Here are the various types of Sherry, depending on the evolution of the "veil of flor"
(Editor's Note: For those less familiar with true sherry, it's important to note that, aside from the Pedro Xinemez, none of these wines are usually sweet. The "Cream" sherries one sees outside of Spain are blends sweetened especially for the export market, which is why Mr. Benito does not address them. The Cream style was developed to cater to the 19th century British market; while there are some quality wines made in this style, by-and-large these wines have only hurt the reputation of sherry abroad):
FINO: The most popular and delicate of the sherries. Finos are made with 100% Palomino grapes and develop and retain the veil of flor for their entire aging process. Usually the flor does not provide a hermetic seal, so some oxidation occurs which gives the fino a marked and penetrating aroma.
MANZANILLA: A fino, but made in the bodegas in Sanlucar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. Here the humidity pretty much guarantees a permanent cap of flor that insulates the wine, making this the palest and lightest of the sherries, with a very characteristic iodine note.
AMONTILLADO: A wine that starts being aged as a fino, but which loses its veil of flor during the solera aging process and so is fortified and aged oxidatively (exposed to the air). This gives the wine greater acidity and a darker, golden shade; sharp notes of dried fruits stand out on the nose, with a fuller body than a fino.
MANZANILLA PASADA: Made in the same manner as the Amontillado of Jerez, but more elegant, but less well-known; like Manzanilla, it is made exclusively in Sanlucar de Barrameda.
OLOROSO: This wine is fortified early on to 18% alcohol, and so never develops any flor. All the aging is oxidative and lasts much longer - it usually takes at least 10 years before the wine is brought together into the solera process. Complex and full-bodied, with a dark, mahogany color, olorosos show notes of walnuts and hazelnuts.
PALO CORTADO: This is an oloroso with very special characteristics; it begins by "wanting" to be a fino; the flor develops, but falters and so the wine evolves into an amontillado. Then the winemaker decides to age the wine extensively, like an oloroso. This wine earns its name when the winemaker marks the cask by cutting (cortado= cut) a mark on the cask to set it apart for this prolonged aging. They are classified with one, two, three, or four cuts depending on the wine's age. A joy.
PEDRO XIMENEZ: A wine made solely from grapes of the same name, the grape clusters are picked, raisinated in the sun and then collected again; this process concentrates the richness of the sugars. During fermentation a neutral grape brandy is added to the must which stops fermentation with some residual sugar remaining. The result is a sweet fortified wine which is then aged to balance the wine. These wines are smooth and velvety on the palate, with a refreshing acidity.
The wines of Montilla-Moriles are classified in the same manner as those of Jerez with the notable exception that they are made with the Pedro Ximenez grape, which does not need to be fortified to develop the veil of flor. This difference means some subtle differences such as more body, smoothness, and some bitterness. Some of the Pedro Ximenez (P.X.) sweet wines made here are truly spectacular, above all in special vintages like the 1939.
Sherry is a very special and often under-valued contribution to the world of wine which regales our senses and enchants us with its extraordinary character.