Fortified Wine – Sherry

With a trip to Spain looming in our future it seemed only right that I give some thought to the beverages that we might find.  Sherry is to Spain what Port is to Portugal, so just what is it with these fortified wines? 

You Know This Will Be Good!

What is a fortified wine?

A fortified wine is made when brandy or other neutral alcohol is added to wine during or after the fermentation process.  Portuguese Port, Sherry from Spain, Marsala from Italy, Madeira from the Portuguese islands of the same name, Muscat from France, are a few of  the more common examples of this type of wine fortified wine.

The original production of fortified wines had to do with need rather than want. Around the 17th century seafarers started adding extra alcohol to make wines more stable on long, harsh sea journeys. Despite the fact that they have higher alcohol content (15%-22%) than normal wines, fortified wines are not classified as spirits, as they are not made by distillation.

What is the difference between Port and Sherry?

Apart from the fact that they are produced in two different countries, there are a few other differences between Port and Sherry. Port is made mainly with red grapes and Sherry with white grapes. In addition, when Sherry is made, the fermentation process is allowed to run its course before brandy is added, but when Port is made, brandy is added during fermentation, which results in Sherry being the drier of the two.

Whats in a Name

Only wine from the “Golden Triangle” of Spain of the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria may bear the name Sherry.

The Details

The most common grape varital used for sherry is Palomino Fino which is about 94% of what is grown in this region.

To produce the sherry, first the Palomino is made into a dry white wine, which is then fortified to 15 or 16% with spirits and placed into oak casks, and aged by the solera system developed in the 19th century.  this system is comprised of a series of casks, each initially containing the fortified wine of a specific year.  None of the casks are completely full so that a lot of surface area is exposed to the air, consequently the wine develops a characteristic intense, oxidized flavor.  The casks are exposes to the damp atmosphere and after a few weeks a fine lay of white yeast, called flor “flower” forms.  Between six and ten months the vintners first sample the wines to determine how to affect its development.  Based on his or her analysis of the color, clarity, smell and taste, and especially the flor he makes his determination, and the cask is marked to indicate its destiny.

Casks with exceptional flor become fino, the yeast layer continues to develop and protects the wine from oxidation.  This process also gives these wines a distinctive aroma and its flavor a hint of bitter almond.

Future Bounty

Wines lacking flor are converted to oloroso, and more spirits are added.  The yeast dies, and the wine matures and oxidizes.  The longer this process the deeper and darker the color.  The flavors and aromas also intensify.

An amontillado develops from an aging fino, when the flor dies off and an oxidation process takes its place.

For the sweeter wines, the addition of Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes add the appropriate sweetness.

All of this work takes place in a criaderas, the Spanish term for “nursery, ” except if you are in the Jerez de la Frontera region of Spain and then it has to do is part of the solera system for aging and ensuring the consistency of sherry.  Criaderas is the nursery where young wines are managed, cared for, and evaluated. However, all levels of wine in the solera system are referred to as criaderas, with the exception of the oldest level, the solera. The next level up (the second oldest) from the solera is referred to as the first criadera, the level after that, the second criadera, and so forth. Some sherry producers can have up to fourteen levels in their solera systems.

Know Your Options

This elegant wine ranges from pale topaz to amber in color. Its subtle, delicate bouquet including hazelnut and aromatic herbs and dark tobacco.  Light and smooth in the mouth with well-balanced acidity; both complex and evocative, giving way to a dry finish and lingering after-taste with a hint of nuts and wood.
Serving suggestions
Amontillado is an ideal wine to accompany soups and consommés, white meat, tuna, wild mushrooms, vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes, and semi-soft cheeses.

a personal favorite

This dense, syrupy wine’s color ranges from chestnut brown to dark mahogany.  A strong oloroso bouquet hints of roasted nuts, nougat or caramel.  This full bodied and velvety feeling sherry has a well balanced sweetness with a lingering aftertaste.
Serving Suggestions
Consume it as an aperitif, or as a cocktail with ice and a slice of orange.  Cream makes an ideal dessert wine; perfect to accompany fruit (melon, orange) pastries or ice cream, and even (or especially) blue cheese.

