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What is Sherry?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sherry is a fortified wine from a small region of Spain, made from the Muscat, Palomino, and Pedro Ximenez grapes. In the United States and some other countries, some producers market Sherry-style wines — though technically, like the use of the term Champagne for sparkling white wines, calling such wines Sherry is incorrect.

This wine is made in the early stages like most other types. Once it has fermented, however, it is fortified with brandy. At this point, some Sherry has more yeast added and some does not. It is similar in some ways to other fortified wines, such as Port — in comparison to Port, however, Sherry is quite a bit less alcoholic.

Sherry may come in a variety of different styles, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Oloroso is a type that is around 17.5% alcohol — too high in alcohol content to allow the growth of any yeast — that is extremely dark and full of flavor. Amontillado usually has around 15% alcohol, and has flor yeast added after the initial fermentation. Amontillado is a lighter wine than Oloroso. Fino is a type that is quite dry in texture, and the lightest of all varieties. Sweet Sherry is one of these drier Sherry wines with a sweet wine such as Muscat added to it.

This beverage has a long and prestigious history — rivaling that of most wines still around today. The first record of grapes in what is now the Jerez region of Spain where Sherry comes from is by a 1st century B.C. Greek, who talks about the vines being brought there in 1100 B.C. There is ample archaeological evidence that the Romans enjoyed wine from this region of Spain.

The grapes of Jerez had a difficult time during the Moorish period of Spain, when Islamic precepts resulted in the uprooting of many of the vines. A great deal survived, however, and once the Moors left Spain in the 13th century, vines were replanted with an incredible passion. From then on, the wines of Jerez were popular throughout Europe, particularly in England, where they became known as Sherry.

Magellan is famously known to have spent more money on Sherry for his long journey around than world than on weapons, and Columbus is said to have brought ample supplies on his journey to the New World. The fortification of Sherry, like Port, allows it to survive rough sea journeys much better than more sensitive wines, helping to explain its popularity on long trips. In the 19th century, the wine took its place as one of the world’s truly great alcohols, being exported in great quantity to England and the United States, as well as to the rest of the world. It was this era that saw a refinement of the production procedure and began allowing for longer aging of the wines before release, resulting in richer, fuller wines.

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Discussion Comments
By anon86896 — On May 27, 2010

so what kind of sherry is good for cooking? i want to make chili con carne. What sherry and what type of chillies are good to use?

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