According to Fermented Beverage Production, the definition of Sherry is:
Sherry is the name given to a number of related types of dessert wine originally developed in the area areound Jerez de la Frontera, in the province of Cadiz, in the south of Spain. The materials and methods used in its manufacture are strictly controlled by a committee appointed uner the authority of the Spanish Government, the Consejo Regulador. Sherry is now subject to Council Regulation (EC) N 4252/88, (1988) on the preparation and marketing of liqueur wines produced in the European Union. Minimum acquired alcohol contents are 15% vol. for dry and medium sherries (q.v.) and 15.5% for cream sherries.
Sherry is a type of wine originally produced in and around the town of Jerez, Spain. The town's Arabic-language name during the Moorish period was Xerex (Shareesh), from which both sherry and Jerez are derived. Spanish producers have registered the names Jerez / Xeràs / Sherry and will prosecute producers of similar wines from other places using the same name. However the name Sherry is used as a semi-generic in the United States where it must be labeled with a region of origin such as American Sherry or California Sherry.
Sherry is a fortified wine, made in Spain from three types of grapes: Palomino (grape), Pedro Ximenez, and Muscat (Moscatel). Sherry made in other countries often uses other grape varieties.
Sherry differs from other wines because of how it is treated after fermentation. It is first fortified with neutral spirits and then if destined to be fino style a yeast called flor is allowed to grow on top. Oloroso style is fortified to a strength where the flor cannot grow.
Sherry is then aged in the Solera system where new wine is put into wine barrels at the top of a series of 4 to 9 barrels. Each year a portion (normally 1/4 to 1/2) of the wine in a barrel is moved into the next barrel down. At the end of the series only a portion the barrel is bottled and sold. So the youngest wine going into the bottle is as old as the number of barrels in the series and every bottle also contains some much older wine.
Sherry was a major wine export to the United Kingdom and many English companies and styles developed. Many of the Jerez cellars were founded by British families.
- Amontillado is a medium dry variety of sherry, darker than fino but lighter than oloroso.
Named after the Montilla region in which it is principally made, an amontillado sherry is essentially a fino that has been allowed to age further and has thus become darker and more flavoured. However, the name is now commercially used as a simple measure of sweetness to label any sherry lying between a fino and an oloroso.
- Fino ('fine' in Spanish) is the dryest and palest of the traditional varieties of sherry. They are drunk comparatively young, and are unlike the sweeter varieties should be drunk soon after the bottle is opened as exposure to air can cause them to lose their flavour within hours.
When first barrelled, sherries made using the fino method are only partially filled to allow the action of the flor yeast to give it the distinctive fresh taste of dry sherries. If allowed to age, the wine darkens and the flavour becomes stronger, resulting in an amontillado sherry.
- Manzanilla is a variety of sherry made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda.
The sherry is manufactured using the same methods as a fino and results in a very pale, dry liquid. In addition, the sherry is often described as having a salty flavour, believed to develop from the fact that it is manufactured on the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river.
- Oloroso ('scented' in Spanish) is a variety of sherry generally produced to be sweeter than fino and amontillado.
Unlike the fino and amontillado sherries, in oloroso sherries the flor yeast is suppressed by fortification at an earlier stage. This causes the finished wine to lack the fresh yeasty taste of the fino sherries and so oloroso sherries are only rarely drunk unsweetened. As the wine ages, it becomes darker and stronger and are often left for many decades.
Oloroso sherry is also the base for many of the sherries developed for the international market, such as Pale Cream or Bristol Cream, in which oloroso is sweetened and coloured to achieve a desired effect.