After a period of decline, sherry is at last making a comeback in the wine world, and so it should. For a product that’s taken centuries to develop and refine, prices are relatively low and the choice of brands and varieties available is getting broader.
Popular at Christmas – a sweet sherry always goes down well on a chilly day – it has shown to have all-year round appeal too, with dry sherries proving to be superb as an aperitif or an accompaniment to tapas dishes. Newcomers may be slightly confused by the different styles on offer, so here’s a simple guide.
Fino is the driest, fortified to a maximum of 15 per cent alcohol and matured under a layer of yeast called a “flor”.
Manzanilla is similar but can only come from the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. In recent years it’s also been possible to buy “en rama” or raw versions of fino, which is how it tastes straight from the cask.
Paolo Cortado starts life as a fino, but then, for some unknown reason loses its flor, and develops into a more rounded and mature sherry.
Oloroso is a sherry that has shown signs of being more robust that others and is then aged oxidatively for a longer period giving it a darker colour and a more expressive and richer flavour.
Why not explore each style, and discover just what riches this part of Spain can offer.
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Williams & Humbert 12-years-old oloroso 19%, 37.5cl
Oloroso is a more robust style of sherry made from palomino grapes. It’s fortified earlier, which prevents the flor forming, and ages while being exposed to oxygen. Dry, and a deeper amber in colour, its flavours are more intense and more structured. Expect deep nutty and autumn-like notes with hints of smoke and oak. Ideally, it’s enjoyed as an aperitif with something as simple as salted almonds, although it also goes well with mature examples of gruyère, comté and gouda cheese.
Velo flor manzanilla
Enjoy this and you take a trip to the seaside, since manzanilla can only be produced in Sanlucar de Barrameda on the Spanish coast, where the wine matures under a thick coat of flor. As a result, you get a hint of salty sea breezes and a light and elegant sherry that’s slightly mellower than a fino.
This example, made with palomino grapes handpicked from the Pago de Maina vineyard and aged for almost 10 years in oak casks, has that unmistakable salty tang and a welcome nuttiness. For those who find fino a little too dry, this could be the perfect solution. The stylish bottle and label has shelf appeal too.
Inocente fino valdespino 15%, 37.5cl
One of the venerable sherry names, Valdespino proudly bears the prize-winning achievements of its celebrated Inocente fino on its label, like a regimental list of battle honours. It’s more modest about its royal connections, as supplier of sherry to both the Spanish and Swedish royal families. Delightfully dry, and a product of the fiendishly complicated solera system of ageing, this fino makes the perfect aperitif at Christmas or indeed any other time of the year. And at under £10 for a half-bottle, it’s a bargain.
Fernando de Castilla antique amontillado NV 19%, 50cl
An amontillado that has been aged under flor, like fino, but has then, once the flor dies off after eight year or so, matured naturally. The end result is an exemplary dry, amber-hued sherry with a complex, layered flavour of citrus peel, nuts and spice. The only surprise here is that it’s the brainchild of Norwegian-born businessman Jan Petterson, who bought the Rey Fernando de Castillo in 1999 and set about making it into an award-winning bodega. Perhaps the greatest recommendation for this amontillado is that it was on the wine list of that almost legendary restaurant El Bulli.
Williams & Humbert dos cortados 20 years old palo cortado, 21.5%, 50cl
Paolo cortado starts life as a fino or amontillado until, for some reason, the flor disappears leaving a sherry that’s equally dry but with more depth of flavour. This premium example from the renowned sherry house Williams & Humbert is complex and elegant with intense notes of dried fruit, hazelnuts and caramel. It’s been called a marriage between a special fino and a first-class amontillado. The extra attraction here is that this is classified as a VOS or “very old sherry” which means the wine is at least 20 years old, with all the maturity, depth and elegance that brings. Sampling it has to be one of the sherry world’s greatest pleasures.
Equipo navazos la bota no. 68 fino macharnudo alto NV, 15%, 75cl
A sherry that’s the result of a partnership between wine writer Jesus Barquin and sherry expert Eduardo Ojeda. Together, they went searching for hidden gems in overlooked bodegas and sold them exclusively to a circle of friends. They then expanded and started marketing the sherries under the Equipo Navazos banner. Each release is numbered, and bota no. 68 is an aged fino that almost thinks it’s an amontillado but with complex, nut and dried fruit flavours and a slightly dry but mellow appeal.
Gonzalez byass del duque amontillado VORS, 21.5%
One step up from a VOS, this is VORS, a very old rare sherry or in correct parlance “vinum optimum rare signatum”, the highest accolade possible for wood matured sherries. It signifies that this is an amontillado sherry that has been aged for at least 30 years. As with aged ports, this results in a sherry where the flavours have become complex, intense and multi-layered. Notes of walnuts, dried fruit and spice battle it on your tongue. If you had to put the taste of Christmas in a bottle this would be it, although it’s something you can enjoy all year round.
Pedro’s almacenista selection palo cortado, 20%, 75cl
Almacenistas (literally warehouse keepers) are small bodegas who let the wines mature in their own premises before selling them on to larger bottlers or shippers. Pedro, otherwise known as Peter Dauthieu, sources the sherries from the Almacenistas for Majestic and it markets them with the wonderful labels that incorporate vintage sherry posters from the 1950s. Happily, the sherry within is just as attractive as the label. From an Almacenista that specialises in Palo Cortado, it has that multi-layered flavour of citrus peel, nuts and caramel while remaining bone dry. Enjoy it with salted almonds or a hard cheese.
Gonzalez Byass tio pepe fino en rama, 15%, 75cl
En rama is the new kid on the block as regards to sherry. Basically, by sampling an en rama (or “raw”) sherry, you’re tasting fresh, unfiltered and unclarified wine straight from the barrel. Bottled every April when the flor is at its best, it’s the Jerez equivalent of an untouched or natural wine. Young and exuberant, this 2020 fino release bursts with orange and citrus flavours along with that salty tang and notes of nuts and lychees. Don’t put this wine away in the cupboard and forget about it. It’s a sherry to be enjoyed while it’s still young and ebullient.
Williams & Humbert as you like it medium sweet amontillado blend, 20.5%, 50cl
While modern tastes tend to favour the drier style of sherries, there’s still room for those which cater for the sweeter end of the market. Popular in the 1970s, this blend was discontinued when fashions changed. Then in 2012, a small cache of just 27 butts were rediscovered when the Williams & Humbert solera was being relocated. It was decided to reintroduce it in limited amounts. Rich and satisfying and without the cloying sweetness of a cream sherry it has notes of candied peel, walnuts and caramel. Like a Madeira or a good port it’s something to savour at the end of a meal. It’s minimally filtered so watch out for a little sediment.
The verdict: Sherries
Sherry is a versatile drink that can offer something to please all tastes. For those who like it dry, the Inocente fino valdespino or the Equipo navazos la bota no. 68 are both superb examples of the elegant and refined fino.
The tio pepe fino en rama offers a hugely impressive fino that’s straight from the cask, while Pedro's almacenista selection gives you that rare beast, a majestic palo cortado. For something that’s a little more rounded try the best buy, Williams & Humbert’s 12-years-old oloroso. Rich, smooth and mature, it’s the taste of Jerez in a glass.
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