Formerly one of the most tradition-bound, staid and ignored wines in the world, Sherry is now surging in popularity. Over the last decade, a new generation of drinkers have embraced this fortified wine from Spain’s deep south.
This isn’t the first time Sherry has expanded its reach. The word on Sherry, at least out of Jerez, the capital of Sherry production, has long been that it’s making headway or on the cusp of being the next big thing for global bartenders and wine lovers.
But, according to the sommeliers who sell Sherry daily, there’s something different about the enthusiasm for Sherry this time around.
“We’re seeing an openness to trying different Sherries, especially among customers in their 20s and 30s, and that’s refreshing,” says Gil Avital, formerly the wine director at Tertulia and El Colmado, a pair of recently closed Spanish restaurants in New York City. “Still, the majority of our guests need guidance when selecting a Sherry to go with what they’re eating. To really know Sherry, one needs to spend a lot of time tasting the many different styles from the different subregions and producers.”
Here, we break down everything you need to know about Sherry.
What is Sherry Wine?
Sherries are aged in a unique system called the solera, where barrels of fortified wines sit for years at ambient temperatures. Portions of the wine are periodically removed from the oldest barrels for bottling, with new stocks added to keep the solera going.
Types of Sherry
Made with an array of grapes and different production methods, the Sherry category ranges from bone-dry fino to rich, unctuous cream Sherry. To find top-reviewed bottles of all types of Sherry, visit our Sherry reviews page.
The driest, most saline style of Sherry are called finos. These are generally made from high-acid Palomino grapes grown in chalky white soils called albariza. These tank-fermented white wines spend their entire fortified existence under a blanket of yeast called flor, which protects the wine from oxidation. Finos usually contain 15–16% alcohol by volume (abv), are best served well chilled and are dynamite when paired with salty snacks like peanuts, potato chips, cured olives and fried seafood.
This flinty style of Sherry is, in essence, fino made in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Like finos, manzanillas incorporate the same winemaking and aging-under-flor techniques, which preserve freshness and promote salinity. Because manzanillas are the lightest of Sherries, they pair exceptionally well with raw seafood.
There’s no guarantee that a flor blanket will hold, and in cases where it doesn’t, amontillado is the result. Amontillados take on a brown hue, due to extended contact with air inside the solera barrels. And rather than the crisp, saline flavors of finos and manzanillas, amontillados deliver oxidized notes of nuttiness, sautéed mushrooms and a richness best described as umami. Usually about 18% abv, they pair perfectly with medium-bodied soups or flavorfully sauced pork, pheasant or rabbit.
Whereas amontillado is a Sherry in which the flor breaks up naturally, an oloroso sees the cellar master intentionally destroy the flor to promote oxidation. Olorosos can be sweet or dry in style, depending on whether the wine includes the sweet Moscatel, or is made strictly from dry Palomino grapes. Like with amontillado, where the abv is usually around 18–19%, olorosos can withstand decades in barrel, which creates extra richness and complexity.
The wildcard of Sherry, palo cortado begins its existence under flor, and then loses that cover while tracking toward amontillado. Along the way, however, something mysterious happens, and the wine grows richer and more regal, like oloroso. The name, palo cortado, is derived from a cross traditionally drawn in white chalk on the barrel’s exterior to note that it’s doing its own thing and isn’t amontillado or oloroso. Palo cortado is an elegant, lightly sweet style of Sherry best enjoyed on its own.
Cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez
Sweet Sherries come in a multitude of forms and quality levels. A basic cream Sherry is more or less an oloroso with sweet grapes like Pedro Ximénez (PX) or Moscatel blended in. In complex varietal PX and Moscatel-based Sherries, freshly picked grapes are sun-dried to concentrate sugars and flavors. These can be dark, unctuous wines with viscosity akin to motor oil.
