Photo by Kelly Lawlor

Sherry is having a moment. Not only are Michelin-star chefs and sommeliers in love with this fortified wine from the Andalusia region of Spain, bartenders in North America are shaking it into drinks. “It’s more popular as an ingredient in cocktails in New York and Chicago than it is in its own country,” says sherry educator Chelsea Anthon, who works for the Sherry Wine Council in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

Like champagne in France, this is a style of wine that, to be called sherry, must be made in a specific area of southwest Spain known as the “sherry triangle”—formed by the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The designation is protected and trademarked by the Sherry Wine Council.

Sherry is made almost exclusively from the palomino grape, a neutral white grape that takes on the flavour characteristics of the region’s hot, dry climate and proximity to the salty Atlantic air. Its taste largely comes from its unique production method. The wine is fermented to optimal dryness, fortified with grape spirit and then aged in American oak barrels through a process called solera—a fractional blending system developed to keep sherry consistent across styles, and to ensure a small amount of older wine is part of each new bottle.

Though sherry comes in 10 styles—from dry to sweet—there are five predominantly dry varieties that chefs are pairing with food and bartenders are mixing into drinks. If a layer of yeast, called flor, develops on top of the wine in the barrel, the sherry ages without oxygen and becomes a Fino sherry, which is pale, dry and has a slightly yeasty taste. Fino aged on the coast in Sanlúcar de Barrameda is called Manzanilla and it carries a more floral and saline character.

If the flor develops, but then dies off, letting in some oxygen, you get Amontillado, which has notes of salted caramel. Sherry aged oxidatively without flor is called Oloroso, and is nutty, grainy and spicy—more robust overall. In between the latter two is Palo Cortado, which has the nose of an Amontillado, but tastes more like an Oloroso.
“Sherry is a food wine,” Anthon says. “It totally changes when you eat and that’s because it’s low in acid.”

She recommends pairing Finos and Manzanillas with tomato-based dishes, light cheeses and salty fish; Amontillados with chicken, chocolate and umami veggies such as asparagus or artichokes; and, Olorosos with stews, meats and heavy cheeses.

If you’re new to sherry, a good way to try it is in a cocktail. Bartenders favour Manzanillas and Amontillados in place of gin in a martini, or they’ll add a cream or Pedro Ximenez style in cocktails that call for sweet vermouth. And, sherry—which ranges from 15 to 22 per cent alcohol—is also being used as the base in a range of low-alcohol drinks.

Where to Drink Sherry Cocktails

Bar Clementine, photo by Shane Hauser

Bar Clementine, Edmonton

Manzanilla sherry brings a crisp salinity and lively nuttiness to Bar Clemintine’s Savoy, an approachable, yet complex, cocktail featuring vermouth, génépi (an herbal wormwood liqueur), parsley, olive, lavender and tonic.

Horsefeather, San Francisco

A twist on the classic Tuxedo cocktail, the Goodnight, Solitaire combines manzanilla sherry with apple-infused gin, kina aperitif (for a hint of bitter orange rind) and chrysanthemum.

Farola, Barcelona

The Farola Cobbler is an aromatic cocktail that mixes Oloroso sherry with elderflower liqueur and orange marmalade for a nutty and slightly fruitier twist on the original Sherry Cobbler.

[This story appears in the May 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]