Dry Sherry, Parte Dos. May the Flor be With You.
Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasada, Amontillado and Palo Cortado
In Parte Uno of discovering dry Sherry, we met Fino and Oloroso. These are entirely different from each other yet they originate from the same base wine. The essential difference between them is that their creation is either by ageing biologically with flor (Fino) or by ageing with air (Oloroso).
But dry Sherry styles don’t stop with those two because more forms come from differences in location and manipulations in the Solera. Consequently, let’s meet Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasada, Amontillado and Palo Cortado.
This article has been updated and republished in anticipation of International Sherry Week 2023, which runs from 6-12 November. Recommendations, prices and stockists shown are for September 2023.
Manzanilla is a variation of the Fino style. While these are similarly made, Manzanilla is saltier and more savoury in flavour with a lighter colour. The difference is down to geography. Manzanilla is from the coastal town of Sanlúcar, not Jerez.
Some claim that the difference is because the coastal breeze at Sanlúcar gives Manzanilla a salty tang, but that is fantasy. Instead, Sanlúcar’s seaside location is much cooler and more humid. Those conditions enable a thicker flor covering throughout the year, creating a saltier flavour. At Jerez, which is inland, the flor tends to die back during the intense dry heat of summer.
Accordingly, Manzanilla is best well-chilled and drunk with similar food to Fino. And just like Fino, Manzanilla producers now release En Rama unfiltered versions in limited quantities.
Amontillado and Manzanilla Pasada
Another Sherry style is called Amontillado. These wines start as Fino, so flor initially influences them. However, they spend much longer in the Solera, usually at least fifteen years. At seven to ten years, the wine in the solera lacks the nutrients the flor needs, so it dies. The wine becomes exposed to air at this point, so oxidation takes over the maturation. The wines gradually darken to an amber in colour and develop new flavours and aromas of nuts and butter. Many of these wines can age in solera for decades.
In short, an Amontillado is a Fino aged long enough to develop mild Oloroso flavours. Amontillado varies in the balance of Fino and Oloroso flavours according to how long the Sherry producer ages them. This Amontillado style is also made with Manzanilla at Sanlúcar to create Manzanilla Pasada, which is more buttery than Amontillado.
Amontillado and Manzanilla Pasada are versatile with food, excellent with Tapas or the Spanish ham, pata negra.
Finally, look out for the rarity in dry Sherry – Palo Cortado. This Sherry is often described as combining the aromas of Amontillado with the body, palate and colour of an Oloroso. In other words, it smells like an Amontillado but tastes like an Oloroso. Mahogany in colour and typically has bitter orange, coffee, nut and butter flavours. Such wines have enormous intensity and complexity.
Palo Cortado was probably once a happy accident but is now a deliberate creation. The wine starts as Fino but only develops a little flor. Hence those butts are chosen early, taken out of the Flor solera and then deliberately fortified to 17-18%, encouraging oxidation. These then mature for many years of ageing in their own separate Solera. Due to its rarity and unique aroma and taste, Palo Cortado is much sought after. It’s a terrific companion for Blue cheese, oxtail and hearty winter stews.
Dry Sherry Recommendations
Solear, (Barbadillo) £6.50 for a half bottle (37.5cl) The Wine Society
La Gitana (Hidalgo) £13.99 for full bottle (75 cl) Waitrose
La Gitana En Rama (Hidalgo) £14.50 full bottle (75 cl) Tanners
La Guita (Rainera Pérez Marin) £6.95 half bottle (75 cl) Vinvm
Papirusa (Lustau) £9.35 half bottle (37.5 cl) Vino Fandango
Pastrana (Hidalgo). £12.95 full bottle (75cl) The Wine Society
3 En Rama Manzanilla (Lustau) £21.00 full bottle Oxford Wine Company
Tio Diego (Valdespino) £23.49 full bottle (75cl) The Fine Wine Company
Del Duque VORS (Gonzales Byass) £22.50 half bottle (75 cl) Ellis Wharton Wines
Apostoles VORS (Gonzales Byass) £17.99 half bottle (37.5 cl) Waitrose
Wellington VORS (Hidalgo) £49.95 (50 cl) Master of Malt
Antique VORS (Fernando De Castilla) £39.00 (50 cl) Wine Array
And what of the sweet styles of Sherry? The Vinos Dulces Naturales are naturally unctuous, super-sweet wines from Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez (PX) grapes. These excellent wines have rum and raisin flavours that go exceptionally well with desserts. For instance, PX poured over ice cream is gorgeous! PX wines deserve their separate article here.
