We need to talk about sherry for a minute. This fortified wine is aged and blended in a unique, centuries-old method called solera that takes great skill and wisdom that is passed down from generation to generation. However, this wine has never picked up the steam in the U.S. that even less well-known wines, like Lambrusco or pignoletto, have seemed to do.
“Sherry has been somewhat misunderstood in the past,” says Alan Beasey, head sommelier at Chicago, Illinois-based The Purple Pig. “Sherry is deliciously sippable and extremely versatile for food pairing. In spite of the heavy, bold flavors you find in most sherries, the wines are always balanced with a surprising freshness that doesn’t fatigue your palate. So, you can keep coming back for another sip, and another after that, and fully appreciate the wine as it develops in your glass.”
Known as an aperitif, Beasey says that the different types of sherries harness unique flavor profiles, which not only makes them good sipping wines, but also allows for interesting food pairings. For example, he says, lighter styles like Fino and Manzanilla are crisp and bright with a hint of salinity and flavors of olives and herbs; bolder, more full-bodied styles like Amontillado and Oloroso have rich hints of caramel and almonds with crisp, tangy candied citrus notes; and the sweet styles like Pedro Ximenez or Cream Sherry are lush, and rich with figs and dates.
Explore Sherry on Drizly (prices vary)
Browse different styles and brands of sherry available in your location if you're tempted to try mixing up some drinks.
Another positive to dipping into the sherry pool is that the wine lasts for a long time—for weeks, even when opened—so you can acquire a taste for it without making a huge investment.
“When you purchase a sherry, you’re not committing to a lot of wine. This means that you can take your time learning to appreciate sherry, and you can buy a little bit of several different styles without breaking the bank,” Beasey says.
But sherry’s story doesn’t end with straight sipping or food pairings. The wine is making its way into the cocktailing game as a more frequent ingredient on cocktail menus, as it plays nicely with spirits.
“Bartenders are always looking for an interesting, yet easy way to add flavor to cocktails. Sherry has a myriad of bold, unique, interesting flavors all in one bottle and is really flexible when it comes to pairing. There aren’t many spirits that can’t be enhanced by a little bit of sherry,” he says.
And, says Beasey, the wine seems to create a harmony between its own nuances and those within brown spirits, adding a new layer of flavor when paired with spirits ranging from bourbon to dark rum.
“Bourbon or rye whiskey and Oloroso or Pedro Ximenez sherry can be combined to make great Old Fashioned or Manhattan style drinks. You could even replace Nonino Amaro with Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry for a riff on a Paper Plane. Scotch and Fino sherry go well together.”
If dabbling with making a sherry cocktail creation at home, Beasey explains that carefully testing the waters will make all the difference, as a little bit of sherry goes a long way.
“Because sherry brings bold, unique flavors to the mix, add a little bit at a time and taste the cocktail as you’re building it. Start with a little less than you think you’ll need and see how the sherry you choose as your modifier affects your cocktail,” he says.
Or try some of our recipes for inspiration:
Cream sherry lends caramel notes to sweet and dry vermouth, with orange bitters for balance. Get our Aphrodite Oloroso Cream Sherry Cocktail recipe.
In this twist on a Manhattan, Amontillado sherry brings a nutty note while Cointreau’s orange flavor brings a bit of fruit. Get our Butchertown Amontillado Sherry Cocktail recipe.
This is pretty similar to the Butchertown, but with the addition of lemon juice and basil. Get our Carmen Amaya Amontillado Sherry Cocktail recipe.
Amontillado sherry stars again, but here, shares the stage with little other than sweet and floral St-Germain elderflower liqueur and a dash of cardamom-saffron bitters. Get our Girasol Amontillado Sherry Cocktail recipe.
Crisp Fino sherry flirts with tangerine juice, Cointreau, and allspice dram for a dangerously easy-to-gulp refresher. Get our Alpha Omega Fino Sherry Cocktail recipe.
This cocktail can be made with various types of alcohol, so choose your favorite sherry and shake it up with an egg, sugar, and cream—and serve warm if you want to honor tradition. Get our Flip Cocktail recipe.
Related Video: Don’t Overlook Sherry
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