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A good time for Sherry lovers

Every article on sherry seems to start with a few disparaging comments about its reputation as a grandma’s or a down-and-outer’s tipple coming cheap, warm and potent in flagons.

We won’t start that way. But this way.

Sherry is one of the great wines of the world.

Like many styles of wine it can be reproduced with degrees of success in other wine districts.

Sherry This Magnificent LIfe
Feel that Spanish warmth. The Alcazar in Jerez

But like champagne, the real thing can only be properly made in one small area, from a defined selection of grapes made by exacting traditional methods.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Where else but Spain?

The area is in the very south west of Spain surrounding a town not far from the Atlantic called Jerez de la Frontera.

Another sherry, vicar?

Several centuries ago the English, then having a fabulous fleet of ships and doing a nice line in world trade if not a bit of empire building, were great patrons of this singular wine. As it was fortified and highish in alcohol, it meant a barrel could survive in drinkable condition when it was shipped back home.

For the same reasons they had an affinity for the similarly fortified but vastly different flavours (different grapes, different soil) of the wines of Portugal just a few hundred miles up around the coast.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Jan Petersen owner of Fernando de Castilla

In both places you will still find today some English and Irish surnames attesting to their long interest.

They adapted the pronunciation of Jerez to Sherry and built up quite a steady business shipping it back to drawing rooms at home.

Before fridges, chilled beer, sav blanc and cocktails the clink of the cut-glass decanter from the sideboard signalled one’s way of unwinding at the end of one’s day.

Unique in the world of wine

We do make ‘sherries’ in Australia although as with ‘champagne’ ‘port’ and ‘burgundy’ we can no longer call them that.

But real pleasure lies in the real thing and for one of the truly magnificent wines of the world real sherry is amazingly cheap.

The best sherry is grown on white chalk soils. The vineyards are blinding to look at in the oven-like summers in that part of the world. For a wine made from ripening bunches that are almost cooked daily the best can be startlingly delicate.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
The golden liquid is moved down to a lower row of barrels

Traditionally sherry has been made by pouring the freshly stomped young wine into the top of a solera … a stack of 20, 30 or more wooden barrels, three, four or five rows high. Over the months and years these wines are poured down to the next row of barrels and so on down to the bottom row where the aged mature wine, now a blend of many vintages, is eventually drained off to be bottled.

A whole range to explore

There are four or five main classes of sherry.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Salvador Real pouring the first ever organic manzanilla

You start with fino, a perfect aperitif. This is the purest, lightest, driest expression of the Palomino grape. A special fino is manzanilla aged in a solera in Sanlucar de Barrameda  near the sea. Aficionados say you can detect a friskiness of salt air as you swirl and sip. Next up a step in colour and flavor is amontillado. A touch oxidized, more complex and soft.  Then comes oloroso, aged till it’s golden with a perception of sweetness though still dry. Finally the gloriously sweet pedro ximinez grape (known as PX) definitely a dessert wine.

For sherry lovers, and those who would like to be, this time of year should be fun – November 7 to 13 is International Sherry Week.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Our newest Sherry Educator looks over Jerez

Which is timely, for Australia has a newly accredited Sherry Educator, Roberta Muir, who has recently returned from an intensive course in Jerez.

Enthusiasm is addictive

TML was able to catch up with her and explore her fascination.

“Growing up in the 70s wine wasn’t part of my family’s table, but in my late teens I realised there was a whole world out there that ate and drank differently to us.”

About 10 years ago I was introduced to a manzanilla and that was the only sherry I drank.

Best sherry? A friend gave me my first manzanilla pasada, aged longer than a normal manzanilla, rich, dark golden and nuttier. It changed my life!

Sherry is so versatile. Manzanilla as an aperitif, all those lovely styles in between, to a rich sweet Pedro Ximinez with a chocolate dessert.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Eduardo Ojeda winemaker at Valdespino demonstrates his skill with the venencia

Favourite memories of Jerez include tasting with the winemakers from the wooden butts. Especially the ease with which they extract a sample from a barrel with their venencias and theatrically pour it into the glasses from a great height.

A good time to expand your repertoire

Sherry Week has more than 1500 events in 29 countries. A great excuse to seek out one or more new sherries.

Thanks, Roberta. We’ll definitely be raising a copita or two.

You can find out more at

And you can catch some of Roberta’s enthusiasm for sherry at and click on Top5.

Sherry This Magnificent Life
Yum! Check out Roberta’s recipe for chocolate pots with Pedro Ximenez

She has fabulous sherry recipes too, such as:











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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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