This week marks International Sherry Week. Although sherry isn't an integral part of my wine club, I nevertheless always have some in stock—not least because it's one of my favorite drinks, but also for blind tastings as well as being the perfect holiday wine.
Here are three very different types of sherry from one of my favorite producers, Fernando de Castilla, demonstrating the versatility of the region's wines.
Fernando de Castilla was established in the 1960s by shipper José Bustamente, and the emphasis was on selling grapes and wines to bigger producers. In 1999, Norwegian Jan Pettersen bought the company and has transformed it into one of the leading producers in the sherry region.
It may seem strange that a Norwegian should be one of the leading lights in the sherry industry, but it shows how international the sherry region is. Jan's parents moved to Spain in the 1970s upon retirement and he took his master's business degree in Barcelona so his connection to Spain is longstanding. And he has a lot of history in the sherry industry, having started working at sherry giant Osborne in 1983. Having visited Jan for the first time last year, there's no doubting his passion for and knowledge of sherry: there's a reason he's locally known as "The Boss."
antique fino nv
fino is a type of sherry that's completely dry, pale in appearance, and heavily influenced by the way its aged. The wine is fortified after fermentation to a level of 15% ABV. The barrel is filled to around ⅚ capacity, and due to the level of alcohol, humidity, and the space at the top of the barrel, the wine reacts with oxygen to form a deposit of yeast on top of the wine. This then protects the wine from oxygen, which is why finos are so fresh and youthful despite being aged for three to four years or more.
Fernando de Castilla make two finos. One, the "Classic," is quite typical, aged for four years with an emphasis on floral, fruity, fresh aromas. The other is more traditional and nowadays quite rare. It's part of the "Antique" series and is aged twice as long as the Classic; moreover, it's refortified to 17% before bottling which makes it a richer, fuller style. It's one of my favorite finos, because it's so complex and concentrated.
Drink this with anything salty: jamón iberico or any cured ham, roasted almonds, or seafood.
classic oloroso nv
oloroso is a completely different style of sherry from fino. It's aged oxidatively, for at least eight years, right from the beginning and fortified to over 17% to prevent flor from developing. The high level of alcohol means that the wine remains stable despite prolonged exposure to oxygen—any other wine would turn to vinegar. This results in a brown color and mature aromas of toffee, fudge, leather, dried fruits, and walnuts. The Fernando de Castilla "classic" oloroso is aged for an average of fourteen years, an indication of the developed, concentrated aromas and structure.
Drink this as a regular wine, with lamb stew or almondigas (Spanish meatballs). But, while the fino should be drunk within a week, the oloroso can remain open for up to three months.
classic pedro ximénez nv
pedro ximénez, usually abbreviated to px, is one of the most extraordinary wines in the world. The grapes are not actually grown in the sherry region, but in Montilla-Moriles which is around 250km inland. It's much hotter there—nearby Ecija is called the "frying pan of Europe"—so the grapes get fully ripe. They are then laid out on mats outside for six weeks in the September sunshine, which causes the grapes to raisin. After shipping to sherry country, the grapes are fermented to around just 5% ABV as there is so much sugar in the grapes to prevent fermentation to continue beyond that point. It's then fortified to a high level of alcohol and aged oxidatively, resulting in a wine with a brown or even black color with a sticky, syrupy texture and rich aromas of dried fruits, toffee, and fruitcake.
Drink this with really sweet dishes (such as my favorite, sticky toffee pudding) or, for pure indulgence, pour it over vanilla ice cream.
These three wines, all from the same producer, showcase the incredible variety of the wines made in the sherry region: from fino, one of the driest wines in the world, to px, one of the sweetest. This is in large part due to how the wines are made: fortification, exposure to oxygen, length of ageing. The wide range of styles makes the wines fascinating and amazingly versatile food pairings.