Meanwhile, other sweeter styles of Sherry may be known as Medium Sherry, Cream Sherry or Vinos Generosos Licor. Sometimes, the grapes are dried before fermenting into a naturally sweet wine. Others are dry Sherry wines such as Amontillado or Oloroso, or blends sweetened after withdrawal from the solera with unfermented grape must or a little Moscatel or PX.
These sweet wines are highly popular in the UK, yet many “critics” wrongly undervalue them. Sweetness can mask inferior wines. However, when skilfully done, it allows sherry to appeal to a broader audience and also means it can be an excellent aperitivo or dessert wine. Additionally, some old wines benefit from a bit of sweetening for balance – after all, Champagne uses a sweetening dosage in most Brut wines.
Recommended Sweet Sherries
Winter’s Tale (Williams & Humbert sweet Amontillado) £18.75 full bottle Valvona and Crolla
East India Solera (Lustau sweet Oloroso) £12.99 (50cl) Waitrose
Some new rules and regulations
From October 2022, new DO regulations will apply, designed to improve competitiveness, add diversity, and focus on terroir.
The new rules
a) only three authorised grape varieties (Palomino Fino, Moscatel, and PX) were allowed. However three pre-phylloxera autochthonous white varieties can now also be included: Vijariego, Perruno, and Beba are now in. However, others like Cañocazo, Uva Rey, Mantúo Castellano and Mantúo de Pilas seem to have been left out, at least for now. This new rule does not apply to the Sanlúcar area, though that topic is being studied there, so that may change in future. Different grapes may introduce new flavours – we’ll see.
b) Fino and Manzanilla can now be unfortified wines, as long as the base wine naturally reaches a minimum of 15% abv. Sherry grape varieties are unlikely to produce this alcohol level, even with massive reductions in yield, unless the grapes are dried before fermentation. That process implies that such sherries would only be viable at a premium price.
c) Sherry maturation was restricted to only three towns, forming the famous Sherry triangle (Jerez, Sanlúcar and El Puerto di Santa Maria). That is no more. Now, Sherry can be matured anywhere in the DO zone, potentially allowing more Bodegas in the zone to label their wines as Sherry. Initially, this seems to cover ten bodegas;
d) Manzanilla Pasada must be aged for a minimum of seven years. Previously this was not defined;
e) adding clarity, Manzanilla will now be defined as only coming from Sanlúcar, while in turn, Fino is now restricted to Jerez and Santa Maria. Existing Fino from Sanlúcar has a ten-year phase-out period.
f) Pago (single-vineyard) can now be stated on the label for the first time, emphasising wine origin.
For now, the consumer visibility of most of these changes won’t become apparent for several years yet, but we live in exciting times!
It amazes me that all the dry Sherry starts in life as a dry white base wine of moderate alcohol. Sherry offers a range of incredible flavours and food pairing possibilities. Consequently, it’s perfectly possible to drink Sherry throughout a meal, as there is always a style to match each course.
Whatever the style you prefer, Sherry usually offers world-class wines for not much money. “Forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack!” Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II.
So may the flor be with you.
Consejo Regulador de la DO Jerez Xérès Sherry
Avenida Alvaro Domecq, 2
11402 Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz)
Note: The Andalusian DO of Montilla-Moriles also makes wines that can come in similar styles to Sherry, though made with the Pedro Ximenez (PX) grape variety rather than Palomino. Therefore, they are not Sherry because they are not from the Jerez DO. Their most significant wine expression is the super-sweet PX, and they also supply Jerez DO with PX for sweetening.