Sherry suffers from an image problem, yet many wine drinkers have gained an appreciation for it — one taste of a good sherry usually does the trick. From Jerez in southern Spain, fino (dry) sherry is usually made from the palomino grape. Occasionally, a grape called Pedro Ximenez, the mainstay of the nearby Montilla-Moriles region, is blended in.
Most sherry is made using the solera method, where the wines from each year are blended with casks started in previous years. By the time the wine is drawn from the cask, it has multiple vintages in it and can be decades old. Fino soleras are younger, though, because they have the presence of flor, a type of yeast that acts as a solid barrier between the wine and air. You can literally go at it with an ice pick. Over time, the flor dies and sinks to the bottom. This is how amontillado sherry, which is essentially an aged fino, is made.
Manzanilla is a type of fino sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameda, a sub-zone on the coast of Spain that has high humidity where yeast can thrive. Compared to fino sherry from El Puerto de Santa Maria and Jerez de la Frontera, the two other areas where it thrives, manzanilla is lighter and even fresher. It is considered the pinnacle of fino sherry.
One of the things I love most about manzanilla is that it is pretty reasonably priced. Also, it can stay open for a while, easily a couple of weeks, though it is best within a few days. This is a reason why many are available in 375- or 500-milliliter bottles. Here are a few to check out.
Bodegas La Cigarrera Manzanilla, NV: For nine generations, Ignacio Hildago’s family sold their sherry to other producers. In 1997, he put an end to that and started La Cigarrera. Chamomile- and almond-scented with fresh nuts, a hint of saline, green olives and an extremely long finish, this manzanilla is a revelation when tasting for the first time. Suggested retail: $13
Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana, NV: Located in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Hidalgo has a full range of sherries, but it is La Gitana Manzanilla for which it is unquestionably known. With piquant almond, sea air and chalky underpinnings, this is a classic manzanilla. Suggested retail: $18
Lustau Almacenista Manzanilla Pasada de Sanlúcar, NV: Known for the “almacenista” (shopkeeper) bottlings that are drawn from small lots crafted by artisan winemakers, Lustau is a fantastic producer across the board. An almacenista generally buys young wines from producers and sells them to other houses later on. Some almacenistas bottle their own wines. Made from 7-year-old soleras, this manzanilla has a lot of depth, with hints of almonds, butter, a whiff of sea air and minerals. Suggested retail: $25
Some of these wines can be found at Arlequin Wine Merchant, Bi-Rite, Beltramo’s, D&M Liquor, K&L Wine Merchants, Mill Valley Market, Say Cheese, Vineyard Gate, Weimax, Wine Club, Wine Impressions and Woodlands Market.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.