We beat the crap out of it: ship it badly, store it badly, serve it badly. I wonder why sales are not great for Sherry? While the more robust Oloroso and Sweet Sherry wines can somewhat stand up to this abuse, the delicate flower that is Fino cannot.
For practical purposes there are really only two types of Sherry, Fino and Oloroso, and everything else is a riff off of those two themes. What divides these two wines is the Flor, a film of yeast cells that is allowed to develop in the partially filled barrels. When the Flor is very thick the wine becomes Fino, while those where the Flor hardly develops at all become Oloroso. Under the thick coating of Flor the Fino is protected from oxidation, while Oloroso becomes dark brown as it is very oxidized. Fino and Oloroso are two different wines to be served in different ways. The Oloroso wines are usually thought of as meditation wines, something to sip on while reading a book and munching on almonds in front of the fire. While Fino is thought of as, well, a wine. Fino should be consumed just as you’d drink a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc with the same food and in the same situations. By the way, my glass of choice for Fino is a Champagne flute.
Fino Sherry should be served as young as possible and cold, not cool. The fact that expensive and elegant restaurants across the country, many of them with sommeliers, continue to have open bottles of warm Fino Sherry on their back bar is just incredible. I can think of no other of the world’s great wines that is so routinely mistreated by those that should know better.
Freshness is the key to enjoying Fino at its best and that means that not only do you have to look for a top producer, but for an importer willing to manage their inventory in such a way that only the freshest wine is available in the market. One company excels at this, Steve Metzler’s Classical Wines of Spain imports the great Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana and goes to great lengths to insure that La Gitana is always in pristine condition. Manzanilla is a Fino Sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the wines develop a unique lightness and freshness. Along with Lustau, these are my favorite generally available Sherry wines of all types available in the United States. You are unlikely to get a Fino/Manzanilla Sherry in the United States in better condition than La Gitana. This, combined with the fact that no better example of this type of wine exists, means that if you want to understand why these are great wines this is the wine to try. If available, buy Fino/Manzanilla in half-bottles because these wines do not keep well once the bottle is opened.
Fino/Manzanilla wines are more like great dry wines than fortified wines when they are fresh. They are crisp, bright and fruity and match beautifully with seafood, sushi and savory appetizers, like the ones you see in the tapas bars of Spain. Always avoid Fino with an alcohol higher than 15.5%, which some producers do to give the wine more shelf-life, destroying the wine in the process.
This post was inspired by my Twitter (drdebs) and blogging buddy (Good Wine Under $20), who is making us jealous with her Twits as she drinks and eats her way through Spain. Her recent comment about drinking a glass of fresh Fino out of a frosted glass at a tapas bar reminded me of how great this wine can be. Drink an extra glass for me tonight Dr. Debs! I’m off to find a bottle of La Gitana. (Buy La Gitana online)
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