The history of Sherry centers on the Spanish town of Jerez
(pronounced "Heh-reth" in Spanish) which lies not far from the Atlantic
Coast in the province of Andalusia. Vineyards ring the town, rising and falling
with the gentle contours of the often barren land. The best Sherry vineyard
land is called "albariza," a distinctively white soil with a very
high proportion of chalk. Only when grown in this special, chalky soil do the
two most important Sherry grapes - the Palomino and the Pedro Ximenez - produce
the finest wines. Sherry dates back to the 11th century B.C. that includes the
likes of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, and Moors. Important as the
region's soil to the character of the finished wine also is its special climate.
The summer weather is "scorching," the relentless sun and daunting
heat often drive the temperatures above 100F. The Palomino and Pedro Ximenez
grapes thrive in this seemingly inhospitable climate. With roots searching deep
into the earth for what little moisture may be left from the spring rains, they
use the summer's heat to produce massive clusters of grapes heavy with luscious
fruit. Once ripe by conventional winemaking standards, the grapes are left on
the vines in the brilliant sun for several additional days to concentrate the
already rich juice. This natural intensifying of the grapes' sugars is only
the first in the production of Sherry. The wine's initial fermentation of about
a week to ten days is termed "tumultuous," so vigorous and violent
is the seething and frothing as the grape sugar is turned to alcohol. Then follows
a quieter second fermentation when the remaining sugar is converted, leaving
a pleasant, totally dry wine. These new wines are then lightly fortified and
left to develop in fresh casks, maturing almost magically as the months pass
into the three basic types of Sherry - Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso. A yeast
called "flor" (flower) develops on the surface of the Sherry resting
in the casks. Flor grows most vigorously on the wines destined to become finos,
leaving the wine dramatically dry and crisp. Flor grows less fully on the emerging
Olorosos and Amontillados, so these styles keep much of their original flavor
and richness. Once new wines have reached the proper point of maturation, they
are then placed in a solera for aging. The solera system consists of rank upon
rank, row upon row of oak casks that rest in the great storage structures called
bodegas. Often called "cathedral-like," the bodegas are impressive,
high-roofed buildings, quiet and cool, where the wines have time to slowly mature.
The solera system is simply a method of aging and blending that maintains a
consist quality and style. When wine is needed for bottling, a little is drawn
off from the oldest casks called the "soleras." The soleras are topped-up
with wine drawn from the next oldest casks, one of the many rows called "criaderas."
Each row of criaderas is re-filled from the one above it until the last is filled
with young, two-year-old wine from the most recently classified lots. Since
only a small portion of the wine in any barrel is drawn off at one time, the
wine that remains is said to "educate" the Sherry which is added to
it. The style of wine thus stays constant, a direct link to the original casks
that were laid down.
The Solera System is the traditional Spanish system used for the production
of Sherry. It is a process of gradual blending of different vintages which helps
achieve uniform character and quality.
The traditional Sherry Solera
is exposed to the sun, hence the name. The warmth of the sun encourages an active
fermentation and natural aging. This unique blending system consists of several
rows of small oak barrels stacked upon one another grouped by vintages. The
oldest is at the bottom and the most recent at the top.
At bottling, approximately one third of the contents of each of the barrels
on the bottom level is removed. Sherry from the row immediately above will replace
what was removed and so on until a complete transfer is made from top to bottom.
The wine region of Jerez, also known as Sherry is located
in southern Spain in the region of Andalucia in the province of Cadiz.
Jerez is one of the oldest recognized Denominaciones de Origen in Spain, covering
an area of approximately 16,000 hectares.
The region of Jerez as its name states, only produces sherry, with the exception
of a few wineries that also produce a still white wine in limited amounts.
The climate in Jerez is hot and dry with clear sky most of the year.
The soil in the region of Jerez plays a very important role in the quality
and characteristics of the wine. There are 3 types of soil in Jerez: Albarriza,
Barro and Arena. The main differences between the 3 is the amount of calcium
carbonate that is present. The higher the calcium carbonate present the better
the soil is for the wine. The richest deposits of calcium carbonate are found
in the Albarriza zone. The percentage of calcium in this soil can range from
30% to 100%.
The grape varieties that are permitted by the regulatory body of Jerez are
all white and are as follows: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Jimenez. Palomino
is the predominant grape variety accounting for over 90%.
There are four main styles of sherry that are produced.
Fino is a light pale golden colored dry wine with an alcohol content of between
15.5% and 16.5%.
Amontillado is an older fino, richer in character with a soft copper or amber
color and an alcoholic content of between 18% and 20%.
Oloroso is a rich dark dry mohogony
wine with a full rich nose. Most Olorosos have an alcoholic content of 21%.
Cream sherries are a blend of dry Oloroso and sweet Pedro Jimenez. Cream sherries
are dark rich wines with a soft sweet finish. The alcoholic content of these
wines are generally 20% - 22%.
The production of sherry has been reduced significantly since the early 70's,
with an annual production of approximately 90,000,000 litres today.
Some words and terms to know if you are interested in Sherry.
Complied from, Gonzalez Byass Inicial,
Sherry .org, The House of Sandeman & The
House of Domecq Sherry
This is the main aldehyde which is present in all wines (especially
sherry). it can be an important part of the bouquet of lighter, unfortified
wines. too much is undesirable and results in wines that display a "sherry-like"
Used to assist precipitation during fermentation, to clarify and purify
wine. in white wines, pale dry sherry or cocktail sherry it removes
excessive color. it also is used to reduce the color in the juice from
red and black grapes.
