Fino Sherry and Manzanilla
Sherry has long been misunderstood as the sticky brown drink found on our grandmother’s
sideboard and typically poured as an aperitif before Great Aunt Mildred’s birthday dinner.
In fact, the cream Sherries we are most familiar with are generally not found in Spain’s restaurants.
They’re mostly reserved for the foreign market. But now, the rest of the world is beginning to realize
what the Spaniard’s have always known - that Sherry is a diverse wine that pairs beautifully with
a number of dishes.
Manzanilla and Fino Sherries are very light, delicate, and completely bone-dry. Like all Sherries,
they are fortified wines produced in the Jerez wine producing region in the southern part of Andalucia in Spain.
Manzanilla and Fino are unique in that they develop in a cask, known as a butt, under a blanket of flor.
Fino Sherries are aged in the Spanish cities of Jerez de la Frontera, La Puerto de Santa Maria,
and Sanlucar de Barrameda. Manzanilla is a fino Sherry that can only be aged in the seaside town
of Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Grapes Used to Make Fino Sherry
Three grape varieties are permitted to be grown in the vineyards of Jerez - Palomino,
Muscat of Alexandria (Moscatel), and Pedro Ximenez. However, fino Sherry is made exclusively
from Palomino grapes. Table wines produced from Palomino are very dull to say the least,
but when aged in a solera system and made into Sherry, its wines can be some of the most
complex in the world.
What is Flor
Although the word “flor” means “flower”, the ugly looking flor that blankets fino sherry is not
a flower at all, but a film of yeast cells resembling cream cheese that naturally appears on
the wine about 2 months after the vintage. This flor only grows naturally in Spain, in the
Jura in France, and a bit in the Caucasus.
Sherry that ages under flor does so in an anaerabic environment. The barrels, or butts,
that hold the wine are not filled all the way leaving a large pocket of air. The flor not
only requires this oxygen to survive, it also protects the wine from oxidization.
The effects of flor on the development of Sherry are great. The yeast absorbs any
remaining sugar in the wine and diminishes the level of glyerine and volatile acids,
resulting in a bone-dry style of wine. It also significantly increases the level of esters
and aldehydes which are precursors to the characteristic flavour of Fino Sherry.
The Solera System
After the Palomino grapes have been pressed, the must is fermented completely dry.
Wines destined to be finos are fortified with grape spirit to between 15% and 15.5% abv.
Finos are fortified a bit lower than other Sherries because the flor needed to produce the
unique flavours of fino will not survive in liquid over 16% alcohol. The wine is then
incorporated into a Solera System for ageing.
A Solera is a complex system consisting of rows of barrels containing wine of varying ages.
Each row is called a “criadera”, with the bottom row containing the oldest wine being known
as the “solera”. No more than 33% of the wine in the solera row can be taken out at a time
and bottled for consumption. Wine from the criadera above it replaces the wine that was
removed from the solera, and then wine from the criadera above that replaces the wine
removed from the next row. The transferring of wine continues until the top criadera is reached.
Fresh wine from the most recent harvest then replaces the wine removed from the top row.
The whole operation is called the “running of the scales.” Simple solera systems consist of
about 3 or 4 criaderas, while more complex systems can have as many as 14. As the wine
passes through the solera, the alcohol level becomes stronger, the acidity increases, and
the number of esters and aldehydes rises, making the wine much more complex.
Serving Fino and Manzanilla
Fino and Manzanilla are light-bodied, bone-dry wines that should be served quite chilled
(8 to 10 degrees Celcius). They are not meant to be aged and will not benefit from cellaring
so it’s important that they be consumed soon after purchase. They will also deteriorate quite
quickly once the bottle has been opened and will not keep for more than a day or two. For this
reason, it is best to buy the smaller bottles.
The light, dry finos and Manzanillas are a fine match with almonds and olives and work well
with almost any kind of tapas, from vegetables, to seafood, to cheese and charcuterie. Try it
with sliced ham, such as Serrano ham or Italian prosciutto. It’s also great with fried fish, fried
calamari, and tempura, which apparently originated in Portugal and Spain, and not Japan.
Sherry is a fortified wine that comes from Andalucia on the southern tip of Spain. Unlike its
cousin port, which is fortified during fermentation and thus sweeter, sherry is fortified after
fermentation by adding brandy to young dry wine. The result is a beverage of about 15-19%
alcohol, ranging in styles from dry to sweet and dozens of flavor combinations.
The lightest and most delicate sherry is fino and its sidekick, manzanilla. It is bone-dry, lightest
in alcohol, and almost always served chilled. It makes a fantastic aperitif and an effective palate
cleanser because of its crisp and tangy taste. Traditionally, it is served with tapas, but its
chameleon-like flavor versatility makes it a front-line candidate for shellfish, sushi, salty
snacks, and "bar foods" – nuts, cold cuts, pungent cheeses.
To some, a glass of fino sherry may be an acquired taste because of that distinctive, tangy
aroma—but like with any first experience, it’s worth a taste. It becomes very easy to understand
once your venture out to a Spanish restaurant and simply allow them to treat you to a
quintessential combo of sherry paired with Spanish cuisine. It won’t cost you much.
A $5/glass authentic experience could certainly trump a more expensive dry martini as a palate opener.
Amontillado is a form of dry fino that ranges in style from dry to sweet (sometimes sweetened to
appeal to sugar-loving consumers). More layered and complex, it pairs well with game meats,
organ meats, and duck. And drinks beautifully on its own.
The other style of sherry is weightier, unctuous oloroso. Also ranging in style from dry to sweet, oloroso
is heavier, more serious, philosophical wine. It is meant to sip and explore, substitute for port or cognac
as an after-diner drink, or enjoy curled up with a book on winter evenings. It can be your best partner
when you are in the mood for long, thought-provoking, heart-to-heart discussions and conversations
with friends—or academic assignments.
Finos and amontillados are made from a white grape called Palomino. Another kind, the much sweeter
version of sherry, is made from the sunned, concentrated grape called Pedro Ximenez. This is a
candidate for pairing with chocolate, berry tarts, and other desserts. Chefs like to use it in cooking
for wine reduction sauces for pork and game.
It’s Inexpensive Seriously. A good bottle of sherry shouldn’t cost you more than $20. Such is the buyer’s market
we are in for this wine. Not bad for a unique enjoyment on the budget. And, in 95% of the cases,
for being a conversation starter—something an ordinary Chardonnay wouldn’t find itself guilty of.
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