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Not Your Abuelita's Sherry: the 411 on Fortified Wine

There was a time when sugary-sweet sherry was the drink of choice for your abuelita. Not anymore! Today, dry and sweet sherries are making a comeback at trendy restaurants and hot new bars as a cocktail ingredient.

“We’ve seen a renewed interest in fortified wines,” said Justin Maas, mixologist at The Forge restaurant and wine bar in Miami Beach. “In our current reconstruction of our signature cocktail list, a few recipes will include fortified wines as a key component."

So what exactly is sherry and what makes it a fortified wine? In short, sherry is a style of wine that is aged and sold in the Spanish town of Jerez. All sherry starts as a base wine made from Palomino, Pedro Ximenez, or Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Wine alcohol is then added to the base wine to fortify or raise its alcohol content.

Base wines with up to 15.5 percent alcohol will develop a film of yeast called a flor, which forms a protective cap over the wine, preventing contact with air. Fino and Manzanilla fina Sherries are aged under a flor and will be pale in color.

Wines fortified to 17 percent or higher are too strong for the flor to develop, exposing them to air and making them darker in color. Oloroso, Amontillado, Manzanilla pasada (sherry that is matured in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda) and some naturally sweet sherries are aged without a flor and range in color from caramel to dark coffee.

Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, Olorosos and Palo Cortados taste dry, while Pedro Ximenez (also known as PX) and Muscat are naturally sweet.

The aromas you’ll notice depend on the type of sherry you’re drinking. Finos will have some bread dough aromas from the flor, as well as almond notes. An Oloroso will give you nutty, spicy, toffee scents, while PX has distinct coffee and dried fruit aromas.

Sherry goes great in cocktails, but on its own it pairs with a variety of foods. Try Manzanilla and Fino with nuts, olives and charcuterie. Amontillado pairs nicely with anything from salads to spicy dishes, while PX is best with rich foods like blue cheese, dark chocolate and ice cream.

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