Jerez My Sherry Wine?

Learn About Sherry Wine

I’m no historian and Sherry’s history is as rich as time itself, so I won’t go into the back-story of Sherry wine, but let’s just say it was brought to the southwest corner of Andalusia, Spain in the little triangle of earth called the Jerez Region via the Spanish seaport of Cádiz by the Phoenicians in 1100B.C. Let’s also say that it too is a fortified wine like Port and Madeira with a thriving history in the eighteenth century after a turbulent run in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then let’s say in Spain, Sherry is called Jerez and in France it’s called Xérès, the English coined the term Sherry and in America it’s called Get That Old Lady Drink Away From Me. But that’s a misnomer unworthy of such a great wine wrought with the history of Spanish machismo, of bullfights and the voyage of Christopher Columbus. In fact, Sherry was the first European wine drunk in America.

To see the landscape that produces Sherry one would immediately think of the moon, barren, eerie and white as long as the eye can see. The long, chalky earth triangle stretching from the cities of Jerez de la Frontera to Puerto de Santa María to Sanlúcar de Barrameda are made up of three different soils:

  • Albariza: a stark white mixture of clay, calcium and sea fossils that reflects sunlight up to the vines helping to ripen the grapes
  • Barro: a brownish red clay
  • Arena: a yellow sand

The climate has quite the opposite effect on you. Being Mediterranean the weather is hot and dry but cooled by an Atlantic breeze. Cloudless summers and the absence of rain make for an arid growing season, but fortunately albariza retains enough moisture to keep the grapevines healthy.

The three main grapes we will learn about Sherry wine production are:

  • Palomino: the principle grape for 95% of Sherry production; is disease resistant and vigorous; grows in albariza soil and has neutral flavors
  • Pedro Ximénez: also known as PX; super sweet and used mainly for the dessert Sherries for which it is named; grows in barro soil
  • Moscatel: aka Muscat d’Alexandria; used as a sweetening agent for blends or on its own as a dessert wine; grows in arena soil

Sherry ranges from dry to sweet and every nuance in between. From the manzanillas and finos with their acidic crispness and green earthiness, the amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos having a nuttier, roasted yumminess, to the creams with lush toffee and fig sweetness. Sherry flavors are as diverse as the way they are made and aged in a network of variously aged barrels called a solera. The Sherries are rotated through each barrel to achieve the style the are designed for.

Sherry styles break down into two main categories: fino and oloroso. Fino sherries are lighter, crisper and dry; whereas the oloroso sherries are nuttier, fuller-bodied, darker and vary in sweetness depending on the bodega producing it.

There is no hierarchy of styles but I will discuss styles in more of a wine for beginners guide to understanding Sherry styles using the two main categories, if that makes sense. First:

    Fino Sherries
  • Manzanilla
  • Fino
  • Amontillado
  • Palo Cortado

Manzanilla Sherry

Manzanilla is the driest of Sherries. It is made only in the sea-side town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the humid ocean air imparts a sea spray likeness to the aroma. The Sherry is finer, paler and crisper than other finos. Proper aging is dependent on its flor, a film of indigenous yeast found in the soil that develops naturally on the surface of the Sherry during fermentation. Manzanilla is best served chilled and fresh as an opened bottle won’t last more than two days. It tastes like salted roasted almonds.

Fino Sherry

Made only from Palomino, it gets its flavor from both the flor and controlled oxidation. It is pale in color and low in alcohol. Fino is the least acidic and most aldehydic wine available, giving it a taste of roasted almonds. Finos should also be consumed within a couple days of opening.

Amontillado Sherry

An Amontillado Sherry starts out as a Fino. After it moves through its solera and its flor dies it spends a lengthy time aging in open air, which causes it to deepen in color, attain a fuller body and take on maderized aromas of burnt caramel. It tastes of roasted hazelnuts. Some are dry yet some are blended with Pedro Ximénez to make it a medium-dry wine.

Palo Cortado Sherry

Palo Cortado is an eccentric and rare Sherry. It has the fragrance of a dry Amontillado though it ages without a flor and it takes on the body and lushness of a dry Oloroso.

And now:

    Oloroso Sherries
  • Oloroso
  • Cream
  • Pedro Ximénez

Oloroso Sherry

Oloroso Sherry is aged solely through oxidation. This darkens the Oloroso to an intense brown and imparts a profound nutty flavor while filling out in body and alcohol content. It is a richer, meatier and denser Sherry that tastes like toasted pecans.

Cream Sherry

Cream Sherry is an Oloroso sweetened with a substantial amount of Pedro Ximénez. Loved by the English for its rich creamy sweetness, a cream Sherry can range from inexpensive to thick as mud to chocolaty to having a roasted nuts flavor.

Pedro Ximénez

If its not obvious by now, Pedro Ximénez is a sweet Sherry that’s as dark as molasses. It’s made from the grape of the same name and is used generally to sweeten dry Sherries. Though in small amounts it can be served as a dessert wine.

Are you still there? That was a long post even for me. There is more to cover with Sherry, how the solera works and how each Sherry style is made, but I’ll save that for another time and category. I’m going to cover one last type of fortified wine in my next post, Marsala.

If you missed the other posts, here they are:

Fortified wine

Port Wine

Madeira Wine

There’s plenty of information ahead on Marsala, all to help you on your quest to learn about wine.

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