I don't often select a whole category of wine as my wine of the week but I have had such strong positive yet curious feedback as a result of my recent articles urging wine lovers to look again at sherry
that I think it could be useful to point the curious in the direction of some of the most reliable and easily-found examples of the unique and wonderfully tangy wine style that is Fine and Manzanilla, sherry at its palest, lightest and driest.
In my tasting notes I have highlighted some of the purest expressions of many different styles of dry sherry but most of them are available in only very small quantities. Here are some examples of the best Finos and Manzanillas in much more general commercial circulation. While it may not be strictly necessary to finish up the bottle, or the half-bottle these wines are often packaged in, at one sitting, and while, as Jesús Barquín points out here, you don't have to drink these wines within weeks of bottling, you should aim to do so within about eight months. So do try to buy from a store or merchant with a fairly rapid turnover of these light sherries, and pick up any clues re bottling dates that might be available on back labels.
For British wine lovers, one obvious place to buy top quality Fino and Manzanilla is the Wine Society (click here for details), whose members are discerning and demanding enough to ensure that stocks are very fresh. And this is one style of wine that is particularly well suited to the high turnover norm of a busy supermarket. It is a point of honour that the sherry buyers at Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Tesco are able to offer suitably fresh Fino and Manzanilla. If not, they have got their orders seriously wrong.
For Americans, it will be a question of finding those retailers who take sherry seriously and understand the special mores of sherry selling and sherry drinking. Emilio Lustau seems to be one of the best-distributed of the specialist sherry labels.
In other markets, it may well be much more difficult to track down fresh bottles of these delicate wines, but you are likely to know which merchants are reliable better than me. Do study those back labels!
Here are some wines to head for which should not disappoint, so long as the stock is not too old. Drink them as cool as a full bodied white wine. Don't hesitate to decant them and serve them in big wine glasses. They are super-appetising and work well as an aperitif with green olives, but they can also go brilliantly with many a salad, egg or fish dish, and of course with that wonderful sweet, glossy pata negra ham – especially the acorn-imbued fatty bit.
Finos are matured in Jerez or Puerto Santa Maria while Manzanilla must be matured in the smaller port of Sanlucar de Barrameda and should be a little saltier and even more delicate than most Finos. Most of these wines are justl 15% alcohol – about the same as many California Chardonnays.
To find out more about sherry, see this article in your online Oxford Companion to Wine.
Just click on the wine names below to find stockists.
Emilio Lustau, Puerto Fino Sherry – this seems very marine to me, even though not Manzanilla. Immensely satisfying and great with food. Christopher Canaan imports Lustau sherries into the US.
Rey Fernando de Castilla, Antique Fino – beautifully packaged 50cl bottles from an irreproachable source. UK importer is Boutinot.
The (Wine) Society's Fino – Great value at £4.95 for 75cl, but the sort of deal that has been ruining Jerez alas.
Tio Pepe Fino – Gonzalez Byass's market leader manages to keep up a remarkable level of quality. It is not as raw or complex as the greatest Finos, but is thoroughly reliable, from a good source.
Waitrose Fino – Yeasty, bready, correct and tangy from the Caballero subsidiary of Lustau. Just £3.75 for 50cl.
La Gitana Manzanilla – The Hidalgo family's flagship, a little softer than La Guita.
La Guita Manzanilla – Particularly tangy – smell that sea breeze! – from the Estevez group of which technical director is Eduardo Ojeda of the multi award-winning Equipo Navazos, bottlers of tiny quantities of hand-picked barrels of exceptional sherries.
Emilio Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa – Lustau's introduction to the style, a little softer than some.
Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada – Manzanilla Pasada is rather older and nuttier than regular Manzanilla and this, a joint venture between Hidalgo and Cristiano Van Zeller, who used to own Quinta do Noval in the Douro, is one of the most reliable and easiest to find.
Waitrose, Solera Jerezana Manzanilla Pasada – Actually of course the Solera was not Jerezana (in Jerez) for this wine but in Sanlucar. Perfect for shellfish, and just £7.49 for 75cl in store but as of yesterday it didn't seem to be available online. From Cuevas Jurado, one of the almacenistas (artisanal sherry stockholders) that supplies Lustau. 17%