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Sherry and tapas: A pairing guide

It’s a famously delicious combination, but exactly which styles of Sherry match which tapas dishes? Devour our expert guide to pairing fino, oloroso and more with signature Spanish tapas.

Despite being known around the world surprisingly few people actually know much about Sherry. There are many styles, ranging from the driest of dry wines to the complex ultra-sweet, and each has its own unique character. There truly is a Sherry for every occasion, making it an excellent gastronomic wine.

All Sherry wines have three things in common. Firstly, they all come from the area around Jerez de la Frontera in southwestern Spain, possibly the oldest wine-making region in the country, where vines have been grown since shortly after the founding of Cádiz by the Phoenicians three thousand years ago. Secondly, they are fortified (to varying degrees), with extra alcohol added in the form of distilled grape spirit. Thirdly, they are aged through the solera/criadera system, a way of maturing and blending wines of different ages in a large number of oak casks. The barrels are not completely filled, allowing the wine to be either exposed to the air and aged oxidatively or aged biologically under a protective layer of yeast (called the ‘velo de flor’). 

Sherry wines are also becoming popular as a lower-alcohol base for cocktails, often replacing gin or vodka. Try using fino for a twist on a Bloody Mary: to make a Bloody Sherry add 75ml fino, 200ml tomato juice, a pinch of salt and pepper and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce to a glass with ice and stir to mix. Or what about a Sherry Fizz? Fill a glass with ice, add 50ml amontillado, a splash of Italicus (or other citrus liqueur), lime juice and sugar syrup, then top with tonic water and stir to mix.

Tortilla and Sherry. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

Two more simple traditional cocktails to try at home are the Rebujito (fino or manzanilla in a tumbler of ice topped up with lemonade, garnished with mint sprigs) or a Sherry Cobbler (cream Sherry over ice with a slice of fresh orange). 

The best glassware for Sherry, if you can’t find a large ‘catavinos’, is a standard white wine glass filled approximately one third, giving the wine room to breathe. 

Here we take you on a virtual Sherry and tapas tasting. Much more than just an aperitif, the diverse range of styles and flavours of Sherry wines can take you through an entire meal from start to finish – and we include a few, possibly surprising, non-Spanish pairing suggestions. 

Fino

Manchego cheese and cold meats. Credit: a-plus image bank / Alamy Stock Photo

The name says it all – an elegant, crisp dry wine, one of the driest white wines in the world. The biological ageing process, under the protective velo de flor, means that the wine is not in contact with the oxygen above it in the cask; as yeast is a living organism and needs to eat, most of the residual sugars and glycerine are gone before the wine reaches the solera barrels (the level of the system containing the oldest wine). Its natural salinity and light acidity make fino a perfect partner for anything salty.

Pairings: Ibéricos are classic, as are cheeses, shellfish and baked or fried fish dishes, but fino is also an excellent match for ceviche or fish and chips. 

Try: Gonzalez Byass, Tio Pepe En Rama, Jerez, Spain, 2020

Manzanilla

Tortillita de camarones (shrimp fritters), a speciality of Cádiz, at Barra Inchausti restaurant. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

This wine of the sea can only be made in one town, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, nestled in a nook near the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. Due to its particular mesoclimate, temperatures don’t get as hot in summer or as cold in winter as in other Sherry-producing areas. As a result, the all-important velo de flor stays robust all year round, imparting its unique, distinctive characteristics to this delicate and nuanced pale dry Sherry.

Pairings: Tortillita de camarones, grilled prawns, clams in garlic sauce, cured or tinned fish, olives, seafood paella, white fish, sushi and sashimi.

Try: Bodegas Hidalgo, La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama 2023 Release, Jerez, Spain

Amontillado

Braised artichokes with jamón at Victoria Eugenia restaurant – usually difficult to pair. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

This is a Sherry that has lived two lives, starting off as a fino or manzanilla ageing under yeast before being switched to oxidative ageing. This makes for a very versatile Sherry with characteristics from both processes, and it is particularly good for pairing with ‘difficult’ vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus. In fact, amontillado matches well with anything you would normally pair with finos or olorosos, and it is also a great substitute for brandy in cooking.

