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World of Wine: An introduction to the world of sherry wine

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

Sherry wine is perhaps the most underappreciated wines to pair with food. While I have never tried it with my wine class students, a review of the literature claims that it is being discovered by the younger generation — the millennials — because of the wide offerings in styles and flavors.

According to an article in the March 4, 2015, issue of Wine Enthusiast by Michael Schachner, the uniqueness of sherry wines is their solera method of aging. This is the technique using fractions of aged fortified wines that sit in barrels for years, and are combined by the winemaker to target a particular product with a flavor impact that will market well. New barrels are added every year to keep the system going.

The bottled product can either be bone-dry known as fino, which is made exclusively from palomino grapes grown in chalky white soils called "albariza." Being tank fermented under a blanket of yeast called "flor" gives them protection from oxidation. Their alcohol volume is about 15 percent, and when served chilled with snacky foods like peanuts, potato chips, olives and fried seafood, they are a major league hit.

There is the moderately sweet Manzanilla, the lightest of the sherries, such as the Don Zoilo from Williams & Humbert Collection. Upon sampling with some friends, we found it totally agreeable while noshing on the above snacks.

Another sherry recently tasted was a Williams & Humbert Dry Sack that is a distinctive blend of oak aged Sherry wines. The aging lasts for six years, and is a distinctive blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes, giving the wine an intense aroma of dried nuts — almonds — and comes across the palate in a balanced and full bodied, not too sweet nor dry. Of the two sherry wines we tasted, it was the overwhelming favorite. ABV is 19.5 percent, with a price under $25.

Full disclosure: Sherry wines have never been on the tip of my tongue when ordering wine out, so I am still on the steep slope of my learning curve. Looking through references on this wine type, I find it to be complex, often confusing and obviously a lot of work in the solera method of production.

Just as all Champagne wines are from France, and all ports are from Portugal, all sherry wines are from Jerez, Spain, known as the "Sherry Triangle" in the southwest corner of Spain with breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, and a very unique terroir of mountains, rivers and chalk-white hills,

According to Karen MacNeil's "Wine Bible," these sherry wines are best served like Champagne: very cold. In southern Spain a refreshingly cool treat is cream sherry over ice and a lemon twist. A good cooler for hot summer evenings.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at tuftruck1@gmail.com.

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