produce options

Fino’s color runs the gamut from bright straw yellow to pale gold with a delicate bouquet reminiscent of almonds and wild herbs. Light, dry and delicate on the palate leaving a pleasant, fresh almond aftertaste.
Serving Suggestions
Fino sherry must be served chilled.  It is an ideal aperitif wine and goes well with all types of tapas, especially olives, nuts and Iberian cured ham, also provides the perfect companion for shellfish and fish, even raw (sachimi). Its low acetic acidity combines exceptionally well with vinaigrette salads, marinades and other high acidic dishes.

good slurping


This very bright, pale straw colored wine has a sharp, delicate bouquet with floral aromas reminiscent of camomile, almonds and dough. It is dry and delicate on the palate, with a dry finish.
Serving Suggestions
Manzanilla must be served chilled.  It is ideal as an aperitif or to accompaniment to tapas, especially seafood. It also combines well with all salty foods foods and vinegar focused dishes such as salads and marinades.

Spanish influence

Ranging from amber to dark chestnut in color, medium sherry has a liquorish amontillado-like bouquet hitting all the notes of pastries, quince jelly or baked apple.  It starts slightly dry in the mouth, gradually becoming sweeter to finish.
Serving Suggestions
The ideal temperature to serve a Medium Sherry is around 50ºF.  This wine goes well with pâté, quiche and spicy dishes.
Somewhere between chestnut to mahogany color, this wine speaks of the floral aromas of jasmine, orange blossom and honey suckle in addition to citrus notes of lime and grapefruit and other hints of sweetness.
Moscatel wine is obtained from Moscatel grapes that undergo a process known as “sunning” until the grapes turn into raisins. Musts are obtained after pressing which possess extraordinary high levels of sugar and a certain degree of coloring and which are then submitted to partial alcoholic fermentation, later detained by the addition of wine alcohol.  Its aging process is exclusively oxidative in nature, favouring a progressive concentration of aromas and increasing complexity, though always ensuring not to lose the freshness and fruity character of the grape.
Serving Suggestions
Moscatel must be served slightly chilled, and is ideal accompaniment for fruit and cream pastries and desserts which are not too sweet.

nothing like a bit of brown bread ice cream,

This sherry is a bit like taking a walk on the wild side; first the color – ranging from rich amber to deep mahogany (hinting at the length of its confinement (aging).  Its warm, rounded aromas are complex and powerful with  predominantly nutty bouquet (walnuts), with toasted, vegetable and balsamic notes reminiscent of noble wood, golden tobacco and autumn leaves. The noticeable spicy tones suggest truffles and leather.
Serving Suggestions
Oloroso is best served chilled, and pairs well with red meat and game, wild mushrooms and well cured cheeses.
Pale Cream
Ranging from yellow straw to pale gold in color. In the nose it shares the sharp bouquet of biologically aged wine, with hints of hazelnut and dough received from the flor.
Serving Suggestions
Pale Cream must be chilled, and it is the ideal wine to pair with pâté, or fresh fruit, pear being highlighted.
Palo Cortado
This complex wine combines the delicate bouquet of an amontillado with the body and palate of an oloroso.  Chestnut to mahogany in color with the characteristic notes of amontillados and olorosos, and some citric notes reminiscent of bitter orange.
Serving Suggestions
Serve chilled, and it is a favorite accompaniment to nuts, cured cheeses and concentrated consommés, and stews.
Pedro Ximénez
This dark, ebony colored wine has a rich  bouquet with predominantly sweet notes of dried raisins, figs and dates, accompanied by the aromas of honey, grape syrup, jam and candied fruit, and lets not ignore the hints of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa and licorice.  Did someone say heaven?  Pedro Ximénez wine undergo a process called “sunning”, where the fruit turns to raisins. Musts obtained after pressing have an extraordinarily high concentration of sugars, which are then submitted to partial alcoholic fermentation.
Serving Suggestions
Pedro Ximénez should be served slightly chilled.  Consider it a dessert wine that pairs exceptionally well with desserts made with bittersweet chocolate, ice cream, or blue cheeses.

humble beginnings

All this research begs the question – “Where to begin?”

