From lightest to heaviest, a short primer on styles of sherry:
Fino and manzanilla are the driest and most common types of sherry. Their pale color and nutty flavor come from the flor, a layer of yeast that develops over the wine in cask and protects it from oxidation.
Finos are produced inland, in Jerez de la Frontera, while manzanillas hail from the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the sea air off the Atlantic Ocean supposedly gives the wines a delicate saline character. Served well chilled, these wines are marvelous aperitifs, and they pair well with salty and briny foods such as olives or shellfish.
Amontillado is an aged fino fortified to at least 16 percent alcohol, a level that kills the flor and exposes the wine to oxygen. The wine turns slightly amber and develops more complexity. Pair it with mildly flavored fish, chicken or pork dishes.
Palo cortado falls between amontillado and oloroso in style, sort of a misfit that matures into something wonderful. It is quite versatile with food, as it straddles the two styles.
Oloroso is fortified to about 17 percent alcohol, a level that prevents any flor from developing and exposes the wine to oxygen. It is therefore darker and fuller-bodied than amontillado. Olorosos feature pronounced flavors of hazelnuts and dried orange peel, and they match well with spicier foods and soy sauce-based dishes.
En rama is a new designation for wines bottled without filtration or fining. They have a “vintage” year noted on the label to note when they were bottled, the idea being that the wines are best consumed young. These can be lively and vibrant, though they may clash with some foods.
Cream sherries are indistinctly sweet. Not really for dinner, not quite dessert, either. They’re sipping wines.
Sweet sherries, either from Pedro Ximénez or muscat grapes, can be rich and honeyed, and expensive.