Pairings: Braised artichokes with jamón, asparagus, spinach with garbanzos (chickpeas), charcuterie, mature cheeses, salted almonds, blue fish and spicy dishes such as curries.

Try: Williams & Humbert, Don Zoilo Collection Dry Amontillado 12 years old, Jerez, Spain

Oloroso

Rabo de toro (bull tail stew). Credit: Kyoko Uchida / Alamy Stock Photo

In days past, the gentlemen of Jerez would sprinkle oloroso on their handkerchiefs like cologne (‘olor’ means aroma in Spanish), and to this day it is still referred to as a ‘handkerchief wine’. Oxidatively aged, rich, round and robust, you will want to pair this fragrant dry Sherry with hearty meat dishes and stews or even your Sunday roast. 

Pairings: Braised oxtail, game, braised meats, onion soup, duck confit, sweetbreads, grilled tuna and strong cheeses.

Try: Bodegas Barbadillo, Reliquia Oloroso, Jerez, Spain

Palo Cortado

A creamy mushroom and idiazabal cheese risotto at La Brunilda restaurant. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

Known as the ‘mystery Sherry’, palo cortado can be most simply described as a more elegant oloroso that began life as a fino or manzanilla, typically made from the first pressing and finer grape juices. With no (or negligible) yeast contact, it is moved straight into oxidative ageing, resulting in a full-bodied yet delicate expression of this dry Sherry style.

Pairings: Mushroom and idiazabal cheese risotto, traditional rabbit paella, grilled octopus, tuna tartare, croquettes, mature cheeses and roast chicken.

Try: Cayetano del Pino, Palo Cortado Solera, Jerez, Spain

Cream

Figs with payoyo cheese and jamón de pato at Amara restaurant. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

Grannies everywhere have been blamed over the years for abusing cream Sherry by opening it and leaving it in pantries for months on end, but I for one would be happy to see the end of this trope, if only because all sherries can be ruined this way. Cream Sherry is a blend of approximately 75% oloroso and 25% Pedro Ximenes (percentages vary between bodegas): the result is a light, naturally sweet wine that pairs exceptionally well with either savoury or sweet dishes, from grilled foie gras to trifle.

Pairings: Figs with payoyo cheese and jamon de pato, paté, grilled foie gras, soft cheeses, lemon tart and fresh fruit salads.

Try: Equipo Navazos, La Bota 79 Bota NO, Cream, Jerez, Spain

Pedro Ximénez

Sharp and tangy blue payoyo goat’s cheese from Manolo Cateca. Credit: Shawn Hennessey

Christmas pudding in a glass. Naturally sweet due to the Pedro Ximénez grapes being picked late and then sun-dried, this is pure raisiny-figgy joy, and can pair with sweet or strongly savoury foods. The most classic dessert option is simply pouring your PX over a dish of vanilla ice cream (even better, soak some dried fruit in the Sherry first), and many agree that it actually makes a perfect dessert on its own. 

Pairings: Dark chocolate and dark chocolate desserts, cheesecake, fruitcake and sharp blue cheeses like Stilton or Cabrales.

Try: Morrisons, The Best Pedro Ximenez, Jerez, Spain


Storing Sherry

One of the most common misconceptions about Sherry is that, being fortified, it can be kept almost indefinitely after opening. While there is some debate about how long to keep unopened bottles, it is recommended that all open Sherry wines be stored upright in the fridge. Storage times vary. 

Fino / Manzanilla

Open bottle: 1 week

Serving temperature: 6-8ºC

Amontillado

Open bottle: 2-3 weeks

Serving temperature: 12-14ºC

Oloroso / Palo Cortado

Open bottle: 4-6 weeks

Serving temperature: 12-14ºC

Cream

Open bottle: 4-6 weeks

Serving temperature: 10-12ºC

Pedro Ximénez

Open bottle: 1-2 months

Serving temperature: 10-12ºC


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