A Sherry Pairing Mnemonic #WinePW

Sherry spans a wide range of flavors

Austere, bold & dry, sweet, Sherry spans a wide range of flavors

Wine Pairing Weekend Sherry Exploration
Our Wine Pairing Weekend group is exploring sherry wine pairing this month. Some of our group are sherry lovers, but for many, sherry is either new, different, or just not liked. I’m in the “starting to understand, maybe, possibly coming into the sherry lovers camp”. But I still have a ways to go!  Cruise down further in this post to see all the great ideas our group tried.

Sherry comes from Jerez in Spain, pictured in red. (image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

Sherry comes from Jerez in Spain, pictured in red. (image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

What is Sherry?
Sherry is a whole family of unique fortified wines from the region around Jerez, Spain. The wines span a full range from austere and dry to unctuous and extremely sweet. Grown in a hot climate, the main grape is a white variety called Palomino. After the base wine is made and fortified, it enters a solera system where new wine is gradually blended into barrels of older wine over a period of years.  In this environment, a yeast cap called flor is encouraged to grow to protect the wine from oxygen. The yeast is unique to the local climate of Jerez, and even just a few miles away in San Lucar, Manzanilla has a different flor and flavor.

1 barrel from a solera system showing the wine, airspace above and flor (yeast cap on the surface). (photo courtesy of wikipedia.org)

1 barrel from a solera system showing the wine, airspace above and flor (yeast cap on the surface). (photo courtesy of wikipedia.org)

Sherry produced under this “flor” cap is fino sherry, and you’ll know it as the light colored sherry.  Amontillado sherry started life as a fino, but the yeast cap died, and the sherry then aged in the presence of oxygen, just like Oloroso. Oloroso sherry is either sherry that never developed a flor cap, or was never allowed to do so. Fino sherries are always bone dry.  Amontillado and Oloroso sherries, also dry, are darker due to the oxidative aging.  Pedro Ximénez sherries are very sweet, usually for dessert. Cream sherries (belonging to your grandmother) are sweet sherries made from a blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Ryan Opaz’ excellent sherry 101 article. Another excellent reference is the Sherry Wines website where you’ll find all you want to know including excellent wine pairing advice.

Dry Sherry Wine Pairing
I only intended to do one pairing for this post, but I was inspired by a bit of advice from the Sherry Wines website:

“If it swims – Fino, if it flies – Amontillado, if it runs – Oloroso”

I didn’t think this one up, it is an old Jerezano saying I just couldn’t pass up.  Consider this a brief series of experiments testing out the saying above! (click any photo for slide show, escape to return)


Fino and Manzanilla sherries are raised their entire lives under a cover of flor (yeast). The flor imparts a very specific aroma and flavor to the wines. They maintain their light color, unique austere, slightly saline flavor, and pair well with olives, salty ham like Serrano, and seafood. I enjoyed Fino with a quick speedy cioppino recipe. They are served ice cold in a sherry glass or a white wine glass. I personally find Fino and Manzanilla difficult to enjoy beyond the experience of new flavors.  They are my “developing” taste in sherry. Definitely try them with food as they are the ultimate examples of wines that improve in the presence of food.

El Maestro Sierra Fino sherry

El Maestro Sierra Fino

Bodegas El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry ($15 at Zipps Liquors)
A tasting note doesn’t do justice to Fino sherry, as it is so different from any “normal” white wine. You need to taste it for yourself.
Eye: Clear lemon yellow, no legs, very thin viscosity
Nose: Ultra clean, saline, fresh & briny, not at all fruity.
Mouth: Bone-ass dry, mineral, not fruity at all. Slightly bitter almond finish. Acidity seems low, but not flat.  Very good with Cioppino, handles spicy dish well.
Easy to think of this being so refreshing on a super hot day by the seashore.


The Sherry Wines website has a wide variety of recipes suggested for pairing with sherry wines of various types. We tried Garlic & Manchego Chicken served with roasted fresh asparagus as they suggested. Amontillado sherry starts out as Fino, but for some barrels, the flor will fail and die. This sherry continues to age in contact with the air through the remainder of its’ life in the soldera system. Amontillado has aroma and flavor characteristics of both Fino and Oloroso, because it spent time in each of those aging regimens. The color is deep amber, and the aromas are of caramel and nuts, with a hint of the tang of flor in there, too. The wine has a very rich mouthfeel, is bone dry, and continues the flavors from the aromas with a very long finish.  I would have to agree that Amontillado sherry is the best pairing for fresh asparagus I have ever tasted!

