Having written recently about the joys of Fino Sherry for Berry Bros. & Rudd, I decided if would be fun to tell a story on TheRLWS Blog that is dear to my heart, regarding teaching about Sherry.....
Shakes, whom many of you have gotten to know, came to do WSET L3 with TheRLWS in 2021, before embarking on his first position as a lawyer about Town. We were on the final session: Sherry and Port. I already knew he loved the sweet stuff (Sauternes, Tokaji, Straw Wine), so there I was, nervously pouring him a Fino Sherry, renowned as a (very) dry wine, with a typical feature of iodine, chalk and a sense of almond skin lasting on the finish.
His initial reaction was all too familiar : a look of anguish, then a cartoon face full of disgust. I laughed as I know he wanted to like it. Then I poured him Lustau’s PX Sherry. It’s a naturally (very) sweet sherry, that looks like your mechanic poured castor oil in your glass. ‘Ah’ he said ‘this is absolutely gorgeous!’ He then quickly summarised that PX sherry should be ‘the gateway drug to all Sherry’. I’ll always remember this comment. It was refreshing and considered, and yes, I thought, this makes total sense as sweetness success could lead the way to non-sweet members of the Sherry family. From this point on I have made it my mission to introduce sherry with PX. So, if you are struggling, with your L3 exam looming, splash out on a bottle of PX and read on...
When it comes to sherry, there are various options, often referred to as ‘styles’ (different colours, tastes, weights and flavour). You can have Fino, Mazanilla Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and PX. Sometimes you can find very old rare sherries that are bottled (after a minimum of at least 30 years), in which case look out of VORS added to the label.
Here is glossary to help you clock the key points for L3 Sherry study:
Albariza – white chalky soil in Jerez sustaining the vines in the heat because they drain well and conserve the moisture til Summer
Amontillado – a sherry type that goes through two stages. It starts life as a Fino, and then the alcohol is increased to 17% and additional ageing takes place without a flor veil and air gets to the wine and adds little nutty flavours and the colour turns amber.
Biological ageing - sherries aged under flor (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado fortified to 15%ABV)
Butts – the butt is a barrel that Fino and Amontillado sherries reside in before bottling. Each with a capacity of 600l they are filled 5/6 full on purpose to increase complexity.
En rama – if you get the chance - upgrade to this for a treat – means the wine has not been heavily filtered so all the little tasty bits remain and it’s even more yeasty, bitter, lemony and textured. Truly scrumptious.
Flor – makes the wine yeasty – a magical, unique, local, ambient yeast that appears naturally and protects wine when it is 15%ABV or below. It prevents air getting to the wine, keeping wine fresh and vital. Found in both Finos and initially in Amontillados.
Fortification – Sherries are fortified wines which means spirit is added to the wine when the wine is first made. Finos are fortified to 15%ABV and Amontillados to 17%ABV
Oxidative ageing - aged without flor with oxygen ingress (oloroso, PX sherry and the 2nd ageing of Amontillado)
Palomino – the grape variety used to make Fino and Amontillado
Poniente and Levante – local winds in Jerez that affect the grapes growing. The former comes from the sea and brings moisture, the latter comes from the east and is drying.
Pedro Ximénez (aka PX) is a sherry that is naturally sweet because the grapes are so sweet its impossible to ferment them to dryness. The PX sherry is made the same was as Oloroso.
Sherry Family – different names of Sherry types (styles) include:
o Fino (dry, yeasty, almondy, pale lemon)
o Manazilla, (dry, yeasty, almondy, pale lemon produced nearer the coast)
o Amontillado (dry, yeasty, nutty, delicate, amber)
o Oloroso (dry, nutty, coffee, brown)
o Palo Cortado (dry, magical mystery wine, complex, rich, brown)
o Pedro Ximénez (Sweet, raisin rich, toffee, chocolate, black/deepbrown aka PX for short)
o Pale Cream (sweetened Fino)
o Medium (sweetened Amontillado
o Cream (sweetened Oloroso)
Sobretabla – a kind of nursery school stage for sherry – resting well after fortification, before moving to the next stage.
Solera – a finishing school for all sherry – small amounts of younger sherry are added to slightly older sherries on a continual basis over a very long period This is where all the magic happens. Minimum ageing is 24 months whereas most age for far longer.