Unflattering reputations in the wine world seem to linger – often ossifying into long-term prejudices.
Such preconceptions are slow to dispel and it is hard work to make it happen – just ask Beaujolais, Vinho Verde and Riesling.
Consequently, many in the wine trade will wish a fair wind to this autumn’s major initiative on another negative stereotype – that surrounding sherry.
Dismissing the entire sherry category is completely illogical given the wide range of styles it encompasses.
So, to try setting the record straight, today’s post takes a detailed look at merely one part of the sherry spectrum.
Since they work so well with Christmas fare, that focus is on sherry at the sweeter end of the spectrum.
If that has your finger lingering over the “Off” button, bear with me, there are some tasty but inexpensive options ahead – just suspend judgement for a little while.
The plan is for you try different styles from supermarkets' inexpensive ranges (several of which are pretty sound) and then consider staircasing up from there.
In the usual way, hyperlinks and pictures are used where possible to help you locate the bottle in question.
So what types are involved?
Starting in the middle of the road with Oloroso – which oxidative ageing makes quite dark compared to others at the dry end of the spectrum.
Although it is still dry wine, without that yeast layer known as flor, it becomes richer and rounder than Amontillado or Fino.
Usually, it exhibits walnut and toast flavours and is probably the most suitable sherry to drink with robust (often meat based) food.
Moving along the continuum.
Next comes cream sherry – a style that spans the divide between dry and sweet sherries.
For context on sweetness, while Oloroso has a residual sugar level below 5 grams per litre, cream sherry often has 115 or more.
The trick is to balance things so that the sweetness is not so obvious.
Cream sherry is usually a blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez through a practice called “cabeceo”.
This introduces Naturally Sweet Wines, or concentrated must, to otherwise dry sherries and, broadly speaking, creates the dividing line between dry and sweet sherry wines.
When made well, cream sherry delivers delicately controlled sweetness with traces of toffee and nuts.
Doubters should try cream sherry with ice and a slice of orange (and even a sliver of peel) as an aperitif.
The extra sweetness of cream sherry means that the ice cubes do not mute the wine’s flavours.
Finally on to those Naturally Sweet Wines.
Pedro Ximénez is at dessert end of the sherry spectrum – dense, rich and probably the sweetest wine in the world.
It comes from sun dried batches of the PX grape where the resulting evaporation increases the concentration of the must.
While pedro ximenez is not the only sherry grape to which this process applies, it is a common one.
The subsequent aging process used for these naturally sweet wines deepens their colour and increases their viscosity significantly.
The result provides an ideal ending for a meal; morever, you can substantially enhance even basic ice cream by pouring on PX.
Some claim it is a perfect contrast to, for instance, Roquefort cheese.
Now for examples
While purists will no doubt hector me for being overly simplistic, a broad brush suits the purpose of this post – encouraging more people to try sherry.
My advice here is simple.
Buy small bottles of all three styles mentioned here and see which suit you best.
These styles of sherry can last a while once opened so finishing them up can be spread over several days.
Supermarkets normally have versions of all three styles, each usually with single figure prices.
Since most retailers’ ranges are reliable, one-stop shopping is possible, but I do have specific tips if you are prepared to shop around.
My top choices from the High Street.
Taste the Difference Oloroso Sherry (£9 for 50cl at Sainsbury’s and 20% abv):
Chestnut brown in colour with dried fruit aromas, this neatly supplements sherry’s classic bruised apple and slightly saline flavours.
What make this a great option is its fresh acidity and suggestions of fudge within a warm, long but surprisingly light texture.
Co-op Cream Sherry (£11.25 for a litre and 17.5%):
Smooth with just the right richness, this brings us a neat combination of brazil nut, toasted almond and gingerbread flavours.
What swings it for me is the impressive way it integrates caramel, molasses and orange hints to secure a balance between delicacy and richness.
The Best Pedro Ximenez (£7 for a half bottle at Morrisons and 17%):
With aromas of coffee being roasted and a generous syrupy mouthfeel, this displays fig and date sweetness wrapped in ginger spiciness.
This really is a top example at this price.
It neatly allows balancing acidity to limit the effect of the wine's viscosity without reducing its dark chocolate smoothness.
And moving up the market.
Noe 30-Year-Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Gonzalez Byass (£24.99 at Laithwaite’s for a half bottle and 15.5%):
Almost black with velvety denseness, this has smooth toffee apple, walnut, date and treacle toffee flavours.
The stardust comes from the way that richness is nicely lightened by touches of cinnamon and mango – all enlivened by an attractive twist of acidity.
And going upmarket with Oloroso
Alvear Oloroso Asuncion (£18.95 for a half bottle at Ultracomida and 19%):
To move upmarket with oloroso, I could not resist this delightful example which is actually from Montilla-Moriles rather than Jerez.
Consequently, it uses that region’s star grape (pedro ximenez) rather than the palomino frequently encountered in other olorosos.
The result is amber coloured and very smooth in texture with classy red fruit, coffee and candied fruit flavours.
Supporting components include traces of ginger, allspice, apple and vegetable aromas and citrus acidity.
Any of those wines would work perfectly for Christmas adding to a note of opulence and surprise to any gathering or luxury meal… Do give them a try.
More News from Eddie
“Sainsbury's Christmas Wine Offer have their latest 25% off buy 6 bottles running right now! It goes for an astonishing 5 weeks until December 19th. I can't remember such a long promotion before.
Checking the website there are lots of double-dips to be had with many a shelf price already reduced.
This may be a time therefore to choose something a bit more exclusive and have a considerable saving on more expensive wines, 47% off in total in some instances.
Given recent inflation in grocery prices generally and changes in duty it's remarkable there are such decent quality bottles still to be had around the £6 mark.
If it's an Italian red of a less well known varietal this Nero di Troia starts at £9.50 and will be £6 …
A quality Italian white is this very drinkable Gavi usually £10 but £6 on a double-dip!
They do come thick and fast these days!
Asda has announced that from 17th November until 13th December their Xmas 25% off buy 6 deal will operate.
Plenty of old favourites to choose from there and I can indicate a couple of mine once I see what might be their best double dip deals.
Always remember to check the details on all these offers to avoid disappointment.
The lowest price to which deals apply at all these high street retailers can be different!”
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