There is no surprise in the wine world quite like discovering dry sherry.
Completely unique, it can be difficult to believe it’s a wine – and even more improbable after that first taste of Fino – and that it’s in any way related to those dustyblue bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream languishing around the world. Sherry is most decidedly not the warm, sickly sweet stuff of great-aunts and grandmothers.
Sherry is a dry, fortified wine from the far corner of southwestern Spain in Andalucía, closer to Africa than to Barcelona. It’s here that sherry is woven into everyday life, as important as bullfighting and flamenco, two other particularly Spanish pursuits that also originated in the Marco de Jerez.
To understand sherry, it is important to know a little of not only the region but also how it is made. Dry sherry is made from the palomino fino grape, and this is the only region in the world that can coax such quality out of such a lackluster participant.
The first key to sherry is fortification. Before aging, a small amount of grape spirit is added to raise the alcohol level of the wine. This determines what style of sherry will be produced: Fino or Oloroso. Oloroso is a complex oak and oxygen influenced wine, fortified to a minimum of 17 per cent alcohol. Fino has a lower level of fortification, to a minimum of 15 per cent, and thus is able to support a biological covering called flor. Flor ensures the aging sherry is protected from oxygen and matures into a delicate, complex and refreshing wine.
The second key to sherry is the solera, a system of fractional blending and aging that provides a wine with the complexity of age and brightness of youth. As the oldest wine is taken out, the solera is topped up with younger wines. It’s a dynamic system, with the older wines sharing their characteristics with the younger wines. Fino and Manzanilla, those sherries aged under flor, often average between four and seven years of age, with some as old as 10 years.
Fino and manzanilla share many similarities, but the difference between them is all this happens in the two different towns of the Marco de Jerez. Fino is produced by the bodegas (wineries) of Jerez de la Frontera, while manzanilla can be made only on the coast in Sanlucar de Barrameda. By being so close to sea, the flor has the ability to grow more profusely giving the wine a unique flavour profile. While both are pale and bright, fino has more citrus, apple and almonds with herbal undertones. Manzanilla is more delicate, with chamomile, green apple and bread dough aromatics and a refreshing, ever-so-slight salinity on the palate.
The wines of Jerez, while remaining under-appreciated by most wine drinkers are some of the most complex and historic wines available. They are also a source of extreme value, given the age and quality. Sit in the sun, get a bowl of olives and a copita of manzanilla, as the Spanish do, and discover the magic of sherry.
Where to drink sherry in Calgary and Edmonton:
Ox and Angela, Calgary
While not focused on any one region of Spain, you will find a menu created with a dedication to authenticity. Ox and Angela also has the best sherry list in Alberta, and a properly prepared pan con tomate. For some reason this is notoriously difficult to find outside of Spain. A must have with a glass of chilled fino!
The classic cocktail renaissance played an integral role in the resurgence of sherry. Woodwork is one of the best places to get outstanding sherry based cocktails. You will find passionate bartenders who know how to best work with the flavour profile of sherry and understand how it transforms acocktail.
Bar Clementine, Edmonton
Opening in July is Bar Clementine, brought to you by Edmonton cocktail collective The Volstead Act. Evan, Andrew and Jordan have a history of utilizing sherry expertly in the classics, and creating new cocktails showcasing its complexity. That will continue in the bricks and mortar location with sherry playing a major role.