Types Of Sherry
Sherry is a wonderfully diverse fortified wine with a spectrum of different varieties that offer distinctive experiences. Typically, the various types of sherry are broken down into the following categories:
Scroll down to learn about each one or use the links above to jump ahead.
Dry Sherry Types
The vast majority of sherry consists or is derived from dry varieties that are made with the white Palomino grape. Depending on the ageing process, dry sherry is typically divided among the three following styles:
As above, you can use the links to jump ahead!
What Is Fino Sherry?
One of the most common and driest types of sherry, a Fino undergoes a unique ageing process where a layer of yeast forms on the surface on the wine inside the barrel. Referred to as “flor”, the yeast layer absorbs oxygen before it comes into contact with the wine.
As well as preventing exposure to oxygen, the flor reduces the wine’s acidity by converting its acids into aldehydes. As yeast dies when exposed to alcohol of over 16% ABV, fino sherry is kept at 15% ABV to ensure that it thrives.
Flor & Biological Ageing
If you want to learn more about the flor and its process, head to our guide on how sherry is made.
As a result of the ageing process, fino sherry is typically a pale yellow colour and retains its fruit flavours thanks to low exposure to oxygen. It will usually taste like apples and almonds while the flor lends hints of bread dough and biscuits.
Conversely, the low oxygen ageing process means that it is quite sensitive to air. Therefore, it is to be consumed young and can quickly spoil once opened.
Finally, Manzanilla is a variant of fino sherry that’s particularly light. It’s named after a chamomile infusion as its flavours are said to resemble the herb. It distinguishes itself by being made closer to the coast near the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
The higher humidity by the coast produces a thicker layer of flor, which decreases oxygen contact even further. You can also find Manzanilla Pasada, which has been aged for seven years just before the flor begins to naturally fade away.
What Is Oloroso Sherry?
Oloroso means “scented” in Spanish given that it does not use flor. The wine is instead fortified to over 17% ABV, which kills any residual yeast following fermentation.
Therefore, the sherry is entirely exposed to air inside the barrel in order to encourage an oxidative ageing process. As a result, Oloroso sherry is considerably darker than Fino varieties.
Similarly, its flavour profile will have taken on different characteristics. Typically, it reveals notes of dried fruits like raisins and prunes through long ageing while the oxygen imparts flavours of nuts and caramel.
Despite a higher alcoholic strength, the ageing process rounds the body and reduces its bite. Similarly, its long exposure to oxygen renders it more resistant to spoiling. Consequently, it will have a longer shelf life than Fino sherry and can be kept for longer once opened.
What Is Amontillado Sherry?
Although Amontillado sherry is essentially a compromise between Fino and Olosoro styles, it’s best covered last given that learning above the others provides essential context.
Amontillado first begins as a Fino where it has been fortified to between 13.5% and 15% ABV in order to create a layer of flor. After a period of ageing under the flor’s protective layer, it is then refortified to 17 to 17.5% ABV.
The added alcohol kills to flor and exposes the wine, which launches a process of oxidative ageing. Consequently, an Amontillado sherry will take on the flavours produced by the flor as well as contact with the air. This characteristic is reflected in its colour, which tends to be dark than Fino yet lighter than Oloroso.
Meanwhile, Palo Cortado is a somewhat rare variant of sherry. Initially produced as an Amontillado, its flor dies early, which results in a flavour profile closer to oloroso sherry.
Although Palo Cortado sherry can be made by accident, some producers will intentionally refortify a fino sherry earlier to create it.
Sweet Sherry Types
Sherry is best known as a dry fortified wine. Indeed, port tends to get the limelight where sweet fortified wines are concerned. You can also learn about it with our guides to port wine.
Nevertheless, Spain does produce a number of sweet sherry wines. However, it uses different techniques to port in order to create a fortified wine with a high sugar content.
First of all, the most common types of sweet sherry are typically referred to as “creams”. Despite the misleading name, cream sherries don’t contain any dairy products but are a blend of naturally sweet sherries and the varieties listed above.
Depending on the base used, a cream sherry will have one of three possible names:
- Pale Cream: Sweetened Fino Sherry (45 – 115 grams per litre)
- Medium: Sweetened Amontillado Sherry (5 – 115 grams per litre)
- Cream: Sweetened Oloroso Sherry (115 – 140 grams per litre)
Low-quality creams will usually resort to grape must or juice to sweeten the sherry. However, it is traditionally blended with either Pedro Ximénez (PX) or Moscatel sherry.
What is Pedro Ximénez Sherry?
Pedro Ximénez Grapes Under The Sun
These are named after their respective grapes, which are used instead of Palomino to make them. Before being pressed, these grapes are dried under the sun after the harvest. Consequently, their water content evaporates, which concentrates the sugars.
Compared to the blended creams listed above, a PX sherry is naturally sweeter at over 212 grams per litre, which is why it’s often used as a sweetener in itself.
Once fermented, the wine will contain a high level of residual sugars, which imparts a distinctively sweet character. It is then aged like an Oloroso, resulting in notes of dried fruit such as raisins, prunes, and figs.
Muscat of Alexandria, known locally as “Moscatel“, is a similar grape. However, its popularity has waned since the first half of the 20th century.
Sherry Age Statements
Unlike port, whisky, and other alcoholic spirits like cognac, sherry is rarely labelled with an age statement. Given the use of solera systems where the wine is transferred through a series of barrels, you can’t easily calculate the age of the resulting product.
However, sherry’s regulatory body does recognise two categories based on an average age of wine passing through a Solera:
- VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum): 20-Year Average Age Minimum
- VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum): 30-Year Average Age Minimum
Typically, sherry is aged for a minimum of two years in a solera system. Therefore, the above age statements are quite rare yet particularly sought after by connoisseurs.
Now that you have read about the different types of sherry, learn more about it with our resources: