By Carl Hanson

This classic cooking wine is also good to drink.

Sherry is the perfect wine to pair with tapas, mild cheeses, almonds, and olives.

What is Sherry?

Sherry is fortified wine from southwestern Spain that comes in a range of styles. It can be dry and pale straw-colored or sweet and dark as mahogany--or somewhere in between. Dry sherries are typically served chilled; sweet sherries are served at room temperature.

Sherry differs from port (another fortified wine) in important ways.

  • Sherry is fortified with grape-based spirit after fermentation is finished (with port, brandy is added during fermentation to stop the process).
  • Unlike most other wines, air is deliberately introduced to sherry as it ages.

Air and alcohol determine the two main types of sherry: fino and oloroso.

Fino Styles

With fino sherry, the introduction of air into barrels of aging wine creates a layer of yeast (called flor) that floats on top of the wine. This flor forms a barrier that prevents additional air from reaching the wine and oxidizing it.


Serve chilled with olives, mild cheeses, almonds, calamari, ham, salami, and all manner of tapas.


Another dry, fino-style sherry with a light, delicate, and distinctive sea-like taste, Manzanilla sherry is aged in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla is excellent served chilled with tapas.


Darker in color than fino or manzanilla sherry with a nutty flavor, amontillados stand as a midway point between fino and oloroso styles. They can be dry or sweet.

Recipes to try with fino, manzanilla, or dry amontillado sherry:

Photo by SunnyByrd

Oloroso Styles

Oloroso-style sherries are fortified to higher alcohol levels (about 18%, compared to fino's 15.5%). This higher degree of alcohol kills the yeast that would normally create the flor, allowing more oxygen to reach the wine. Extra time with oxygen oxidizes the wine, developing raisiny, nutty flavors and deeper color.


A dry or sweet sherry with a dark mahogany color (almost like a tawny port), Oloroso sherry has a rich nutty flavor from liberal exposure to oxygen.

Photo by dfdez78

Cream Sherry

Darker still, cream sherry is a sweetened oloroso. Sweet Pedro Ximenez wine is added to dry sherry to create a sweet, dark wine typically served after dinner at room temperature.

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Pedro Ximenez (or PX)

A sweet sherry made from Pedro Ximenez grapes. Serve with chocolate, blue cheese, and dried fruit-like figs and prunes.

Photo by JPMJ

Why Is It Called Sherry?

The word Sherry is actually a garbling of the name "Jerez," a city in sunny southwest Spain famous for its fortified wines--and challenging for English speakers to pronounce.

How Do They Make Sherry?

  • Making sherry involves a unique blending process called the solera system.
  • Sherry is aged in groupings of barrels from various vintages.
  • The solera's purpose is to blend together wines from different vintages to create a consistent style of wine.
  • As the wine ages, equal portions of wine are occasionally drawn off of each barrel in the grouping.

It works like this: Wine is removed from the oldest barrel in the group. Then an equal measure is taken from the next oldest to top off the oldest barrel, and then the next oldest refills the depleted one, and so on throughout the grouping until, finally, new wine is added to the youngest barrel in the group. This process of blending the wines is called "running the scales." The resulting mixture of vintages explains why bottles of sherry are almost never vintage dated.

What's Cooking Sherry?

Cooking sherry is never for drinking. It is sherry to which salt has been added to preserve it. When cooking with cooking sherry, take this extra salt into consideration when salting your dish. Better yet, cook with a good drinkable sherry instead.

The History of Sherry

Sherry's pedigree goes way back to the late 15th century, when it was valued for its staying power--like port, sherry's high level of alcohol helped preserve it during long sea voyages. Sherry was among the first wines to reach American shores in the 16th century.

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