The Styles of Dry and Sweet Sherry Wines
New styles of Sherry wines occur when the natural course of aging changes the character of a Sherry so that its taste no longer conforms to one of the two main categories (fino and oloroso). Deliberate sweetening of the wine also creates different styles.
Among dry Sherries, these are the main styles:
Fino: Pale, straw-colored Sherry, light in body, dry, and delicate. Fino Sherries are always matured under flor, either in Jerez or Puerto de Santa María. They have 15 to 17 percent alcohol and are best when chilled.
Manzanilla: Pale, straw-colored, delicate, light, tangy, and very dry fino-style Sherry made only in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Manzanilla is thus the driest and most pungent of all the Sherries.
Manzanilla pasada: A manzanilla that has been aged in cask about seven years and has lost its flor. It’s more amber in color than a manzanilla fina and fuller-bodied. It’s close to a dry amontillado in style, but still crisp and pungent. Serve cool.
Amontillado: An aged fino that has lost its flor in the process of cask aging. It’s deeper amber in color and richer and nuttier than the previous styles. Serve amontillado slightly cool and, for best flavor, finish the bottle within a week.
Oloroso: Dark gold to deep brown in color (depending on its age), full-bodied with rich, raisiny aroma and flavor, but dry. Serve them at room temperature.
Palo cortado: The rarest of all Sherries. It starts out as a fino, with a flor, and develops as an amontillado, losing its flor. But then, for some unknown reason, it begins to resemble the richer, more fragrant oloroso style, all the while retaining the elegance of an amontillado. Serve at room temperature.
Sweet Sherry is dry Sherry that has been sweetened. The sweetening can come in many forms, such as the juice of Pedro Ximénez grapes that have been dried like raisins. All the following sweet styles of Sherry are best served at room temperature:
Medium Sherry: Amontillados and light olorosos that have been slightly sweetened. They are light brown in color.
Pale cream: Made by blending fino and light amontillado Sherries and lightly sweetening the blend. They have a very pale gold color. Pale cream is a fairly new style.
Cream Sherry: Cream and the lighter milk Sherries are rich amorosos (the term for sweetened olorosos). They vary in quality, depending on the oloroso used, and can improve in the bottle with age.
Brown Sherry: Very dark, rich, sweet, dessert Sherry, usually containing a coarser style of oloroso.
East India Sherry: A type of Brown Sherry that has been deeply sweetened and colored.
Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel: Extremely sweet, dark brown, syrupy dessert Sherries. Often lower in alcohol, these Sherries are made from raisined grapes of these two varieties. As varietally labeled Sherries, they are quite rare today.
Some wines from elsewhere in the world, especially the United States, also call themselves Sherry. Many of these are inexpensive wines in large bottles. Occasionally you can find a decent one, but usually they’re sweet and not very good. Authentic Sherry is made only in the Jerez region of Spain and carries the official name, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry (the Spanish, French, and English names for the town) on the front or back label.