Sherry is just one of those strange drinks. It generally only makes an appearance when there are guests over, or sometimes during the holiday season. No sooner than it appears, it seems to be secreted away and not even thought about again for ages. It just isn’t really the kind of drink that many can imagine finishing a whole bottle of in a sitting. However, this is not to say that it hasn’t got its charms as it is enjoyed the world over. So, if you’ve found yourself face to face with a bottle of sherry that looks like it may have come from the ’70s, fear not, we’ve got your back. With that, here is our rundown of how to store sherry and how to tell if it has gone bad.
The Best Way to Store Sherry
Sherry is mercifully easy to store compared to most foods, and there is a good reason for this. It contains a reasonably high percentage of a preservative we all know and love – alcohol! Alcohol is a horrifically difficult environment for bacteria. They really just can’t survive in it. That being said, sherry isn’t the strongest alcohol out there, so don’t rely on the alcohol to do all the work for you. There are still some preventative measures you will have to take for that bottle of sherry from unknown origin to have survived. Let’s start with how to store unopened bottles of sherry.
The main things that will negatively affect your sherry are elements that are present in every home. These are oxygen, sunlight, heat, and moisture. If your sherry is exposed to any of these for a prolonged time, it will rapidly begin to diminish in quality. As such, when storing sherry, consider it like any other wine or port. The best thing for it is to put in the alcohol cabinet, or in the back of the pantry. A wine cellar will also do, provided the bottle is stored upright. The reason that the bottle needs to be stored upright is relatively simple – it minimizes the amount of the liquid that is in contact with air (at the top of the bottle). Reducing the surface area of the liquid in contact with air prevents a large amount of the sherry from oxidizing.
As soon as a bottle of sherry has been opened, the best way to store it changes somewhat. We can no longer return it to the pantry or alcohol cabinet if we expect to see good results. Instead, the sherry must be resealed as soon as you are done with it and place it into the fridge. Another option is to put it into a decanter. A decanter won’t be airtight but if you intend to drink it soon, you may well notice that the flavor has improved, or mellowed.
How Long Does Sherry Last?
There are so many myths flying around that say things like sherry should be consumed as soon as possible, and that opened bottles have to be consumed straight away. There is very little truth to these as far as we can make out, with some varieties of sherry having quite a generous shelf-life. So, in general, we don’t need to worry too much about unopened bottles going off on exactly their sell-by date. The truth is that in a lot of cases, the sell-by date can essentially be meaningless. But, then again, a lot depends on exactly what type of sherry you have bought.
Fino sherries, for example, don’t benefit whatsoever from aging. They won’t reveal any hidden notes of flavor, nor will they mellow out. In this specific case, we can consider the sell-by date as a ‘best consumed before’ date instead. After this date, it won’t rapidly diminish in quality though. Instead, it will ever so slowly make its way towards being undrinkable. As a general rule, we’d recommend consuming an unopened bottle of young Fino within the timeframe of a year. With more mature varieties of Fino and Manzanilla, these can last decades if correctly stored.
Opened bottles of sherry are nowhere near as forgiving in terms of shelf-life, unfortunately. The general across the board rule for younger sherries is to store them in the fridge and to either drink them or use them in cooking within the course of a few days. More mature sherries survive the opening process considerably better, with some varieties even being drinkable up to a full month later. Considering this broad variation in spoilage dates, we would recommend reading our section on how to spot when your sherry has gone off.
Signs That Your Sherry May Have Gone Off
Though sherry does contain a higher alcohol by volume count than wine, it can’t be stored with the same laissez-faire attitude as you would store either a rum or a vodka. In many ways, it behaves more like a wine. Considering that there is such a vast gulf in how a mature sherry will store versus the regular shop-bought stuff, like Harvey’s Bristol Cream, it makes sense to learn the sign of spoilage to avoid nasty surprises. Thankfully, many of these signs are easy to spot.
Too much exposure to oxygen
In some varieties of sherry, the palette is produced by employing a controlled oxidation process which adds an ‘aged’ feel to the sherry without actually having to wait for this to happen naturally. In these cases, further oxidation is definitely the enemy as the sherry itself can’t be improved by any further contact. As soon as these bottles are opened, the countdown clock begins ticking as it gradually makes its way toward being undrinkable, making a stop at bland before it gets there. This is the first sign you should be on the lookout for. If your sherry tastes of nothing in particular, it has had too much exposure to oxygen. Though safe to drink, it won’t really be an enjoyable experience. At this point, it is best to either use it only for cooking or to pour it down the sink.
Cork taint is an unavoidable side-effect of using cork oak to cork a bottle. In a small percentage of cases, there will be a fungus that is present in the wood that will infiltrate the flavor of your sherry. This in itself is by no means toxic to humans, nor is it avoidable by storing in a different manner, but it can be an absolute pain – particularly if you have forked out big money on a decent bottle. The signs that this has happened are relatively subtle but should be easy to spot if you know how. What you are looking for is simply an unwelcome musty tone to the sherry’s flavor. The good news is that, once this has happened, the bottle isn’t necessarily ruined. There is a fix! If you line a bowl with some plastic wrap and pour the sherry in, letting it sit for about an hour, the plastic wrap will absorb the mustiness. After such a point, you can then pour away the sherry into a decanter and continue to enjoy it for another day or two.
Cork pieces in the sherry
This sign of spoilage is potentially much more serious than the others but is again easy to spot. What you are looking for is little black bits suspended or floating on the surface of the liquid. This will mean that oxygen has definitely penetrated the bottle at some stage, and you may even notice that some mold may have developed as a result. Unfortunately for your sherry, there is no saving it in this eventuality. The only option is to pour the lot of it down the sink and replace it.
Should Sherry be Refrigerated?
As soon as a bottle of sherry has been opened, it needs to be stored in the fridge immediately. However, what you might not have known is that sherry can also be frozen! The downside is that the flavor will change after freezing, but for cooking purposes, it is quite nice to have some sherry frozen into cubes at your disposal.
Sherry Storage, Sell-by Dates, and Other Related Questions
Where does sherry come from?
True sherry can only come from a small area in Andalucia in Spain. Though there are many decent impersonations out there, the best sherries are widely regarded to come from this area.
What is the most expensive sherry?
Spanish winemaker Barbadillo is thought to produce to most expensive sherry in the world. In 2016 they unveiled a bottle that had begun its aging process in the 1890s. The cost: $10,000.