Educate me on Sherry, was a recent request from a friend compiling an online magazine. With pleasure – I replied. Sherry really is a pleasure to me. It’s one of the most versitile wines in the world – there is a Sherry to match every type of food – even breakfast when big, juicy raisins, soaked in PX Sherry, can be scattered over your porridge. No Spanish cooking holiday can be complete without a daily indulgence in what is possibly, my favourite wine in the world.
Sherry is one of the most undervalued and mis-understood wines in the world. How it managed to become tinged with the image of Grannies and sweet sickly rubbish must be one of the greatest marketing disasters ever. El Consejo Regulador (governing body of Vinos de Jerez y Sanlúcar de Barrameda) currently has a monumental task as it works to change consumer perceptions.
The subject of Sherry is HUGE. It is complicated to get your head around the way it is made. And the more you know, the more you discover there is to know.
Sherry is one of the oldest wines in the world. It was being made during the time of Moorish occupation of Andalucia until 1231. Then, Jerez was known as Sherrish. It was only after Sir Francis Drake plundered Cádiz in 1587, bringing back to England with him around 3,000 butts of Sherry, the British love affair with Sherry started. Shakespeare referred to the English’s love of ‘sack’ in his Henry IV, 10 years later. Sherry was shipped to UK for centuries in oak barrels. These barrels in turn were sent to Scotland to age Whisky. Hence the labels on Malts being – Oloroso cask aged, PX cask aged etc Interestingly, for those of you who are fans of malts, Bruichladdich of Islay have released a malt where the name of the Sherry House providing the barrels – Fernando de Castilla – on the label.
Where is Sherry From?
All Sherry is from the recognised DO (denominacion de origin) of Jerez y Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This unique DO, on the west coast of Andalucia has 3 main towns, Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. These 3 towns form a triangle – hence the term – Sherry Triangle. Like Champagne only being called Champagne if is from the AC of Champagne, Sherry can only be from within this Sherry triangle – DO Jerez y Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It was the very first declared DO on Spain in 1933
What is a Sherry?
Sherry is a generic term. If you were to go into a bar in Andalucia and asked for a Sherry – they’d look at you blankly. You need to ask for it by type.
Remember – all Sherry is made from white grapes. Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez. The Palomino grape makes up to 90% of all Sherries.
Fino de Jerez – the driest and youngest of all Sherries (3-5 years old). The newly pressed wine is fortified up to 15% where a layer of protective yeast forms within the ¾ filled barrels. This layer of yeast not only protects the wine from becoming oxidized, it also eats all the sugar in the wine, hence the bone dryness. Whoever was the first person to look into a Sherry barrel to see a huge layer of FLOR covering the Sherry, thinking ‘’that looks yummy, I think I’ll taste it’’ deserves to be sanctified!
Manzanilla – not to be confused with Chamomile tea! Again a young and bone dry Fino but Manzanilla is from Sanlúcar. Manzanillas only come from Sanlúcar and nowhere else. Fino only come from Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria
Amontillado – Starts off as a Fino or Manzanilla for 3/5 years and is then fortified up to 18% and receives further oxidative ageing in barrel before bottling. It’s the air that gives Amontillado its brown tinge.
Oloroso – The wine from the 2nd pressing is immediately fortified to 18% and then entered into barrels where it remains exposed to the oxygen as long as 40 plus years
Palo Cortado – This is my favourite Sherry. You can’t make it – it just happens. It starts its life as a Fino/Manzanilla but inexplicably loses its layer of flor so then is exposed to the air thus requiring further fortification. It becomes and oxidized wine with the richness of Oloroso but the crispness of Amontillado
Cream Sherry – A typical Cream Sherry is a blend of Oloroso and PX Sherries. Croft Original is made for the British market and is a blend of Fino and Sweet Moscatel
Pedro Ximenez (PX) – The sweetest of all Sherries, the green PX grape is left to dry in the sun after picking where it’s juices concentrate before pressing.
I always tell my students that Sherry is FAB. They almost always leave agreeing!
F – Fortified
A – Aged
B – Blended
All Sherry is fortified. This gives stability to what might otherwise be an unstable wine. Port is fortified with Brandy. Sherry is fortified with a spirit made from grapes which then in turn is aged in old Sherry casks, producing Brandy de Jerez.
Sherry is aged and blended using a system called solera y criadera. Solera is a process for ageing liquids by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages. The Solera is the layer of bottom casks and the criadera is formed by the casks cradled above, containing the Sherry which eventually passes into the solera, using fractional blending. The final product is bottled from the solera.
There are some Sherry houses with soleras dating back hundreds of years. That’s one of the many reasons why a glass of Sherry is so exciting. Within every sip there will be a tiny amount of history.
Please note that because Fino and Manzanillas are made without the use of oxygen, the first exposure to air the wine gets is when you open the bottle. Thus it needs to be treated like a normal wine. If you can visualize a normal bar in UK, the bottle of Tio Pepe is sitting on top alongside the port, Creme de Menthe etc. More often than not, the bottle will have been open for ages and by the time it comes to ordering a glass of it, it will have gone past its best. Anyone trying Tio Pepe for the first time would understandably dislike it. More Fino and Manzanillas should be sold by the half bottle.
For all other Sherries, they have been made with the use of oxygen so if kept in the fridge, a bottle of Oloroso can last for up to a year.
Want to learn more about enjoying Sherry with food? Check out my introductory guide to matching Sherry and tapas.
If you’d like to find out more about this great wine of southern Spain, sign up to one of my Sherry tasting classes.