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Christmas Sherry Guide 2017: Top tipples from Barrafina’s Rafa Martin

The best sherries for Christmas 2017

by Great British Chefs 07 December 2017

Sherry sales have been plummeting for years, but this year the fortified wine is back in a big way. We asked Barrafina's own wine buyer Rafa Martin to give us his top recommendations for the year.


When you read the word ‘sherry’, do you automatically hear ‘sherrah’? Does it conjure an image of socialites in musty drawing rooms, complaining about the miners’ strike? Maybe it brings back memories of when you and your mates were fourteen and got very drunk on the stuff, and you thought you’d ascended to a different plane of existence but were actually just asleep in the dog basket. No? Yeah, me neither.

Sherry might still have a reputation as a bit of an old-fashioned tipple, but it’s making a big comeback. Sherry sales have been steadily dropping off since the turn of the millennium, but according to retailer Majestic Wines, they’ve increased by a quarter in the last year. In other words, it’s sherry’s turn to enjoy the limelight. Go home, gin – it's over. There's nothing here for you now.

If you’re new to the exciting world of sherry, you’re in the right place. It can be a little complicated on the surface, so we’ve enlisted the help of Rafa Martin – wine buyer at Barrafina – to break things down and help you make that all important choice next time you’re browsing the booze aisle. But before that, let's look at the different styles of sherry available.

  • Fino: Literally translating as ‘fine’, fino is the driest of the sherries and has a fragrance reminiscent of almonds. It’s aged under a layer of ‘flor’ – a naturally occurring yeast – that essentially stops the sherry from oxidising, maintaining its pale straw colour and fresh, bone-dry flavour. Usually around 15-17% ABV.

  • Manzanilla: An especially light style of PDO-protected fino sherry that comes specifically from the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. Manzanilla produces a distinctive flor that gives the sherry a slightly saline quality.

  • Manzanilla Pasada: Made in the same way as Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasada is aged for longer and lightly oxidised, giving it a nuttier flavour, darker colour and slightly higher ABV – though it is still not as dark as an amontillado sherry.

  • Amontillado: Like fino, amontillado starts life under a layer of flor but the yeast is killed off during the ageing process, allowing the sherry to oxidise. Contact with oxygen gives amontillado sherry delicate nutty flavours of hazelnut and almond, with an amber colour to match. It’s aged slightly longer than fino, coming in around the 16–17% ABV mark.

  • Oloroso: Oloroso sherry doesn’t spend any time under flor, and is in contact with the air throughout the ageing process, giving it a rich, nutty flavour with hints of dried fruit and spice. It’s aged for longer than amontillado, making it the most potent of the sherries with an ABV anywhere between 17–22%.

  • Palo Cortado: Historically Palo Cortado was aged like an amontillado, but ended up developing oloroso qualities by accident – often when the flor died early in the ageing process. These days Palo Cortado can be made on purpose, but it still tends to be a rare find. The final result is a sherry that has the heavy alcohol and rich fruit and spice of an oloroso, but is nuttier on the nose, like an amontillado.

  • Pedro Ximenez: Often abbreviated to ‘PX’, Pedro Ximenez sherry is made with at least 85% Pedro Ximenez grapes which are dried to intensify the flavour and sugars. The result is a dark, viscous, intensely sweet wine with strong flavours of dried fruit and molasses. Can be anywhere between 15–22% ABV.

  • Moscatel: Moscatel sherry isn’t as common as PX, but it’s made in exactly the same way, only with – surprise, surprise – Moscatel grapes instead of Pedro Ximenez.

  • Cream: Cream sherries are a general term for blended, sweetened sherries. They come in different sub-categories (pale cream, medium, cream) and usually refer to either fino, amontillado or oloroso being blended with PX or Moscatel.

Best under £20

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'You will find all of these sherries on our by-the-glass list at Barrafina. We have worked tirelessly seeking out the most delicious sherries at an accessible price to sell in this way. The Hart Bros special selection manzanilla is in my opinion, the best manzanilla on the market.'

  • Bodegas Hidalgo, 'La Gitana', Manzanilla

    Sanlucar de Barrameda-based Bodegas Hidalgo is one of the only bodegas still under family ownership, harking way back to 1792. ‘La Gitana’ – the gypsy – is Hidalgo’s best known wine, and a perfect example of a Manzanilla – lively, crisp and salty. £9

  • Bodegas Hidalgo, 'Hart's Bros Manzanilla', Manzanilla Pasada

    Most sherries are filtered and clarified after ageing, but this Manzanilla from Barrafina's Sam and Eddie Hart is bottled ‘en rama’, going straight from the cask to the bottle. The crisp minerality of Manzanilla is there, with complex hazelnut and the salinity of green olive. Rafa believes it is the best Manzanilla in the world right now. Available at Barrafina restaurants.

