Sherry is a fortified wine, made in and around the town of Jerez, Spain. according to Spanish Law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz, between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El puerto de Santa María.
Sherry differs from other wines because of how it is treated after fermentation. After fermentation is complete, it is fortified with brandy. Because the fortification takes place after fermentation, all natural sherries are dry; any sweetness is applied later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through fermentation, stopping fermentation, so not all the sugars are allowed to turn into alcohol and so leaving a sweet wine. Once bottled, sherry does not benefit from further ageing and may be consumed immediately, though the sherries that have been aged oxidatively may be stored for years without losing their flavour.
Fino (‘fine’ in Spanish) is the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of Sherry.
Manzanilla is a variety of fino Sherry made around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Amontillado is a variety of Sherry that has been aged first under a cap of fl or yeast, and then is exposed to oxygen, which produces a result darker than fino but lighter than oloroso.
Oloroso (‘scented’ in Spanish) is a variety of Sherry aged oxidatively for a longer time than a fino or amontillado, producing a darker and richer wine. With alcohol levels between 18–20%, olorosos are the most alcoholic Sherries in the bottle.
Palo Cortado is a rare variety of Sherry that is initially aged under flor like an amontillado, but develops a character similar to oloroso, with some of the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado.
Sweet Sherry (Jerez Dulce in Spanish) is created when one of the preceding varieties of dry Sherry is sweetened with Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel wine.
Cream sherry is a common variety of sweet sherry made from oloroso, with other varieties including pale cream sherry (made from fino) and medium sherry (made from amontillado).
Before the phylloxera infestation in 1894 there were other varieties of grape used in Spain for the production of sherry, but now there are only three white grapes grown for sherry-making:
Palomino: the dominant grape used for the dry sherries. Approximately 90% of the grapes grown for sherry are Palomino. As varietal table wine, the Palomino grape produces a wine of very bland and neutral characteristics. This neutrality is actually what makes Palomino an ideal grape because it is so easily enhanced by the Sherry winemaking style.
Pedro Ximénez: used to produce sweet wines. When harvested these grapes are typically dried in the sun for two days to concentrate their sugars.
Moscatel: used similarly to Pedro Ximénez, but it is less common. Sherry-style wines made in other countries often use other grape varieties.