He also advises against picking up any supermarket cooking wines as “many have unnecessary added salt, sugar and preservatives, and they don’t offer significant savings in cost over real wine.” Rather, select a Sherry you can enjoy on its own to go in your dish—there are plenty of options for $15 or less. To get you started, might we suggest this Sherry-glazed chicken?
It might surprise you to learn that Sherry vinegar has had its own Denominación de Origen (DO), or protected status, since 1995. (Sherry received DO status in 1933).
According to Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes, these vinegars are made via the solera system (like Sherry wine) and “stylistically fall somewhere in between a regular wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar.”
But to be stamped with the DO seal, the vinegar must fall into three categories: vinagre de Jerez (minimum of six months aging), vinagre de Jerez reserva (minimum of two years aging) and vinagre de Jerez gran reserva (minimum of 10 years aging).
It can make an excellent addition to vinaigrettes and salad dressings, salsas or marinades like chimichurri.
Sherry Drinks to Try
For cocktail fans, Sherry drinks present a world of opportunity. Here, six of our favorite ways to use different types of Sherry in cocktails.
Julia Child Sherry Cocktail
Dry fino Sherry stars alongside crisp gin in this martini-adjacent cocktail. Serve it in chilled glassware for ultimate refreshment.
Get the Recipe: Julia Child Sherry Cocktail
Get the Recipe: Butchertown Cocktail
Fino Swizzle Cocktail
Give crisp, dry fino Sherry a bit of fruity flavor and tiki flair in this easy-drinking cocktail. Serve it over pebble or crushed ice, garnished with fresh mint spring.
Get the Recipe: Fino Swizzle
The Sherry Colada Cocktail
Get the Recipe: Sherry Piña Colada
Sherry Chamber #1 Cocktail
This low-alcohol Sherry drink was developed for the winter 2021 drink menu at Jaleo, José Andrés’s line of tapas restaurants. It combines fino and amontillado Sherry with pear-infused wheat beer.
Get the Recipe: The Perfect Low-ABV Sherry Cocktail
Up-to-Date Sherry Cocktail
Another Old Fashioned iteration that combines amontillado and rye, this Sherry drink hails from Henrietta Red restaurant in Nashville.
Get the Recipe: Up-to-Date Sherry Cocktail
How to Drink Sherry
Sherry can either be enjoyed neat or mixed into a cocktail.
If you plan on enjoying it straight, be sure to pay attention to the different styles, as they have vastly different flavor profiles.
For something on the drier side, look for fino, manzanilla, amontillado or oloroso. If you prefer your drinks on the sweeter side, check out palo cortado, cream or Pedro Ximénez sherries. Serve Sherry around 57–60°F.
This fortified wine also lends itself beautifully to cocktails. And if you are looking to mix-up some low-abv drinks, Sherry is the perfect ingredient. You’ll find it in low-abv options like the La Vida Dolce and The Nice One Sherry Cocktail.
What Glasses Do You Serve Sherry In?
Fortified wines are going to have higher alcohol levels than still or sparkling wines. So, you’ll want to find glassware that has a narrow, short opening to dull the alcohol while enhancing Sherry’s other aromas and flavors. Look for glasses such as these.
What Pairs with Sherry?
This is entirely dependent on the Sherry style in your glass and the foods you like to snack on. Manzanilla is going to pair well with raw seafood, like this scallop dish. For Amontillado, you’ll want to enjoy it with soups on the heartier side, like this sacred onion soup. It also pairs well with pork, or gamey meats like pheasant and rabbit. Finos will go well with peanuts, potato chips, cured olives and fried seafood.
As a rule of thumb, if you are serving something sweet, you’ll want the wine you pair it with to be even sweeter, as the sugar in a dish can make a drier wine seem more bitter and acidic. If you’re opting to serve palo cortado, cream or Pedro Ximénez Sherries, try desserts like this TikTok-famous apple skillet cake, bananas topped with a whiskey caramel sauce or blueberry cake.
This article was updated on February 21, 2023
Last Updated: May 9, 2023