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Exploring Sherry: History and How to Use It in Your Cooking

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


The Sherry Triangle

There is a magical place, a geographic triangle of rolling hills flanked by pristine rivers, pinewood forests and an ocean. This is the sweet spot where time and terrain, culture and climate converge to create an idyllic region. In this special corner 3,000 years of humanity have developed the perfect grape, the perfect grape “must,” and the perfect aging system to give us sherry wine.

Historians place the time about 1,100 B.C., one thousand years before the birth of Christ. Phoenicians were one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world. Craftsmen in many skills, their inventions and innovations gave us the Western alphabet, glass blowing, navigation, the color purple, the system of compromise/negotiation and viticulture and winemaking.

These skills traveled with them in their trade routes to North Africa, the Greek Isles, Sicily, and the Iberian Peninsula. In Iberia, they established a town where today we find the city of Cádiz and archeologists have unearthed Phoenician wine presses.

Why Iberia Is Perfect for Sherry

Sherry is a grape wine to which alcohol has been added (this is fortification). But not just any wine can become a sherry. A true sherry originates in the triangle one finds by drawing a line from the town of Puerto de Santa Maria to the town of Jerez, from Jerez to Sanlúcar de Barrameda and then back to Santa Maria. It is here that the chalky, albariza soil and 300 days of sunshine provide the perfect environment for Palomino and Pedro Ximénez grapes.

How Is Sherry Made?

The creation of sherry is not a quick task. Harold McGee ("On Food and Cooking") describes it in this way:

"A series of casks is employed, each initially containing the fortified new wine of a particular year, but not completely filled, so a significant area of wine surface is in direct contact with the air. The wine, therefore, develops a characteristic intense oxidized flavor. As the cask contents evaporate and become more concentrated, each is replenished with wine from the next younger cask. The final wine is bottled from the asks containing the oldest wines, and thus is a blend of wines from many different vintages and degrees of development."

Types of Sherry

TypeCharacteristicsHow to Serve


Delicate, slightly crisp

Chilled; pairs wonderfully with tapas


Pale, with a dry tang and a scent reminiscent of almonds

Chilled, as an apertif


Tawny, nutty-tasting with a hazelnut aroma

Room temperature, as an apertif or with nuts and olives

Palo Cortado

Deep reddish hue, full-bodied, lush mouth feel

Room temperature with nuts and olives


Tastes of brown sugar, vanilla, and caramel

Room temperature wth sugar cookies or biscotti

Pedro Ximenez

Dark, sweet and complex, like molasses

Room temperature as a dessert, or drizzled over ice cream


Floral aromas (orange blossom, jasmine) with hints of raisin

Room temperature, a slow-sipping beverage

Mushrooms in sherry sauce

Mushrooms in sherry sauce

Spanish Tapas Mushrooms in Sherry Sauce

This tapas (appetizer) is a classic Spanish dish; mushrooms are slow-braised with onions, garlic, and butter, soaking up the rich flavor of sherry wine.

Baked pumpkin and chanterelle risotto

Baked pumpkin and chanterelle risotto

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Read More From Delishably

Baked Pumpkin and Chanterelle Risotto

Terri Salminen creates Beautiful Food Stories, which is both the name of her blog and her philosophy. In this recipe for pumpkin/mushroom risotto, she takes the time to built layers of flavors, first by making her own vegetable stock, then roasting the squash until it is velvety in texture and the natural sugars are caramelized. The trinity of carrots, shallots, and celery simmer in buttery perfection and then the rice is stirred in.

Amber-colored Amontillado sherry is splashed into the pan, enriching each grain with warm notes of hazelnut. Finally, Terri adds the pureed pumpkin, a good pinch of salt and three large soup ladles of warm vegetable broth and the process of making risotto begins. Broth and stirring and patience are all that is needed to complete the dish.

Fettuccine With Chicken, Sherry, and Hazelnuts

I created this meal for my family in the midst of a snowstorm. The roads were slick with ice, but we were warm and secure in our little house with no worries and nothing but time—time to spend reading, playing games, and cooking.


  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups diced raw chicken breast
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 12 ounces fettuccine, cooked according to package directions and drained
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and julienne sliced
  • 2 ounces cooked ham, diced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese, divided
  • 1 cup skinned, crushed hazelnuts


  1. Place the chicken in a sealed container; cover with the sherry and marinate (refrigerated) for 1 hour.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Drain the chicken, reserving the sherry.
  3. Saute the chicken for 2 minutes; add the onion and continue to saute until the onion begins to soften. Deglaze with the reserved sherry.
  4. Add the garlic and cook briefly (30 seconds). Stir in the cream and white wine and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through (no pink remains).
  5. Add the cooked fettuccine, spinach, and ham and toss to coat with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add chicken broth to desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add a squeeze of lemon (just a teaspoon or so).
  6. Add half of the Romano cheese and toss.
  7. Garnish with hazelnuts and remaining cheese and serve.
Bay scallops with wild mushrooms, polenta, sherry, and fresh bread crumbs

Bay scallops with wild mushrooms, polenta, sherry, and fresh bread crumbs

Bay Scallops With Wild Mushrooms, Polenta, Sherry, and Fresh Breadcrumbs

In this recipe, sweet scallops and a luxurious sauce of mushrooms, cream, and sherry are served over creamy polenta. It's an elegant but easy dish, perfect for a small dinner party, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two.

Almost-famous chicken lettuce wraps

Almost-famous chicken lettuce wraps

Almost-Famous Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This recipe for chicken lettuce wraps is presented as a copycat of the dish at P.F. Chang's. I think it's better than that. When you make it in your own kitchen you are working with the freshest of ingredients. I'm not a fan of fried noodles, so I omitted them (and didn't miss them a bit). I would also recommend doubling the amount of sauce. It's that good.

English trifle

English trifle

English Trifle

Trifle is a dessert of sponge cake soaked in spirits and then layered with custard, whipped cream, and fruit. This English trifle with sherry-soaked cake is best if made early in the day, or even the day before.

Sherry bundt cake

Sherry bundt cake

Sherry Bundt Cake

This sherry bundt cake is dense and moist. Packaged cake and pudding mixes help create a richly flavored pecan pound cake. While still hot from the oven, you poke the cake with a wooden skewer and then drizzle on a glace of sherry, sugar, and water. So easy, so tasty, and so decadent.


© 2020 Linda Lum

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