Sherry is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated wines in the world today. I’ll spare you all the guff about it not being just for grannies or for Christmas and instead will ask you to cosy up to your nearest friendly wine geek and ask them what they think about sherry. Almost without fail, you’ll be met with giddy excitement. If not, I suggest you consider getting yourself some new wine friends. Unless they drink Madeira of course, in which case they may be about to perform their own similar little test on you. But more on that another day.
Misunderstood and under-appreciated does have a silver lining though – incredible value. In terms of quality / price ratio sherry, along with Madeira actually, arguably remains one of the best value wines in the world.
Fino and manzanilla are the most delicate styles of dry sherry. (Note: Manzanilla is a similar style aged in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and is considered by many to have even more finesse than fino from elsewhere in the sherry triangle.) After fermentation, the young wine is classified according to style and fortified. In the case of fino it is fortified to approximately 15% alcohol, undergoes a further classification and is then aged in the solera system – the method of fractional blending that is the cornerstone of sherry production. Barrels in the solera system are only filled to 5/6th capacity, but fino is protected from oxidation by a layer of yeasts known as flor. The final sherry is dry, saline and bears the imprint of its ageing under flor.
Fino pairs brilliantly with food, in fact all sherry really comes into its own at the dinner table. Traditional accompaniments like Jamón Ibérico (I highly recommend the range of Jamón from Black Pig in Donnybrook, Dublin), olives, almonds all work well, and fino really shines when paired with seafood. My own favourite pairing is the umami overload of fino with sashimi and other Japanese food.
Here are some finos to try:
González Byass Tío Pepe Fino – A consistent and good value offering, which although made in a heavily filtered style, is a good introduction to fino. Widely available in independent wine shops and supermarkets, including Tesco, for approximately €15 for a 750ml bottle.
Valdespino Fino Inocente – A single vineyard fino from Marcharnudo Alto that averages approximately 10 years of age. Really delicious stuff with a characteristic flor kick and depth of flavour that is unrivalled at this price. Imported by Liberty Wines. Available from independent wine shops including 64 Wine, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and Donnybrook Fair. €11.99 (375ml)
Bodegas Tradición Fino Tradición – Bodegas Tradición is a small bodega which specialises in old sherries. Indeed, up until recently Tradición never released a fino, concentrating instead on their sublime range of rare and vintage sherries. As you would expect from a bodega with such pedigree, their fino is excellent – Really ‘full on’ and complex, but still elegant. Available from Celtic Whiskey Shop / Wines on the Green and Black Pig. €37.99 (750ml)
Emilio Hidalgo Fino Especial La Panesa – A fino with an average age of 15 years. Sherry expert Peter Liem notes in the book ‘Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla’ that this fino “illustrates the upper limits of biological aging”. Not for the feint hearted or the sherry newbie. Available in 750ml bottles from Celtic Whiskey Shop / Wines on the Green, Black Pig and 64 Wine. €39.99. (750ml)