Sherry is a fortified wine. Although a similar type of wine is now produced in South Africa, Australia, California and Cyprus, the centre and heart of sherry making remains Spain and in particular a small region of Andalusia around the town of Jerez de la Frontera. (Jerez, in fact, probably gave its name to the wine produced there; it is generally thought that ‘sherry’ is an English corruption of what was, for the British, an unpro-nounceable foreign name!)
Sherry, regardless of type, is made exclusively from fermented white grapes to which brandy is added. All sherry is blended by what is called the solera system. The system is basically a sort of production line of wine barrels, the oldest one (the one to be drawn off for bottling) at the top. Each barrel is topped up with a little young wine of similar character from time to time during its progress ‘up the line’ so that the resulting product is a mixture of many years’ wines.
There are several different types of sherry. Fino is dry, light coloured and probably, in terms of quality, the very finest sherry you can buy. Its distinguishing feature is a fresh, delicate quality unique in fortified wine and caused by a type of yeast called for which is peculiar to the Jerez area. Fino sherry is usually drunk quite young.
Amotitillado once meant a fino sherry which, with age, had grown darker, heavier to taste and slightly less dry. Nowadays, however, it seems to be more or less a descriptive term for medium sherry.
Oloroso is a fuller, dark sherry – the sweetest on the market. It ages very well. Nowadays, the word is not generally used on sherry labels, but any sherry described as milk, cream or golden will be, basically, an oloroso.
Sherry is usually drunk as an aperitif or as a cocktail drink. Increasingly, it is also used in making cakes, desserts and even savoury dishes.