When I was asked to write about my top five accessible sherries, I struggled trying to figure out where to even begin. The supermarket aisle seemed like a good place, with Tesco and M&S offering their own-label sherry. These sherries are sourced from some well known bodegas and are a reasonable starting point if you are dabbling in sherry for the first time and want to learn more about the different styles.
We are fortunate in Ireland that over the past couple of years importers have made huge efforts to offer a broader sherry portfolio. At the top end of the sherry spectrum this means that we have access to old, rare and limited edition sherries. And while those sherries send geeks like me into a tizzy, the reality is that some of them can seem a little aloof and quirky – the sherries and the geeks that is. There is a silver lining though; in addition to their rarities, most bodegas are now also shipping their entry-level wines here.
There’s a preconception amongst wine drinkers that big is bad. It’s a theory that’s not entirely without merit; in the main, the large scale wineries of the world aren’t producing anything that particularly interests me in any case. Mass-production has become synonymous with bland and banal. Sherry is somewhat different though for here, quantity can sometimes be an asset as it can confer a complexity to the wine progressing though the solera system (the fractional blending system used in the production of sherry).
And so to my top five.
I’ve resisted the temptation to list one Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez, because even many of the entry-level Amontillados and Palo Cortados just aren’t that approachable. There are no cream sherries in my list either – bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream linger in most drinks cabinets across the country, but in reality the only interesting cream sherries on the market fall into that old and rare category.
La Gitana Manzanilla – Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana
Instantly recognisable by the gypsy on the label, this is an archetypal Manzanilla from Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Dry, sea breeze fresh with a classic chamomile character.
Widely available. Imported by James Nicholson
La Guita Manzanilla – Bodegas Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín
Spain’s most popular manzanilla. Formerly a single vineyard manzanilla pasada, the brand has undergone somewhat of a rebirth and is now produced in huge quantities as a manzanilla fina. Sales have increased to over 250,000 cases per year. The name comes from the old Andalucian slang word for ‘cash’ but also means ‘string’, which is why you’ll find a piece of string attached to each bottle.
Available from Celtic Whiskey Shop/Wines on the Green and Black Pig
La Ina Fino – Bodegas Lustau
Formerly released by Pedro Domecq, this reference point fino is now bottled by Bodegas Lustau. Pungent and intense, it’s always well balanced and sometimes reveals an almost tingly acidity that makes it even more appealing with food.
Available from Mitchell & Son. and Cases Wine Warehouse
Gobernador Oloroso – Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo
Not to be confused with Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, this sherry from Emilio Hidalgo could be considered to be the outlier in this list as the bodega has a relatively small annual production and is often referred to as one of the more artisan sherry bodegas still in existence. This is an example of an Oloroso that follows two different paths. Some is bottled with an average age of about 12 years (Gobernador) whilst the remainder is used to feed the solera system of Hidalgo’s excellent Villapanés Oloroso Viejo.
Available from Celtic Whiskey Shop/Wines on the Green
El Candado Pedro Ximénez – Bodegas Valdespino
Pedro Ximenez sherries are sweet with the best ones also retaining a freshness that doesn’t make them overly cloying. This is a good intro to the style and is delicious either on its own or poured over vanilla ice cream as a dessert. Continuing with the theme of unusual bottle adornments, this one comes with its own lock and key.
Widely available. Imported by Liberty Wines