Different types of sherry

The Designation of Origen Jerez-Sherry goes hand in hand with diversity. Finos, Manzanillas, Olorosos, Palos Cortados, Amontillados, Creams… Sherry encompasses an incredible variety of colours, aromas and flavours, but many find it difficult to distinguish between the different types and definitions of these wines.

In this post we want to simplify things and describe the characteristics that define each different type of Sherry: A fantastic web of different blends of the region’s three white grape varieties (Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel), together with the different types of ageing and fermentation determines the different categories of sherry available on the market.

Venenciadora (wine waiter) serving Sherry

Why do different types of sherry exist? To answer this question we must first look at the two types of fermentation carried out in the DO.

The palomino grapes fully ferment, forming the “base wine”, a dry white wine with hardly any residual sugars. On the other hand, the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes are subject to the “soleo” process, which means that they become raisin-like in the sun before being pressed, which means that the grape musts ferment very slowly because of the very high concentration of sugars. In addition, the winemaker usually stops this fermentation by adding grape alcohol, fortifying the wine and resulting in extraordinarily sweet wines.

The winemaker’s decision to cap the alcohol content at 15% or allow it to reach over 17% affects the subsequent ageing, allowing them to develop or not develop a layer of “flor”, a yeast-like growth that helps protect the wine from excessive oxidation.

In summary, the combination of the Palomino and Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes, as well as the alcohol content of the latter two, produce different types of sherry: Generosos (Fino, Amontillado, Generoso and  Palo Cortado), Generosos de Licor (Pale Cream, Medium  and Cream), Dulces Naturales and Manzanillas.

We’ll take you through them:

Vinos generosos contain a maximum sugar content of 5 grams/litre. Their production process involves the complete fermentation of the palomino grapes, which allows a layer of “flor” to form, a yeast-like growth that helps protect the wine from excessive oxidation. Depending on how the winemaker decides to fortify these wines we get:

Finos de Jerez, for example the constantly spectacular Fino Maestro Sierra. Fino wines have a maximum ABV of 15% and age for at least three years using the traditional “criaderas y soleras” system (the traditional method of ageing in the designation of origin, which is why we talk about wines that don’t carry a specific vintage year and maintain the same quality year after year), under a cap of “flor”. These wines are bright, with sharp, dry and delicate aromas. They go perfectly with Iberian ham, fish and all types of tapas. It’s also worth pointing out the Manzanillas, such as the extraordinary Manzanilla Papirusa 1992, which follow the exact same fermentation process as the Finos, but are made exclusively in the region of Sanlúcar de Barrameda because of its special microclimate.

Amontillado. This sherry is the result of the fusion of biological and oxidative ageing. The production process is the same as that of the Finos, however  the wine continues to age in the barrel after the “flor” layer breaks, exposing it to oxygen. If you fancy discovering these wines which are full of almond nuances, you have to try Amontillado Escuadrilla, by bodegas Lustau.

Oloroso. This type of sherry has a high alcohol content, meaning that instead of ageing under the cap it ages oxidatively. These sherries give off warm, rich aromas. If you fancy delving into the Oloroso world we recommend Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia.

Palo Cortado. These sherries are a clear example of luck and the intuition of the winemaker. Palo Cortado is a rare variety of sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a fino or an amontillado but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an oloroso. Palos Cortados, like the excellent VORS Palo Cortado by Bodegas Lustau, combine the aromatic delicacy of amontillados with the richness and body of olorosos.

After the Generosos, come “generosos de licor” wines. These are blends of palomino generoso wines and naturally sweet Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez wines. Depending on the type of generoso base wine and the final sweetness of the blend we get:

Pale Cream sherries. These are made by adding concentrated must (only sugar) to fino and manzanilla sherry. They’re fresh and light, but less dry than the traditional generosos made from palomino grapes.

Medium. Medium sherries are made by adding naturally sweet wine (Moscatel o Pedro Ximénez) to amontillado wine. They’re normally a dark amber colour and exhibit strong, rich alcoholic aromas. They’re a great accompaniment for all types of paté.

Cream. These sherries are made in the same way as Medium sherries, but they are made from a base wine that has been aged oxidatively, normally an oloroso. These velvety, sweet, appetizing sherries work very well as an aperitif. We recommend trying the spectacular Alvear Solera Cream if you fancy exploring this type of sherry. 95 Parker Points for only €17.50!

And finally we come to the naturally sweet wines from the DO Jerez. As we already mentioned, these wines are made using the “soleo” technique, which means that they become raisin-like in the sun before being pressed. After being pressed, the wines produced have very high concentration of sugar, which makes these wines a dessert in their own right!

Our recommendation: Alvear Pedro Ximénez 1927. An absolute gem of a sherry, with no less than 96 Parker Points, at a price of only €10.75. No, we’re not joking!

Long live sherry!

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