The question, “Does Sherry go off?” is a common one among wine lovers, and it’s worth addressing here. Sherry, perhaps the world’s best-known fortified wine, is also probably the most widely misunderstood. There are many styles of Sherry, and different styles have different characteristics. From sweet to dry, dark to clear and cheap to very, very expensive, there’s a lot of choice and there is not just one type of Sherry.
To answer the question: Yes, Sherry does go off. However, it’s not quite as simple as that. Not all Sherry is created equal, some are intended to be consumed right after release and others are destined for a longer life.
How does Sherry go off?
Sherry doesn’t spoil or go bad in the same way that a carton of milk does, though it doesn’t last forever either. Its high alcohol content protects it, but it has a shelf-life. When Sherry goes off, you typically won’t expect rancid flavours or mould. Rather, the wine will simply be lifeless and dull. All those beautiful flavours of which Sherry is almost uniquely capable – almonds, wax, yeast and so much more – fade away leaving a rather dim drink. It’s not going to kill you, but don’t expect to enjoy it!
Does Sherry go off in the bottle?
Over a long enough time scale, all wine will lose its flavour, vibrancy and freshness. This might be a matter of months for a young Beaujolais Nouveau, decades for a fine red Bordeaux or even longer for a top quality Sauternes. Sherry is a fortified wine with high alcohol, which protects it somewhat, but in general it is intended to be consumed at a young age. The exact shelf-life will vary between styles – and perhaps even between individual bottles – but largely speaking, you should aim to drink your Sherry soon after buying it.
When does Sherry go off, exactly?
This isn’t an exact science, but we can offer you a few guidelines for how long you might expect an unopened bottle of Sherry to last.
- Lighter dry Sherries, like Fino and Manzanilla styles, have the shortest shelf life. Once they hit the market, you’ll want to drink up within about 18 months in order to preserve their freshness.
- Pale Cream Sherry, an artificially sweetened style, will last slightly longer. You’ve got about two years here before the flavours become dull.
- Most other Sherries, like Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Oloroso and Palo Cortado, will tend to last around three years in the bottle.
How quickly does Sherry go off after opening?
This will vary from style to style, brand to brand and even bottle to bottle. However, know this: Opening the bottle signals the beginning of the end for your precious Sherry. Assuming that you are not using a Coravin, opening the wine will expose it to oxygen and begin the process of oxidation. From here it’s only a matter of time before your fortified wine loses all of its flavour and eventually comes to resemble vinegar.
The good news about that, of course, is that you can still use your Sherry for cooking for quite a while after it has lost its flavours and is no longer appealing for drinking! Cooking with Sherry is a lot of fun, and Sherry is a great addition for many stir-fries, sauces and even sweet desserts.