The tasting culture and related terminology surrounding wine can seem impenetrable to newcomers simply looking to enjoy the characteristics of a good wine. Enjoying sherry, the esteemed fortified wine of Jerez, Spain, won’t require memorizing a wine thesaurus.
Knowing the basics of the terminology associated with sherry, much of which crosses over to other wines, will be more than enough to informatively purchase and enjoy sherry.
Terminology Related to the Composition of Sherry
If you ask a particularly well-informed wine manager at a liquor or wine shop about a particular bottle of sherry, he may throw around a number of terms related to the wine’s chemical composition. Some of these will probably be somewhat familiar, while others may be more obscure:
- Acidity: The presence of malic, citric, lactic or tartaric acid in a given wine. For sherry, which can be dry or sweet, acidity is a figure worth knowing. Dry sherry will optimally be less acidic–no more than 0.75 percent of the total volume–while sweet sherry should have a minimum acidity of 0.70 percent by volume.
- Glycerin: This element may be present in sherries with a higher alcohol content.
- Residual sugar: Sugar that remains in wine after fermentation is complete, characteristic of sweet sherry.
Terminology for Sherry Aromas
In formal wine tastings, it’s generally considered distasteful to neglect smelling a glass of wine before sipping. Scent is important in the tasting of any wine, sherry included, and the following terms are worth knowing for this aspect of the tasting process:
- Breathing: Refers to wine being exposed to air in an open glass. After a few minutes, scents that were not initially present may surface.
- Candy-like: If you hear this term when sherry is smelled at a tasting, it can be a good or a bad thing–good if it’s a dry fino or manzanilla sherry meant to be quickly drunk, bad in the case of an aged Oloroso or Palo Cortado.
- Nose: In wine culture, “nose” is used to describe the overall scent of a wine. Beyond this term, specifics will depend on the wine itself for the most part. More general descriptors of a wine’s nose are big or small–if the wine has a powerful or slight smell.
- Nutty: Many sherries are said to have hazelnut and walnut scents, so you’ll probably hear this term used to describe a sherry’s scent and possibly its taste.
Sherry Tasting Terms
Whether you’re a casual fan or a dedicated enthusiast, one of the important considerations when buying sherry is taste:
- Bitter: Sweet sherries will have a certain bitterness to balance the sweetness. Anything beyond that isn’t ideal.
- Cloying: Used to describe a wine, sherry or otherwise, that’s far too sweet. In dry sherries this is especially unfavorable, and even sweet sherry should not taste as sugary as a soft drink.
- Full-bodied: A taste that fills the mouth and affects all taste buds, and will often describe Oloroso or Palo Cortado sherry.
- Light: In many wines, this term is a polite way to say a wine has little character. In sherry, this may be used to describe fino or manzanilla sherry, and it’s not necessarily pejorative.