Some thoughts on how best to enjoy the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar.
Where to start – I have been asked more than once which wine I would recommend to someone who has not yet caught the sherry bug. It is pretty clear to me that the best place to start is with a wine with at least a little oxidative ageing, but not too much. On the one hand, the pure dry, mineral character of a fino or manzanilla with all the sugar and glycerin stripped away can seem alien; while on the other hand the extreme concentration and astringency of the very old oxidative wines can be too much for anyone. For me the wine that turned me on to Jerez and Sanlucar was la Bota de Palo Cortado Nº34 by Equipo Navazos – right in that sweet spot of complexity but elegance – and while there aren’t many wines quite as good, I would always recommend starting with a 12 -20 year old palo cortado or similar (like the Leonor, the Vides from the Lustau Almacenista range, La Bota de Palo Cortado 52, or the Fernando de Castilla Antique, for example).
When to drink them – Frankly I think you can drink these wines whenever you feel like them. Finos and manzanillas are superb as aperitifs – refreshing, cleansing and, with their salinity, appetising. There are also amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos that you can sip away at after dinner or with a good book (or cigar – some of them even taste like cigars). More importantly, though, these wines can be great on the dinner table, as explained ad nauseam here and here. Even the sweeter wines can be surprisingly versatile – I have been told that cream is a great pair with traditional spanish jamon – something I must try.
Temperature – a lot of possibilities – generally speaking only the youngest finos and manzanillas below 10 degrees C. Everything else is at least a full bodied white so should be served in the arc of 12 to 20 like any other serious wine. I have mine stored at 12 degrees C because as I was once told – you can always warm them up in your hands.
Decanting/Airing – we are generally not worried about sediment here (although with the older unfiltered wines you can get a murky final glass or so from the bottle), but I find that these wines sometimes gain a lot from a swirl around in a decanter before serving. In fact, these wines sometimes improve day after day after opening.
Glasses – please do not under any circumstances use sherry glasses (aka “catavinos”), the little stubby thimbles or old fashioned schooners. These are wines with complex and interesting aromas and flavours that deserve a big, fine glass (a decent white wine glass should be ok). Here below I have two glasses that were used to server me the same wine: both high quality, Riedel wine glasses, but there is no question in my mind that the wine glass on the left was a better glass for enjoying that wine.
Storage – until opening, store sherry like any decent wine – keep in the cool, out of the light, cork moist etc. Once opened, a cool thing about these wines is that once open you can just put the cork back in – any oxidation that may take place is probably a bonus.