As we approach the end of the year I am happy to have ticked off some foodie resolutions for 2023. One of these resolutions was to attend a sherry tasting which I did last month when Fion Wines held an event at Mistral in Leith.
I started appreciating fortified wine a couple of years ago, but my knowledge of the topic was limited to two styles - Fino and Oloroso.
The ‘Veil of Flor’ masterclass curated by Miguel of online store Fion Wines, presented the opportunity to learn more about sherry’s different expressions and the production process.
Historically and legally, the label ‘sherry’ meant the drink had to be produced in the ‘Sherry Triangle’; an area in Andalucia bounded by Jerez, Sanlucar and El Puerto de Santa Maria. However since October 2022, wineries outside the triangle but that complete the process in its premises entirely will also be protected by the DO.
Sherry is produced using three white grapes Palomino (most commonly used to craft dry sherries), Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez (for sweet sherries, even though dry wine can be made out of them too).
Biologically aged wine aged in oak casks are never full as a couple of inches are left empty to allow the development of a layer of yeast know as the veil of flor. This flor gives sherry its distinctive flavor (fresh with notes of bread crust celery, chamomille, and a sharp mouthfeel).
There are many styles of sherry, but what determines them is the fortification and the type of aging.
If the wine is fortified up to 15% ABV and aged completely under the veil of flor (called biological aging), then you will get Fino or Manzanilla sherry. Amontillados are born once that veil of flor disappears (naturally or because the wine was re-fortified) and the wine is in contact with oxygen. If fortified up to 18%, the veil of flor cannot develop and you will get Oloroso or a Palo Cortado. The former have a lighter color and dry flavor, while the latter have a darker color and a richer, nutty taste.
The traditional aging of the sherry is based on a solera/criadera system and I am still getting my head around it. Barrels of sherry are placed one on top of each other (criadera) with the youngest harvest on the top and the oldest on the bottom (solera). The sherry is then periodically blended from barrel to barrel with a portion of the youngest criadera (tier) going to the next tier and so on until the most aged is reached at the bottom. There is a good explanation of the system here.
These sherry lessons were not delivered on an empty stomach as we paired our wines with small dishes provided by Mistral Wine Bar.
My favorite sherries were Primitivo Collantes, Ceballos, Fino and Fossi, Amontillado.
As Christmas was approaching, I asked Miguel for some seasonal pairings:
- Manzanillas may follow the same production method (biological aging) as Finos, but in most cases Manzanillas are lighter, fresher, with a feel of the Atlantic breeze. For this reason, I recommend drinking Manzanillas with a salmon terrine or a mackerel/sardine paté.
- Finos tend to be a bit more textural than Manzanillas so we can add a bit of a bite to our dishes. Try it with battered cod, hake, or haddock, as it will cut through the fatty and oily mouthfeel. They work with charcuterie too.
- Manzanilla Pasada or Fino Amontillado: Thesemstyles are old-ish Finos or Manzanillas whose veil of flor starts to weaken letting the oxygen enrich the character. Try a nice pan-roasted fillet of turbot with a buttery sauce, or lobster thermidor. Good also with Brussels sprouts!
- Amontillado: despite the oxidative aging, but they still retain a fresh mouthfeel as a result of previous years aging under the veil of flor. Ducks, pheasants, guinea fowls, and... why not your turkey or goose roast! If you are vegetarian, pair with roasted cauliflower in brown butter and hazelnuts. Mushroom-based dishes are also great with amontillado.
- Oloroso / Palo Cortado: these are full-throttle sherries (big in ABV and super textural) that can easily stand up to the challenge to match with meat roasts and stews: beef cheek, oxtail, lamb shank...
- Moscatel: The most forgotten of all the sherries can be paired with panettone or a classic fruity trifle.