Along the spectrum of Sherries, there’s one that differs substantially from its sweeter counterparts. One that distinguishes itself as the only fortified wine that could be enjoyed, glass half-full, on a summer day. One that, in my opinion, really has no business being served after dinner with dessert.
A wine able and versatile enough to handle first courses, main courses, seafood and spice alike, in addition to the traditional cooking role as a base for vinaigrettes or sauces. So find your favorite Spanish cheese, add some fresh green olives, throw in a few salted almonds, and pour a glass of Fino Sherry.
The types of Fino: Jerez, Puerto, and Manzanilla, are all made in the same typically Fino fashion, with less alcohol and more natural processes in fermentation allowed, but differ based on region of production. The Palomino, known for its preference for dry, hot areas of the world, is the grape of Fino sherry, and in fact, the grape used in most Sherries. Each region’s unique characteristics affect the wines and produce different Finos (coastal grapes produce lighter, more subtle wines), yet all maintaining the major defining features. What are those features?
Generally upon first taste of a Fino, especially Jerez, you’ll notice one stark difference from most Sherries you may have perused on the dessert menu. This main difference, among other important variations like color and aroma, is that Fino asserts itself with a remarkable dryness. Other wines, like Pinot Grigio, can also be dry, but Fino-style dryness renders the wine almost tasteless for the first few seconds. Soon though, the hints of apple begin to form in addition to the overarching feelings of cleanliness, lightness, and freshness. In fact, these features are especially significant in judging Finos during production.
And as mentioned above, color is very unique aspect of Fino sherry. At a glance, Fino could be easily mistaken for a light Chardonnay’s distinct golden hue, or in some Finos, the very pale straw-yellow shade of a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. This differs from the deep amber or dark caramel colors of amontillado and oloroso sherry or that of Madeira. So if you order a Fino, don’t send it back because you think you have been presented with the house white.
What is possibly the most intriguing aspect of this used-too-often-simply-for-cooking sherry (The Gourmet Cookbook actually makes a distinction between “sherry” and “cooking sherry”), is Fino’s unappreciated versatility with food. Fino is functional during main courses involving light dishes, great as an aperitif, and perfect with hors d’oeuvres. Olives, salted nuts, proscuitto, and a few hard cheeses (recommended: Manchego) all accompany the wine best. To exemplify Fino’s excellent pair with these types of salty hors d’oeuvres, try an easy test.
First, have a sip of the Fino. Next, take a bit of salt to taste before sipping the Fino a second time. Then, have another sip. The balance of the salty flavor and dry, low acidity, low fruit Fino should make for a more pleasurable experience than without the salt. With this in mind, stick with those savory snacks when enjoying a glass and you’ll be sure to have a bottle of Fino on hand for more than meal preparation.