We know you haven’t had enough of old-school drinks and cocktails yet, so here’s the next in line we’d suggest for your go-to winter list: sherry.

That’s right. Sherry.

There’s a dry, complex quality to this Spanish wine that makes a lovely pair with the crisp (erm, soggy) autumn breeze starting to blow around Portland. It’s a great drink to offer guests arriving at your dinner party or to sip on while enjoying the smell of fallen leaves wafting around your fire escape balcony.

And that is all before we even start to talk about sherry cocktails.

You’ll see them appearing on drink menus in Portland’s craft cocktail bars soon enough, but until then, we’re here to suggest a few aperitifs you can make with sherry at home. Since there are many different kinds, we have a little background on that for you, too. Let us know how your drinks turn out below. Salud!

So Tell Me About Sherry

Sherry, sweet and bubbly (recipe below)
Sherry, sweet and bubbly (recipe below)

In short, sherry is an elegant, versatile, fortified Spanish wine. Think port or vermouth, but instead of sweet and herbaceous, a sherry will be dry and nutty.

People usually think of sherry as a cooking ingredient or an antiquated tippling preference of the elderly. The former is because mass production of sherry, which began in the 20th century, set the bar low for its flavor anywhere outside of Spain (and namely, in America). This hasn’t changed much over the years.

As for the latter, well, the elderly probably remember when sherry was so refined and delicious it was considered a true gentleman’s drink. We might say they know what’s up.

Although both of those perceptions are changing thanks to the enduring craft cocktail movement, sherry hasn’t quite found its way back into mainstream drinking culture. So why should you drink it? What is there to love?

Well, a lot. First off, the variety in flavor! Based on how much the fermenting wine has been exposed to air, sherry can taste wildly different from one end of the oxidization spectrum to the other.

Fino is the lightest, driest type, having not been oxidized at all. It’s also the most delicate, and it won’t last long once you open the bottle. Amontillados are similar, but they’re oxidized just enough to give them a medium body and a hint more complexity than a fino. The richest dry sherry is an oloroso, which is fully oxidized. It’s a distinctly full-bodied, robust drink.

As we move into fall, sherry is a perfect complement for the seasonal flavors coming into kitchens and restaurants—cinnamon, nutmeg, spices. And the cocktail possibilities are endless, if not well-known!

Sherry Cocktail Hour

Sherry infused with apple, pear, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Sherry infused with apple, pear, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.

Sherry’s appeal for professional and would-be mixologists is its dry, understated complexity. It’s not the easiest thing to throw into a mixed drink and call it a day. But that is also what makes it so delicious! Grab a few bottles of sherry and play around with the flavors.

An aperitif-style cocktail will best highlight the sherry you’re using, so think vermouths and bitters as you’re experimenting. Sherry is also complemented well by citric elements like orange and lemon peels. With a darker sherry or a more complex cocktail, don’t shy away from flaming the oil on the rind. The smoky element is excellent with a sherry that can stand up to it (skip the finos for that one). Olorosos pair well with aged flavors like a dark rum, a reposado tequila, or a smoky Scotch.

The recipes below err on the lighter side in cocktails that focus on the sherry itself. We used fino in the lightest drink—it’s delicate enough that you don’t want to add too much to it—and oloroso for the others.

A Light Aperitif

A light aperitif (recipe below)

A drink that lets the fino be the star of the show.

1 ½ oz sherry
½ oz Lillet
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
Orange bitters

Stir ingredients in a pint glass and served up in a coup (or a small aperitif glass). Garnish with orange twist.

Sherry, Sweet and Bubbly

For a sweeter, more contemporary drink with sherry, try adding a seasonal sparkling (alcoholic) cider, either pear or apple. We recommend oloroso (or amontillado).

1 oz sherry
¼ oz grapefruit juice
Orange bitters

Build the ingredients in a tumbler, add ice, and top with sparkling beverage. For an added kick, garnish with a dark-rum-soaked orange peel, otherwise enjoy as it is.

Classic Sherry Cocktail

A classic sherry cocktail
A classic sherry cocktail

We’ve mentioned that sherry is classically combined with vermouth but also with darker liquors. Here’s one way to do both. We recommend this with oloroso.

1 ½ oz sherry
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz red vermouth
½ oz brandy

Stir ingredients with ice in a pint glass and strain into a coup. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Infused Sherry

Sherry infused with apple, pear, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
Infused sherry is great with fall desserts.

Remember that sherry you infused? If you didn’t infuse it yet, no problem! It only takes a day or so for the flavors to start getting prominent. Fruit infusions work the best (pear, apple, or green grape), but a darker sherry like oloroso will also handle spice well.

If you infused your sherry with cinnamon or nutmeg (crush it up before putting it in the bottle), stir the sherry with ice and serve it up in an aperitif glass garnished with fresh lemon peel. It’s great with fall desserts or even just ice cream.

Sherry infused with fruit works well with brandy in the classic sherry cocktail above or enjoyed neat, on its own. It’ll taste even better out of a dainty vintage sherry glass.