Sherry! Everything You Need To Know About This Unique Wine

Sherry Spanish wine

With its unique production and ageing system, Sherry has an authentic, singular character that is the result of a privileged geographical setting and the diverse cultures that have inhabited Andalusia over the centuries.

A Wine Named After a Town

Sherry (or “Jerez” in Spanish) is produced in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera, from which it takes its name, located in the province of Cádiz, in southern Spain.

What Makes Sherry Unique?

The unique ageing process, the flor (a film of yeast that forms on its surface), the Solera ageing system, and the saline environment of the area all contribute to the unique character of the wines produced in the Jerez region.

A Veil of Flor: The Magic Behind Sherry

Flor is a naturally occurring film of yeast that transforms year-old wine into Sherry after an ageing period of at least three years. All Sherries begin their ageing with this natural biological process. This includes those that are later aged by oxidation; these are known as Olorosos and Amontillados. The flor protects the wine from oxidation by preventing the liquid from coming into direct contact with the air inside the casks. This process is called “biological ageing”. However, in the production of other Sherries, amontillados, olorosos, and palo cortados, the layer of flor is broken to allow the wines to come into contact with the air, a process known as “oxidative ageing.”

Criaderas and Solera: A Unique Storage System

This is the traditional ageing system that is used for Sherry. The casks in which the wine is stored are stacked up high in rows, one on top of another, and connected to each other. Those on the top row (the first criadera) contain the youngest wine; those in the middle row (the second criadera), the oldest wine; and those on the bottom (the Solera), the vintage wine, which is a mixture of other wines. Wine ready for consumption is taken from the Solera (bottom row). The casks are refilled with wine from the top row and the casks on the top row with new wine. This makes the Solera a complex mixture as a result of the number of vintages that it contains, since it is not possible to know which year the wine dates from, although it does have an average age of 20 or 30 years.

The Jerez Triangle

This is the name given to the geographical area formed by the places in which this type of wine is produced: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Other places, however, are also involved in its production. The Triangle’s proximity to the mouth of the river Guadalquivir results in high humidity levels, and therefore a unique climatic environment for the aging of the Sherry.

A Very Special Terroir

The hills in the Marco de Jerez region are covered in limestone which, during hot spells, turns into an even whiter, chalkier soil (known as “albariza”), making them unique and spectacular. The finest “albariza” soil, with its higher proportion of limestone and siliceous elements, is the best terroir to grow the grapes used to produce the best-quality Sherries.

Denominations of Origin of the Marco de Jerez

Wines produced in the Jerez region following set traditional processes and complying with specific conditions are legally protected by these two denominations of origin: “Jerez-Xérès-Sherry” and “Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda.”

Types of Sherry

There is not one single Sherry, but several different types which are divided into “generosos” (or dry sherries), naturally sweet sherries, special categories, and dry liqueur wines, with each of these categories themselves comprising several different sherries.

“Generosos” or dry sherries

This category covers the vast majority of Sherries produced. They are the oldest and best-known: Manzanilla, Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado, and Palo Cortado. They are all made using palomino grapes.

Manzanilla: This wine is associated with Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It is aged exclusively in wineries located in this very humid coastal town, resulting in a slightly salty taste. It is usually light yellow in color and, due to its slight acidity, it produces a pleasant sensation of freshness on the palate, as well as a persistent and slightly bitter aftertaste.

Fino: Straw yellow or pale gold in color, it is dry and delicate on the palate, with pungent aromas.

Oloroso: Dark in color, the darker the color, the longer the aging process, as its name (which means “fragrant”) suggests, it has complex, potent aromas of dry nuts, balsamic notes, and fine woods.

Amontillado: Its color varies from topaz to amber. Its aroma is subtle and delicate, with notes of hazelnut, aromatic herbs, and black tobacco.

Palo Cortado: A very complex wine that combines the aromatic delicacy of amontillado with the full-bodied flavor of oloroso on the palate. Chestnut or mahogany in color, its aroma is hugely varied. Legend has it that these wines “just happened,” rather than being produced deliberately, and that only the most experienced cellarmen knew how to spot them.

Naturally Sweet Sherries: Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel

These are made from the must of overripe or sunned grapes, generally from the Pedro Ximénez or Muscat varieties. The musts are only partially fermented, so as to preserve the original sweetness, and wine alcohol is added to them. Both Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel are consumed mainly as accompaniments to desserts. Pedro Ximénez is also used in cooking, for making reductions. Moscatel has a fresh sweetness, with a slightly dry and bitter finish. Pedro Ximénez has an acidity that reduces the extreme sweetness and the warmth of the alcohol, and a long, flavorsome finish.

Special Categories

Wines that are over 20 years old bear the initials V.O.S, which stand for the Latin Vinum Optimum Signatum (Wine Selected as Optimal) and happen to match the English expression Very Old Sherry. The initials V.O.R.S. are used for wines that are more than 30 years old, and stand for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (Wine Selected as Optimal and Exceptional) and which also happen to match the English phrase Very Old Rare Sherry.

Dry Liqueur Wines

These are obtained by combining “generoso” (dry) sherries with naturally sweet Sherries or, in specific cases, with concentrated must. It is a recently created unique category. They are divided into Pale Cream (made from wine that has been biologically aged, fino or manzanilla, to which concentrated rectified must has been added); medium (any sherry containing between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter) and cream (made from dry wines that have been aged by oxidation, generally sweetened with Pedro Ximénez).

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