Bodegas Grant "La Garrocha" Amontillado sherry

Bodegas Grant “La Garrocha” Amontillado

Bodegas Grant Amontillado La Garrocha Sherry ($17 at France 44)
Eye: clear, deep golden amber. Caramel color
Nose: Clean, oxidized with just a hint of the sharp flor. Caramel, almonds, nuts,
Mouth: Rich, creamy texture. Strong fruit gives an impression of sweetness initially, but the finish is dry, even severe. Not really tannic, long finish. The bitter almond lingers a very long time.


Oloroso sherry never spends time under flor. From the beginning, it is fortified to 17% to guarantee flor never develops, as flor dies above 15% alcohol. The wine is aged in the soldera system for years, always exposed to oxygen. This is how the color gets so dark, it started out as a white wine! The oxidative aging imparts aromas and flavors of caramel and nuts, though the wine is dry. All that aging also yields a wine which has a very rich texture. Oloroso sherry is a good partner to meats and game. We tried it first with nice rare steak served with mushrooms and onions sauteed in butter and the Oloroso sherry.  On a fluke, we finished up the bottle the next night with ribs coated in a sweet barbecue sauce. The Oloroso provided a perfect match for the ribs; much better than the Zinfandel we had opened, even though the Zin was just fine.

El Maestro Sierra Oloroso sherry

El Maestro Sierra Oloroso

Bodegas El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 15 Anos Sherry (15 years) ($15 at Zipps Liquors)
Eye: Clear, deep golden amber color
Nose: Pure nuts (almonds) and caramel. No hint of flor.
Mouth: Rich, creamy texture. Caramel and nuts, but a definite dry impression. The nutty side dominates the long finish, but seems like pure nuts and not a bitter almond.

Wine Pairing Weekend Sherry Discoveries
Come along and see what we discovered. Our posts are all live Saturday morning, July 9. Read up and join our chat on Twitter at #WinePW starting at 10am CDT on Saturday, July 9. See you there!

Join our Wine Pairing Weekend group on August 13 with South African Wine Pairings!

Local Sources
I don’t receive any compensation from any of these sources, they are simply retailers and farmers I know and trust.

Zipps Liquors & France 44 Wines – both have good selections of sherries.

Sunshine Harvest Farms – for local pasture raised chicken, pork, beef and lamb. The chicken, steak and ribs from this post all came from our farmer friends.

Ribs and Oloroso sherry





24 Responses to “A Sherry Pairing Mnemonic #WinePW”
  1. Cooking Chat says:

    packed with lots of great info on sherry! sounds like you had a somewhat similar experience with the fino as I did (improves with food). Interesting about that asparagus pairing.

  2. Thanks for hosting – and for pushing me out of my comfort zone. We really enjoyed our pairing!

  3. Ha! Don’t know if I’ve ever seen “bone-ass” dry for a wine descriptor before Jeff! Definitely a good description though. As I alluded to during the chat, I’m definitely a food and wine (or in my case wine and food) guy. I guess I was willing to develop a taste for Sherry if it was going to be a great option at the table. I’m glad I made the ” investment” The more I tried, the more I enjoyed it. Good luck on your Sherry journey. I bet you’ll find a gem or two. I’d definitely recommend you try the “en rama” style. Thanks for hosting. Twas a great chat!

    • Thanks, Martin. I’ll look for an en rama example. The more I try them, the more I understand sherries. Intellectually, I think they’re fascinating and worth exploring more.

  4. Great post, Jeff! I was really sorry to miss this one, as I definitely need to bone up my Sherry creds. I love the swims-flies-runs pairing advice. Your pairings look wonderful (as always), and you had a great strategy (even if unintended) to try and pair each of the Sherry styles separately. Learning, maximized! Cheers!

  5. Beautiful pairings, as usual. Love the quick cioppino/fino and rib/oloroso pairings in particular. Great info. Thanks for this challenging topic for #winePW. It was great fun! I see more Sherry and food pairings in my future.

  6. Swims/Flies/Runs was a great way to highlight the different styles of Sherry and the right foods to pair with them. Your photos look like they came right out of Food and Wine magazine, and they are downright appetizing!

  7. Awesome post! I wish I had delved into this like you did and tried the different styles – I also wish we had a better selection available. Your selections sound interesting and better than the off the shelve version I found at the market.

    I love that quote and your -bone-ass dry description! Thanks for hosting!

  8. tpwpcom says:

    Wow you went all out. Beautiful photos. Love the easy to remember sherry pairing advice.

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