When you meet friends for a drink after work, on a warm summer’s evening, or for a weekend get-together, what is your drink of choice? What about a cool, crisp Fino wine from southern Spain?
Fino is a pale, bone-dry wine, light and fresh on the palate, which is delicious when drunk on its own … but even better when paired with food. It has a delicate, saline flavour with notes of almond and freshly-baked bread. The amazing thing about this light yet complex wine is that Fino enhances other flavours – so if you’re going to a friend’s house, or meeting in a wine bar, try ordering a glass of chilled Fino with foods as unexpected - and as easy to prepare and serve - as crisps, hard cheese (try a young Manchego or mild cheddar), tomato salad or even sushi. Already familiar to those in the know, these flavour combinations will give you a taste experience far beyond what you expected. Beat the heat this summer – and engage your tastebuds in full – by getting into the Fino groove with this crisp, refreshing, yet nuanced wine from Spain.
Where does Fino come from?
If you go to Seville and then head south-west towards the coast, you will reach Sherry country, centred around the ancient wine-making city of Jerez de la Frontera. Here, long rows of vines cover gently rolling hills of chalky albariza soil, dotted with small white houses. Wine has been made here since Phoenician times; Jerez was called “Sherish” by the Moors from North Africa, which is where the name Sherry comes from. The English have been importing wines from the south of Spain since the 15th century, with Shakespeare being a particular fan of “sack”.
Sherry country is formed by eight towns where Fino can be made, of which most are on the Atlantic coast – moist night-time sea breezes are an essential element of the production process, adding a saltiness to the wine.
One of the other important towns in this region is El Puerto de Santa Maria, a historic port with several bodegas producing Fino.
Fino is as much a part of life here as flamenco and tapas – one of the favourite pastimes is to go to a bar, order a chilled glass of this dry white wine, and a tapa of cured ham or prawns. At the ebullient spring and summer town ferias, where excess in eating, drinking, and dancing are de rigeur, the drink of choice is Fino, sometimes diluted with lemonade as a “rebujito”. Add a spring of mint for a refreshing twist, as practised by industry insiders.
Another type of Fino is en rama - raw and unfiltered, with a taste described by one revered winemaker as “wild and untamed”, while Fino Antiguo is an aged Fino.
What is the difference between Fino and Manzanilla?
Fino has a first cousin, made from the same grapes and using the same method, called Manzanilla. A saltier, tangier yet more floral version of Fino, although with the same pale colour, the only difference is where it is made – in a coastal town, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. Manzanilla also benefits from the Sherry microclimate, with salty air from the nearby Atlantic and salt marshes.
Another type of this white wine, "Manzanilla Pasada", is aged for at least seven years, and has a darker colour and greater complexity and structure. One of the best places in Sanlúcar de Barrameda for drinking Manzanilla is Bajo de Guia, the riverfront area of the town, which has excellent seafood restaurants. Casa Bigote is a local institution.
Both of these fortified wines are hugely popular in south-western Spain, served straight from the barrel in small, down-to-earth bars called tabancos. These often have flamenco performances - the different elements of Andalucian culture are inextricably linked. There’s nothing like watching a flamenco dancer stamp and twirl to intricate guitar rhythms, as you sip a glass of Fino, spellbound. It’s Andalucia in a glass.
Beyond Tapas: Exploring Creative Culinary Pairings with Fino
One of the greatest joys of drinking Fino, is deciding what food to maridar (pair) with it. Traditionally, Fino has been paired with typical Spanish aperitifs like olives and nuts (handy store cupboard staples; try anchovy-stuffed olives, or mojama – salt-cured tuna, for the ultimate salty-fishy hit), as well as the adored delicacy, revered throughout Spain, that is wafer-thinly-sliced acorn-fed Iberian ham. Or even fresh oysters.
But pairing Fino extends beyond Spanish gastronomy, fabulous as it is. For a picnic, try salmon quiche or ricotta, spinach and beetroot salad with one of these supremely dry white wines - well chilled, of course. Believe it or not, as aficionados can vouch, the delicate dryness of this Spanish wine is also a great match for fried fish - calamari or anchovies are perfect, or why not good old cod or haddock? - cutting through the batter’s greasiness. The same goes for sushi and umami flavours – the rich, fatty chewiness of bluefin tuna matched by a sharp Fino is a marriage made in heaven. Sound the bells!
The UK’s ongoing love affair with Fino, the most versatile of wines
As we’ve seen, Fino is an important part of the culture in southern Spain - chilled, refreshing dry white wine in such a warm region is a no-brainer. This passion for Fino and Manzanilla has been exported to the UK’s many Spanish bars and restaurants, but its joys have also reached gastronomic titans such as Heston Blumenthal, a dedicated Fino fan who even wrote a book about matching food and Sherry wines, particularly Fino and Manzanilla with cured meats and walnuts. Top chefs know that Fino is a great secret weapon as it can match lots of different flavour profiles. Fino is highly regarded by wine connoisseurs and in-the-know foodies for its unusual complexity – and versatility - in such a young wine.
Did you know…
Spanish chef-restauranteur Jose Pizarro, whom you’ve probably seen on TV, is a huge Fino fan, and has his own Fino En Rama, produced with Osborne winery.
Omar Allibhoy, who worked at the highly influential El Bullí and who owns the Tapas Revolution restaurants, says that Fino is the perfect match for clams.
Wine expert Olly Smith loves Tio Pepe, one of the oldest and most respected Fino brands. Try its “Palmas” range for outstanding, limited-edition en rama Finos.
Fino is great in cocktails, too - try a Fino Sour: Fino, brandy, lemon juice and egg white.
Picture this: a balmy evening in the garden; you’re gently basking in the sun’s rays. On a table sits an elegant wine glass, frosted from the chilled Fino wine inside. A platter of aperitifs - salted almonds, cheese, perhaps some dried tuna. Around you, the chatter of close friends - a special moment for slowing down life’s frenetic rhythms and sharing time with your favourite people: enjoying Fino and Manzanilla white wine along with simple tapas. The anticipation of savouring these most rewarding Spanish wines with their gastronomic match-made-in-heaven. Buen provecho!
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