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Inside Knowledge: The World of Sherry

The World of Sherry: A Journey Through Production and Styles


In Short:

Sherry is a fortified wine with a rich history from Jerez in Southern Spain. It comes in a range of styles from dry to lusciously sweet, and many styles are characterised by the use of oxidation.

Nestled in the sun-kissed vineyards of southern Spain, Sherry, a fortified wine with a rich history and diverse range of styles, has been captivating the palates of connoisseurs for centuries. This exceptional wine is a product of careful craftsmanship, unique terroir, and age-old traditions. In this article, we'll take you on a journey to discover the production of Sherry and explore the distinct styles that make it a beloved choice for wine enthusiasts around the globe.

The Birthplace of Sherry

Sherry, known locally as "Jerez," takes its name from the town of Jerez de la Frontera in the Andalusian region of Spain. The region's chalky, limestone-rich soils and a warm climate provide the ideal conditions for cultivating the Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel grapes, which are the primary grape varieties used in Sherry production.

The Sherry Production Process

Sherry production is a meticulous and age-old process that begins with the careful selection of grapes. Palomino grapes, known for their neutrality and ability to express the terroir, are the principal grape used. After harvest, the grapes are gently pressed, and the resulting juice is fermented to produce a dry white wine with relatively low alcohol content.

The key to Sherry's uniqueness lies in the subsequent ageing process, which takes place in a complex system of barrels known as the "Solera and Criadera" system. This system consists of several layers of barrels stacked on top of each other. The oldest Sherry is found in the lower layer (Solera), and the younger wines are placed in the upper layers (Criadera). The blending process involves drawing a portion of the oldest Sherry from the Solera and replacing it with wine from the Criadera, ensuring a consistent, high-quality product year after year.

The fortification of Sherry occurs when grape spirit (brandy) is added to the wine to raise its alcohol content. The timing and amount of fortification determine the Sherry's final style, which can range from bone-dry to lusciously sweet.

The Solera System

Styles of Sherry

Sherry offers a diverse range of styles, each with its own unique characteristics, making it a versatile wine for various occasions.

Fino: Fino Sherry is the driest and most delicate style. It matures under a layer of yeast called "flor," which prevents contact with oxygen, giving it a pale, straw-like colour and a fresh, briny flavour. Fino is an excellent aperitif and pairs beautifully with olives, almonds, and seafood.

Manzanilla: Similar to Fino but produced exclusively in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Manzanilla is renowned for its crispness, oceanic salinity, and remarkable freshness. It's often recommended as a companion to shellfish and ceviche.

Amontillado: This style begins as Fino or Manzanilla but is intentionally exposed to oxygen after fortification. The result is a nuttier, amber-hued Sherry with a balanced dryness. Amontillado pairs wonderfully with cured meats and dishes featuring mushrooms or aged cheeses.

Oloroso: Oloroso Sherry bypasses the flor ageing process, allowing it to develop a rich, dark colour and intense aromas of dried fruits, nuts, and spices. It's a perfect partner for hearty dishes like stews, game meats, and blue cheeses.

Palo Cortado: Palo Cortado is a rarity, displaying both the finesse of Amontillado and the intensity of Oloroso. It has a complex and profound character, making it a versatile companion for a wide range of dishes.

Pedro Ximénez: Also known simply as “PX”, Pedro Ximénez Sherry is the sweetest of them all. Produced from sun-dried grapes, it is dark, syrupy, and laden with flavours of raisins, figs, and molasses. Sip it as a dessert wine or drizzle it over vanilla ice cream for a decadent treat.

Cream Sherry: Cream Sherry, born from dry Oloroso Sherry, is a decadent fusion. Sweetening agents, often PX Sherry or grape must, give it a luscious profile. With caramel, toffee, and dried fruit notes, it's a perfect dessert companion, offering a sumptuous finale to any meal.

Ageing and Tasting Sherry

Sherry's age classification is based on the average age of the wine in the solera system, with designations like "Joven" (young), "Solera" (average age of 3-4 years), "VORS" (Very Old Rare Sherry, minimum 30 years), and "VOS" (Very Old Sherry, minimum 20 years).

When tasting Sherry, consider the glassware. Fino and Manzanilla are best enjoyed in a narrow, tulip-shaped glass to concentrate the delicate aromas, while Oloroso and PX shine in a larger, rounded glass to enhance their complexity.

In conclusion, Sherry is a captivating wine with a rich tapestry of styles that can please every palate. Its production process, influenced by centuries of tradition and the Andalusian terroir, results in a range of flavours from bone-dry to lusciously sweet. Whether you're sipping a crisp Fino by the sea or indulging in a decadent PX with dessert, Sherry offers a unique and unforgettable experience for wine enthusiasts around the world. Raise your glass to this Spanish treasure and the artisans who have mastered its production over the centuries.