Sherry has a bad reputation engendered by sweet sherries and cooking sherries. Move past that.
Sherry is made in the southwest corner of Spain. It can only be made in a specific region and shipped from one of three towns: Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Yes, sherry can be the supremely sweet stuff shared with your great aunt. “Cooking sherry” is low-quality sherry with salt added. Cooking sherry is an ingredient in a recipe. Drinking it is a recipe for a drinking débâcle. We are not visiting those wines.
Dry sherry is something else. There is more dry sherry made in Spain than sweet. Dry sherry is a sensational food wine. “Fino” and “manzanilla” are bone dry. The key is sherry is not about the grape, it is about the making.
Fino sherry and its twin manzanilla are what to look for. They are made from the palomino grape—bland and undistinguished as a varietal but great for aging. The vital ingredient is “flor,” a film made up of yeasts and bacteria that forms on the wine surface while it ages in wooden casks. Quality flor often is described as “thick and luxurious.”
Flor imparts earthy and nutty flavors. It eats oxygen, which is why fino wines are very light in color. Flor is sensitive to heat, which is why fino wines are made in cool climates next to the Atlantic Ocean. Flor of top quality fino sherries work a minimum of three years, working all year long.
Wines are finished in a solera system, a stack of barrels. Youngest barrels go on top, then move down a layer each year. This permits oxidation, only partially countered by flor. After three or more years, the sherry is bottled, often unfined and unfiltered. The result is a distinctive, remarkably food-friendly pour.
• Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Muy Seco Palomino Xérès Sherry NV: Superb, nutty, delicious, food-friendly. All you ask for in a dry sherry. $16-20 Link to my review
• Bodegas Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Jerez-Xérès Sherry NV: Extraordinarily versatile wine to pair with food. $16-22 Link to my review
• Bodegas César Florido Fino Cruz del Mar NV: Splendid, refined, focused iteration of fino sherry. $14-16 (375 ml) Link to my review
• Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino en Rama Décima Edición 2019: A splendid and pure expression of fino sherry. $16-20 (375 ml) Link to my review
Last round: Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It is very time consuming. Wine time.