More than with Zinfandel or Sauvignon Blanc, knowing how sherry is made is essential to its appreciation. At the heart of every sherry bodega is the solera, a system of staked barrels (called butts) in which the wine is matured. As older wine is drawn off at the bottom of the solera, younger wines are moved down a layer, maintaining consistency within the solera. The butts are not filled completely, leaving the wine exposed to air. Fino is the lightest and most delicate of sherries, protected from oxidation during the aging process by the flor, a floating layer of yeast.

Emilio Lustau produces some of the best sherries in every style, with bodegas in each of the three Andalusian sherry towns. Their fino is one of my favorites, made in the town of El Puerto de Santa María, which is known for its fragrant, refined style. This one is dry, crisp, and tangy, with a pale, transparent color and a hint of flor aroma. It's the classic accompaniment to tapas.

DOMECQ AMONTILLADO ($15)


Most of us first heard of this style of sherry from the Edgar Allan Poe horror story, in which the vengeful Montressor walls up his inebriated, unsuspecting guest Fortunado after luring him into the cellar with the promise of a rare cask of amontillado. Fortunately, these days you don't have to risk entombment to find amontillado. Amontillado means "in the style of Montilla," a town south of Cordoba. The style is technically a fino in which the flor has been killed off by the addition of alcohol, leaving the wine exposed to oxygen. Since this procedure is expensive and time consuming, the amontillados of today are more often produced through blending.

The dark amber Domecq Amontillado has a creamy texture and toasty, lush flavors of dried fruit backed with pronounced rancio, the term for the characteristic oxidized flavors found in many sherries. The lingering finish is smooth and rich. Victoria and Albert probably served their amontillado with turtle soup, but it works wonderfully with meat terrines as well.