More Reads and References:

Harold McGee, Of Food and Cooking, Scribner 2004
Trutter et al, Culinaria – Spain, HF Ullmann 2007







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14 comments for “Fortified Wine – Sherry

  1. November 13, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    I knew that Port was a fortified wine, but never made the connection with Sherry (or Muscat or Marsala)… Obviously, I need to come here more often! Enjoy Spain!
    I WIlkerson recently posted..Hot Toddy Time: Spiked Cocoa

  2. November 13, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Sounds like you have done your homework! Enjoy the Sherry, and Spain, too! 😉

    Growing up, my parents sometimes served Sherry before Sunday dinner. It’s been many years since I had Sherry. May have to pick some up soon…

  3. November 13, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    An informative and useful post. I use sherry and port very often in cooking, but hardly drink them..too strong for me.
    Angie@Angiesrecipes recently posted..Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Five Spice Shiitakes

  4. November 13, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    I love to drink Port, but I preffer to cook with Sherry. A very interesting article.



  5. November 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    In my youth, Sherry was associated with the only thing a “little old lady” might drink. Now I do enjoy a small glass every now and then. I will pick up on your pairing suggestions – I always sip it without anything else. Fascinating the difference between Port and Sherry – never made any connection between the two! Enjoy Spain while eating tapas and sipping Sherry!
    Claudia recently posted..Ariosto Seasonings for Pot Roast, Meatballs and Salmon

  6. November 14, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    My aunt Eddie swore by cooking with Sherry. A sip for her, a taste for the food. My goodness, LouAnn I had forgotten all about that treasure until I read this post. Thank you!

    Have a wonderful time in Spain and don’t forget to bring us back some goodies!!!
    Louise recently posted..The "Thanksgiving Lady" and Indian Pudding

  7. November 14, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    I love the nutty quality of sherry. It’s so perfect for an after-dinner drink or to bake with.

  8. November 15, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    I didn’t realize that a couple of these wines should actually be served chilled. I adore the Pedro Ximenez wines and Moscatel. I hope you have a fabulous time on your trip!
    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best recently posted..Spicy Apple Orange Cranberry Sauce

  9. November 22, 2011 at 1:42 AM

    What a very interesting & informative post about sherry. I don’t love the drink but I use it in my cooking & baking a lot!
    Sophie recently posted..Rosemary scented celeriac & 2 beans soup

  10. November 22, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    always enjoy your informative posts keep up the good work
    rebecca recently posted..Welcome to Winston Salem – love this

  11. November 23, 2011 at 6:56 AM

    Just popped in to say Happy Thanksgiving, LouAnn! Enjoy:)
    Louise recently posted..Where’s the Sage?

  12. November 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    For a long time, Sherry was the only alcohol I could stand to drink…. Enjoy Spain and some fino Sherry! Happy Thanksgiving
    kitchen Butterfly recently posted..Spiced Pumpkin Churros for Thanksgiving

  13. November 30, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    I adore sherries and consider them a staple in my kitchen, but have rarely used ports. As always you offer such a wealth of information…I will need to save this post as a guide when trying out new sherries and port 🙂
    Hope you are having a lovely holiday Season
    Magic of Spice recently posted..What’s for lunch? Angel Hair Pasta Salad with Mushroom, Olives and Kumquat

  14. December 4, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    It’s been ages since I had the pleasure of visiting your website and it is wonderfully informative as always. We took a trip to Porto Portugal a couple of years ago and tasted many different ports there. Now we’re just going to have to visit Spain and try all the sherrys you’ve mentioned. Thanks!

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