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Sherry is a fortified wine made in the Jerez-Xérèx-Sherry y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda DO, a designated area around the town of Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain’s Andalusia region. Along with Portugal’s Port and Madeira, Sherry is considered one of the world’s great fortified wines.

There are two basic categories of Sherries: Fino and Oloroso. They are made with base wines made from the white grapes Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Fino and Oloroso age into different styles, thanks to the presence or absence of a naturally occurring yeast called flor. Fino Sherry is light and dry, and as it ages it’s kept fresh by the layer of flor yeast that forms on the surface of the wine inside the barrel. This layer eats up sugars and keeps the wine from oxidizing. Because Oloroso has a slightly higher alcohol level, flor does not form on its surface. Without this protective layer, Oloroso oxidizes inside the barrel and develops a deep brown color and rich, nutty, raisin-y characteristics. While both styles start out dry, Oloroso is often sweetened to produce variations.

The major Sherry styles include:

Fino: This is a delicately dry cocktail Sherry with a pleasant nutty flavor and pale color. With prolonged aging in cask, Fino may develop in various ways. As the flor thins and eventually dies off, the wine gains body and more intensity of flavor.

Oloroso: Oloroso is dark gold to deep brown in color, full-bodied with a rich, raisin-y aroma and flavor, but dry in the finish.

Manzanilla: Manzanilla is pale, straw-colored, delicate and very dry, in the same style as Fino but produced in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sanlúcar’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean imparts a unique salty tang to Manzanilla.

Amontillado: Amontillado takes its name from Montilla, where this fortified wine is made from Fino Sherry that is aged for a long time, until its flor dies or is removed, and then continues to age like an Oloroso. Amontillado is a deep amber color, richer and nuttier than a Fino or Manzanilla. Sweetened versions are marked “medium” or “pale.”

Cream: Cream Sherry is a sweetened Oloroso, full-bodied with a rich, smooth and nutty flavor.

Pedro Ximénez: Called “PX” for short, this dessert Sherry has a rich molasses color with an intensely sweet flavor of prunes, roasted fruit, nuts and spice.

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