Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado—is there an easy way to make sense of the different styles? Yes!

First and foremost, think of Sherry styles as having two main style camps: Fino & Oloroso.

STYLES

  • Fino Style: Fresh, zesty citrus and bready aromas and flavors with a crisp mouthfeel.
  • Oloroso Style: Developing aromas and flavors of nuts and coffee, with a rich concentrated texture.

The next thing to know is how each Sherry is aged.

AGING

During the aging process, Fino Sherries are not exposed to oxygen. The technical term is called “biological aging,” and results from a thick, protective layer of yeasts called flor, which forms at the top of the aging Sherry. The layer of flor prevents oxygen from coming in contact with the Sherry, which in turn creates that fresh, zesty, citrusy profile.

 

These Sherries are exposed to oxygen during the aging process, called “oxidative aging,” which results in a style that includes developed aromas and flavors such as roasted nuts and coffee.

Some of the styles combine Fino & Oloroso characteristics, like Amontillado. For this style, biological aging is followed by oxidative aging. Here is a quick explanation of the process:

Here’s another visual to help make sense of Amontillado Sherry. Think of the style as somewhere in between the Fino and Oloroso styles:

Fino Style

Amontillado Style

Oloroso Style

 

Fino StyleAmontillado StyleOloroso Style
Fresh, zesty citrus character.Nuts and coffee aromas and flavors will have an underlying zestiness from time in the Fino solera.Tertiary aromas and flavors of nuts and coffee.

 

WARNING – strap in! And then there is Palo Cortado—a rare style whose production is very complicated and varied. The following is a basic introduction:

Historically, Palo Cortado Sherry was created when a wine that was pre-selected to become a Fino Sherry naturally or accidentally lost its flor. The key here was the natural loss of the flor, as opposed to Amontillado’s purposeful switch from flor to oxidative aging.

In the high-maintenance world of today’s commercial Sherry production, however, this “accidental” loss of the flor doesn’t really happen anymore. But when it does, or when it’s intended, Palo Cortado Sherry enjoys a limited time of flor aging (biological aging), followed by oxidative aging. The resulting style is close to an Amontillado. It will have slight flor-induced aromas but be dominated by oxidative, Oloroso-style aromas and flavors – and have the rich, concentrated texture from its time aging oxidatively.

Here’s a visual to help make sense of Palo Cortado Sherry:

Have questions about Fino and Oloroso production and styles? Here is a quick snapshot:

Fino Camp

Barrels (called butts) are partly-filled (allows oxygen on top of wine).
A thick layer of flor forms on top of the wine, and the wine will be classified as a Fino. The flor acts as a protective layer against oxygen.

So that the flor can continue to thrive, when it comes time to fortify the wine, fortification is only up to 15 or 15.5% ABV.

If it is higher, the alcohol will kill off the flor, and the wine will lose its protective layer against oxygen.

Fresh, zesty citrus flavors result. But it doesn’t end there. While the wine itself is not in contact with oxygen, the layer of flor is. The flor feeds off of alcohol in the wine and oxygen at the top of the barrel, creating carbon dioxide and acetaldehyde, which adds Fino’s unique bready flavors (e.g., tangy rye bread).

Oloroso Camp

Barrels (called butts) are partly-filled (allows oxygen on top of wine).

The wine will be fortified to about 17% ABV so that flor will not develop (or will be killed off).

With exposure to oxygen, nutty, coffee, toffee aromas and flavors develop. With air exposure, the texture also becomes richer and more concentrated.

The Pedro Ximénez Sherry Curve Ball

So, what’s up with the “PX” style? PX stands for Pedro Ximénez—the grape variety used. While the grape variety for the other styles mentioned above is the Palomino grape, the Pedro Ximénez grape’s thin skins are well-suited to being sun-dried off of the vine or left on the vine for late harvesting.

When grapes are dried out in the sun or overripe, they lose water concentration and therefore the sugars and flavors in the grapes are naturally super concentrated. Pedro Ximénez is used to make a very rare, syrupy, sweet wine. (Sometimes a bit of “PX” wine is used to sweeten the other styles.)

Stay tuned for future blogs on other Sherry categories such as age-designated Sherries and sweetened Sherries.

Like these style deep-dives? Let us know, and we will create more for other wine categories!