.
Its winemaking process starts out pretty much like any other wine, but after it ferments, Sherry's alcohol content is increased by fortifying it with varying amounts of a grape-based spirit. It is then aged for specific amounts of time, depending on style. As the lower-alcohol sherries age in barrel, they develop a layer of yeast referred to as “flor” that imparts unique flavors and also keeps the wine from becoming totally oxidized. Sherries that are intended to be aged for a long, long time have more alcohol added initially, to stave off unwanted infections in the wine. As a consequence, most long aged Sherries don’t develop a layer of flor and will oxidize slightly over time, giving them a darker color and flavor complexity. Most Sherries are initially fermented to dryness, meaning that that the sweet versions have had sugar added back into them after fermentation is complete.
Now, here comes the really cool part- blending. Wines from different vintages are blended in such a way as to age the wine optimally, while keeping a level of uniformity from bottle to bottle. The blending and aging system used is called the Solera system and it goes pretty much like this: Let’s say we have 8 barrels, and over the course of 8 years, each barrel is filled with one year’s sherry. After the last barrel is filled, then the 1st barrel (the oldest) is tapped and a portion of it is removed and bottled (this would be the rare case of a Sherry being labeled with a vintage.) Then, the empty part of the 1st barrel is filled with sherry from the 2nd barrel (the second oldest,) and then 2 is topped up with sherry from 3, 3 from 4, etc, all the way down to barrel 8, which is then filled with new product. This step is repeated every year (or whatever aging interval is deemed ideal.) No barrel is ever totally emptied. This process can mean that barrel 1 could have traces of the very first sherry every made at the winery! This could go on for 50-100 years. As a consequence of this system, most sherries don’t have a vintage listed on the bottle. Pretty neat and complex, eh?
I think you should totally give Sherry a chance. It's so diverse, there's bound to be a style to suit everyone. Pick up a bottle of dry fino or oloroso to have with appetizers. They'll be surprisingly light and food-friendly. Then, top the night off with a sweeter dessert version like a cream- they're popular and easy to find!
Did you know?
Yeast is a fungus! Mmm. Fungus makes tasty treats!