Sherry is a fortified wine that is made in Andalusia, Spain. Sherry gets its name from the English pronunciation of the word Jerez (Xérès). To be labeled as sherry on the bottle, the D.O.P. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry regulates that sherry must come from Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, or El Puerto de Santa María, known as the sherry triangle.
Sherry is made from the process of harvesting, crushing, fermenting, and maturing grapes. Sherry is only made from white grapes, palomino, moscatel, and Pedro Ximénez varietials which grow mainly on albariza soils, composed of white chalk, sand and clay which help to retain moisture. Through fermentation, winemakers create a base white wine from the crushed grapes. This base wine is then fortified by adding extra alcohol. Then the wine goes to wooden casks (botas) for aging.
During the maturation, winemakers add yeast to convert the sugar to ethanol (wine). The dead yeast cells float to the top of the barrel to form a thin veil called flor, which protects the wine from oxidation. For some styles of sherry oxidation is allowed to occur.
Once the wines are mature, they are placed in a solera system. The solera is a complex barrel system that matures wine using a large number of casks and fractional blending. The barrels are arranged in tiers known as criaderas (nurseries) where wines are blended from barrels oldest to youngest, and topped off with the latest harvest. The resulting sherry becomes a blend of many vintages.
These are the basic styles of sherry:
Fino: palomino that is dry and saline, fermented under flor
Manzanilla: a fino made from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, flinty and saline
Amontillado: An aged fino whose flor is broken, brown hued from oxidative aging, nutty. Can be aged for decades.
Oloroso: A fino where the cellar master breaks the flor to promote oxidative aging. Can be dry or sweet (added moscatel) and aged for decades. Rich and complex.
Palo Cortado: A fino that begins aging under flor, and then loses that veil on the way to becoming amontillado. During this mysterious process, the wine becomes richer, tasting somewhere between an amontillado and oloroso.
Cream Sherry: A cream sherry is a dry sherry like oloroso with sweet grapes such as moscatel or PX blended in.
Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez: Freshly picked grapes are sun-dried to concentrate sugars and flavors. Syrupy, sweet figs and jam for PX, honeysuckle for moscatel.
Long gone are the days of industrial bulk wines produced without imagination. The sherry renaissance is in full swing, as insightful winemakers seek to revive tradition with a progressive approach in the vineyards and bodegas, to reclaim sherry’s place atop the wine world.
Access to a range of complex, solera aged wines has never been better.