Nothing says Christmas is coming like a glass of sweet sherry on a cold winter’s night. Well, maybe Santa dancing with Rudolph to ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ eating a mince pie and drinking a glass of sherry during a Nigella Christmas special. Now, that’s Christmassy!
Fortified wines really come into their own at this time of year. That extra bit of alcohol helps keep out the cold and they really are the most versatile of wines. For those baffled by the terminology – solera? oloroso? and what exactly is flor? – we’ve put together a handy sherry guide. In brief, there’s a sherry for every occasion from something dry and crisp to sip with salty snacks to the sweetest, most decadent wines in the world. Here are some of our favourites.
From Gonzalez Byass, this is an icon among drinks brands, the best-selling dry sherry in the world and the quality is absolutely impeccable. It’s aged in a solera for around five years under flor, a layer of yeast that protects it from oxygen, to create a wine that’s crisp and zingy with a nice nutty richness to it. Try this served chilled with fish & chips, there’s really no better combination.
Manzanilla is a special kind of fino made in Sanlucar-de-Barrameda where it is said that it picks up a salty tang from ageing by the sea. The special example is from a single vineyard and aged for much longer than normal versions making it rich but still refreshingly dry with notes of apples, and salted almonds. Excellent on its own as an aperitif or with smoked salmon.
An amontillado is a sherry where the flor, the protective layer of yeast, has died and the wine begins to age with oxygen contact in the solera. This is made by Lustau, one of the grand old names of Jerez, and Los Arcos offers a lot of deliciousness for the money. Oh, and a splash at the end will perk up our gravy no end. The flavour is yeasty and nutty with a saline tang and a touch of orange peel.
This dry and complex amontillado sherry from Hidalgo in Sanlucar de Barrameda has been aged for over 30 years in a solera. It started life as a fresh manzanilla before ageing with oxygen contact where it takes on notes of toffee, citrus and hazelnuts. Despite its richness, this is bone dry and would taste brilliant served alongside some aged manchego or some thin slices of jamon Iberico.
Palo Cortado is a mysterious style of sherry that has some of the flavour of an amontillado but with the body of an oloroso. See our guide for a fuller explanation. This one from Gonzalez Byass offers a massive amount of flavour for the money and it’s another one that has a real sweetness about it despite being a dry wine, think almond flakes atop cherry Bakewells, soft hints of brown sugar, dusty oak introducing some drying spices later.
A full flavoured oloroso sherry from Colosia, a brand which has only recently started bottling its sherries under its own name. Colosia was originally an almacenistas (small privately-owned bodegas which store, age and sell on to the larger brands.) It is completely dry and unsweetened but the taste is heady and rich with flavours of molasses, dried fruit and brazil nuts. Another one that loves cheese.
Despite their incredibly unfashionable image, cream sherries, blends of Oloroso and PX, can be delicious. This is made by the people behind the famous Bristol Cream but it’s aged much longer so it’s richer, mellower and less sweet with layers of prunes, apricots and nuts. Drink it with a slice of cake. The vicar won’t know what’s hit him.
A sweet, rich moscatel from Romate. They’ve aptly named this Ambrosia – it really is the nectar of the gods! It’s rare to see moscatel bottled on its own, most of it goes into blending. This is made from ultra ripe berries which are then left in the sun to concentrate their sugar. The result is something incredibly sweet but with a floral freshness to it. It’s one to sip out of tiny glasses with pudding or pour over vanilla ice creamy for a frozen treat.
Many wines claim to be Christmas in a glass but Matusalem actually is. It is one of the world’s great wines which has won more awards than you can shake a stick at. It’s a blend of the finest oloroso sherries sweetened with PX and then aged for 30 years in Jerez. There’s old navy rum, apricots, salted caramel and walnuts. Makes a great alternative to whisky as an after dinner sipper.
And finally… the sweetest wine on earth weighing it at around 300g of sugar per litre. Whisky fans will know those two magical letters, PX, from what seasoned casks can do to whisky but it’s a revelation to try these rare intense wines made from raisined supersweet grapes. With molasses, raisins and orange peel with a texture like treacle, sip it slowly with Christmas pudding, or use it as a sweetener to take your Old Fashioned to the next level.