First, what exactly is sherry? It’s a fortified wine from southwest Spain, specifically the Jerez-Xeres-Sherry denominación de origen or D.O. “Fortified” means that alcohol has been added to preserve it, which was originally done so that the wine could survive long voyages on ships.
Sherry differs depending on the producer and style. The four main styles are manzanilla, fino, oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. (Cream sherry is the general name for different kinds of sweetened sherries.)
The folks at Colangelo & Partners, an agency specializing in wine and spirits (with clients such as the trade commission of Spain), offers up some insight on the different styles of sherry, and what foods to pair with them.
Fino sherry is a biologically aged, dry, white wine, produced in Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa María. Palomino grapes are aged under a layer of yeast called veil de flor, then stored in American oak butts using the traditional solera y criaderas, or solera system. Commonly used for other Spanish styles of wine, the solera system uses a large number of casks and fractional blending to age sherry.
Suggested pairing: This style of sherry is known for complimenting most food pairings thanks to its savory nature. It works well with a meat and cheese charcuterie board alongside a watermelon gazpacho, as well as with main courses such as turkey, sweet potatoes and gravy.
Manzanilla sherry is a dry white wine made from palomino grapes. This style of sherry is identical to the fino style, but it’s exclusively made in Sanlucar de Barrameda, making it a D.O. as well.
This town is the perfect place for production because of the Guadalquivir River, which marks a natural boundary to the north; the Atlantic Ocean into which the river flows and borders the town to the west; and the Marisma, an extensive stretch of wetland on the former river delta which is completely flat.
Suggested pairing: Manzanilla sherry is a perfect match with many different fish dishes, such as seafood pasta with clams, shrimp and scallops in a lemon-garlic sauce. It can also be paired with heavier holiday fare such as prime rib, stuffing and green beans.
Oloroso sherry is an oxidatively aged, dry, white wine using the second pressing of palomino grapes. This rich wine is made in Andalucia in Jerez, Spain.
The term oloroso means fragrant, promising a powerful nose. Aromas and notes you can expect to notice with this sherry include dried fruits, leather and exotic spices. Although noted as a naturally dry fortified wine, there are naturally sweet olorosos, usually vintage sherries.
Suggested pairing: Oloroso sherry is ideal with a hearty steak and potatoes or a juicy burger and fries.
Pedro Ximenez is an oxidatively aged, sweet, white wine made from Pedro Ximénez grapes that have been concentrated by sun drying. Fortified and aged in the solera system, this wine is almost black in color, sweet with pronounced dried fruit flavors.
Suggested pairing: Serve this sherry with dark chocolate cake, a banana split, or pretty much any sweet treat.
Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers magazine, our on-premise sister publication. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and read her recent piece, The Top Tequila Trends in 2023.