  • Cesar Florido, 'Fino Cesar Florido', Fino

    Cesar Florido is a fifth-generation winemaker based near Sanlucar, in the coastal town of Chipiona. Bright and clean with almond and camomile notes on the nose, then green apple, sage and a bit of salt on the palate. A perfect chilled accompaniment to seafood. £10

  • Bodegas Lustau, 'Emperatriz Eugenia', Oloroso

    This oloroso from Bodegas Lustau has become one of their flagship wines, and is fifteen to twenty years old before it hits the shelves, spending much of that time in oak barrels. That oak contact and oxidisation gives it a really complex character, with rich flavours of nuts, raisins and molasses. £14

  • Bodegas Cayetano del Pino, 'Cayetano del Pino', Palo Cortado

    A fantastic example of a Palo Cortado, Cayetano del Pino can also be a bit of a rarity, so it's worth stocking up on a few bottles if you find it! It’s a fabulous example of its type – intensely nutty but still elegant, with a long, well-rounded finish thanks to its long ageing in oak barrels. £11.50

  • Bodegas Valdespino, 'Tio Diego', Amontillado

    Alfonso Valdespino was one of twenty-four knights who defended Jerez from Arab invasion in 1264, and he received land in the region as a gift for his service. There are 750 hectares of vineyards on those lands today, and this amontillado is one of their best sherries – complex, dry and nutty with hints of dried fruit and toffee. £17

  • Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo, 'PX Hidalgo', Pedro Ximenez

    You can tell a good Pedro Ximenez by its complexity and acidity. This one from Emilio Hidalgo is made from 100% PX grapes, but it manages a nice balance of sweetness and acidity and has pleasant notes of raisin and chocolate. Really nice as an after-dinner drink. £15

Mid range (£20–£50)

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'These sherries are all exceptional quality for the price and you can find them in specialist shops. Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos is one of Jerez’s leading tasters and the Palo Cortado below is his chosen sherry of this season.'

  • Equipo Navazos, ‘Pata de Gallina’, Palo Cortado

    When you see V.O.R.S. (Very Old Rare Sherry) on the label, it means you’re looking at a sherry that has been aged for at least thirty years. Pata de Gallina is a V.O.R.S., giving this palo cortado incredible depth and complexity. An elegant blend of the classic flavours of amontillado and oloroso, with the fresh aroma of orange peel cutting through. £49

  • Gonzalez Byass, ‘Del Duque’, Amontillado

    The Del Duque amontillado also boasts thirty years of ageing before it hits the bottle, and that extra time in the barrel adds new layers of complexity to the usual amontillado characteristics. Del Duque has a saline character, with aromas of toasted walnuts and cinnamon alongside hazelnuts and hints of dried fruit. £22.50

  • Gonzalez Byass, ‘Matusalem’, Oloroso

    Gonzalez Byass also makes a V.O.R.S. oloroso, which is sweetened with 25% Pedro Ximenez grapes and aged for thirty years before bottling. You still get the rich oaky, nutty flavours from the oloroso, but the PX adds fruity overtones of candied peel, giving the Matusalem nice balance. £23

Blow the budget (£100+) – for serious sherry connoisseurs

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'These are all from Bodegas Barbadillo as I believe they’re the best. They’re all V.O.R.S., aged for thirty-five years or more and tricky to track down. I’ve tried them all at the fortified wine fair in Jerez, which is held every two years. The production is very low so these are all incredibly special fortified wines.'

  • Bodegas Barbadillo, ‘Reliquia Amontillado’, Amontillado

    Bodegas Barbadillo’s amontillado is very bright and appealing, with a burnished golden shine to it. It’s very dry on the nose, and even dryer on the palate, with bitter almond and oak flavours that round off with saline notes.

  • Bodegas Barbadillo, ‘Reliquia Oloroso’, Oloroso

    The oloroso is reminiscent of an old piece of furniture in so many ways, from the deep mahogany hue of the sherry itself to the aromas of oak and polished hardwood. All the richness of oloroso is there – bittersweet molasses and caramel, toasted nuts and citrus peel – but intensified with a long finish. €1200

  • Bodegas Barbadillo, ‘Reliquia Palo Cortado’, Palo Cortado

    Like any good palo cortado, this has the appearance of a fine amontillado – deep gold, bright and woody, but there are flashes of mahogany that hint at a richer flavour. Barbadillo Reliquia sherries are already incredibly rare – only forty bottles of each are released for sale every year – but the palo cortado is almost mythical in its rarity.

  • Bodegas Barbadillo, ‘Reliquia Pedro Ximenez’, Pedro Ximenez

    This Pedro Ximenez is so dark it almost looks like treacle, and has a satisfying silkiness and viscosity in the mouth. The wine originates from barrels of PX given to Don Antonio Barbadillo Abrossy at the end of the nineteenth century, and that age gives incredible complexity to the sweetness, without being cloying on the palate.

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