There are wines that benefit from aging and others that don't. wines
have a life span which can be measured from just a few years to decades.
most light white wines and ros (chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, sancerre,
etc.) are best drunk within three to five years after the vintage. some
heavy white wines (montrachet, some California chardonnays, semillons,
and sauvignon blancs, German & Alsatian rieslings, gewurztraminers,
etc.) can live and improve for years. most red wines can benefit from
cellaring and will improve with age (barolo, cabernet sauvignon, dolcetto,
mourvedre, nebbiolo, petite sirah, pinot noir, syrah, and some zinfandels).
wines with high sugar contents (sauterne, barsac, late harvest wines,
eisenwine) and those fortified with alcohol (port, sherry) can last
for many years in the cellar and continue to improve. wines which have
passed their optimum age can display off-colors (in white wines they
tend to appear more golden, yellowed, or even a brownish tint, while
in red wines they take on a decided brick-red hue tending toward brown)
and non-pleasing odors.
Spanish term which is used to described the diatomaceous chalky-white
soil of the best jerez sherry vineyards in Spain.
White soil containing sand, clay and, ideally, 40% chalk. considered
the best soil for producing finos.
A nutty, hazelnut colored aged type of Spanish dry sherry.
amontillados (ah mown tee yado)
Wines of the fino class that have acquired an amber color with age
and a dry nutty flavor. a greyish-white flor (yeast) film develops which
is thinner than the film that develops on other finos. the flor lives
for the first years then dies and falls to the bottom of the cask. Finos
can produce amontillados two ways 1) by leaving them in cask without
adding new wine (eventually the flor dies), or 2) by increasing the
alcoholic strength to 16.5% volume which will reduce the flor and eventually
kill it. hence, the explanation of "amontillado as an old fino."
Spanish term for a medium-dry sherry.
Unblended wine from a single vintage. used to feed a solera system.
bodega warehouse or cellar where sherry is stored. when plural, the
whole of a shipper's business (e.g. bodegas domecq). butt barrel; from
the Spanish word bota. size varies from 160 to 170 gallons.
Spanish term for the sandy soils commonly found in the jerez sherry
vineyards in Spain.
Clay soils found in Spain's jerez sherry vineyards.
Spanish term for a butt or sherry cask that holds approximately 500
litres (132 gallons).
Used to lower ph in the production of sherry (also known as gypsum).
Cellar master or foreman of a bodega. usually, a master blender.
This is a Spanish drink of sherry and bitters (the English apparently
invented this one as a morning drink and then passed it back to the
Spanish for regulating council, comprised of growers, producers merchants
and the ministry of agriculture, who set the ground rules for and administer
wine laws in each region. similar to France's appellation controllee.
A rich, dark, sweet style of blended sherry.
Cream sherries are created from naturally dry olorosos which have been
sweetened with rich, aged wine made from sun-dried pedro ximenez grapes.
A spanish term which is applied to the nursery (first) stage in a sherry
maturing system (solera).
Literally "a nursery." A component of the solera system.
A series of butts containing wine of the same relative age used to refresh
the next oldest criadera. It, in turn, is refreshed form the next youngest.
Finos are the lightest and driest of all sherries. finos are particular
favorites of the Spanish themselves, who serve them well-chilled as
an aperitif before lunch or dinner. they also are fine accompaniments
finos (fee nos)
Both a sherry class and a finished wine. The fino class includes amondillados
and manzanilla. Fino sherries are pale straw color, very dry, delicate
and refreshing, matured under the influence of "flor." said
to taste of apples, almonds and bread. The flor remains until the final
fortification. It is the flor development that imparts the taste and
character to the finos. Flor is a film that is formed by yeast, saccharomyces
ellipsoideus, which develops after fermentation and forms a white film
on the surface of the wine. Flor feeds on air, glycerol and alcohol
among other things, and prefers an alcohol content of 14.5 to 16.0 vol.
and a temperature of 59 to 100f (e.g. spring and autumn are the best).
The flor protects the wine from oxygen and destroys mycoderma aceti,
the bacteria which turns wine into vinegar. This biological form of
aging is responsible for the character of manzanilla, fino and amontillado
In the jerez region of Spain, it is common to find a film on the surface
of wines which are being made into sherry. this is caused by yeast that
multiply at very high rates. this yeast gives sherry its distinctive
Also known as calcium sulfate, gypsum is used to lower the ph in sherry
A dry, almost salty tasting Spanish sherry originating from the coastal
town of sanlucar de barrameda. some have called this the driest wine
in the world.
Fragrant in Spanish sherries form the basis for "cream" sherry
which are made from naturally dry olorosos which have been sweetened
with the rich, aged wine made from sun-dried pedro ximenez grapes. oloroso
sherries offer complex, fragrant and lingering flavors.
Oloroso refers to both a style of sherry and a finished sherry. the
name infers a strong bouquet and the wine is a dark gold or amber color.
soft and mellow with more body than amontillados, the taste is reminiscent
of walnuts. pure olorosos are dry on the palate. medium sweet, cream
and brown sherries are olorosos with increasing amounts of sweet pedro
ximenez wine and color wine added to produce smooth, rich dark sherries.
olorosos are fortified to 18% alcohol by volume and therefore do not
Palo cortado is a rare type of sherry and is somewhere in style between
an oloroso and an amontillado.
The principal grape variety of sherry. not to be confused with fino
pedro ximenez (pedro-hee-men-eth)
The grape variety traditionally used to make the thick sweetening wines
used to sweeten sherry blends just before they are bottled. may also
be bottled as a varietal wine. domecq venerable is a rare old pedro
ximenez. most "px" is not from jerez, but from the hotter
montilla-moriles area about 135 miles to the northeast. Recently
several dry versions have been developed and are quite nice, very dry