All there is to know about Sherry
One of the oldest wines in the world gets its name from its region of origin in the south of Andalusia: Jerez in Spain. Its Spanish name, “Jerez”, is translated in the international business language to “Sherry” or also “Xeres” in French. In all these cases, these different terms are all referring to the same wine. The Sherry wines originate from more than 3000 years ago, whereas their exportation started during the Roman Empire. This type of wine owes its complexity to its aging technique named “soleà” traditionally used in Spain. The wine is then put in casks before these old barrels are stacked on each other. The lower level is named “solère”, while the other levels are named first, second, third “criadera”… The aging process revolves around the fact that some of the older wine, located in the nearest barrel to the ground, are extracted from the casks, and then filled with the wine on the level above (therefore younger), repeating the process on all barrels until the last level of the pyramid is reached. As an example, the wine that comes from a “soléa” that has been in place for 100 years will always contain a small portion of the first wine, placed in there 100 years ago. This method preserves the style of a domain and ensures a certain homogeneity by bringing together some of the best vintages with some of the less successful ones.
Most of the cellars for the aging of Sherry (named bodegas) are located in the cities of Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and Puerto de Santa Maria. Three varietals are allowed in this appellation: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Muscat d’Alexandrie. The Palomino is the main grape variety planted on the surface of the appellation. This variety produces a wine with low acidity, not much aromatic power, but ideal for the production of Sherry. The different styles of Sherry are defined by their maturation and oxidation levels. It is important to know that it is a fortified wine, with different classifications. The “Fino” is a Sherry of pale color, with aromas of almonds, herbs and floral yeast. This style of wine is generally bottled when the alcohol level of the “solère” reaches 15%. The “Manzanilla” is a dry Sherry just like the “Fino” but is aged in the coastal city of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The cooler temperatures of this area allow a bigger yeast coating in the casks and fewer temperature variations during the year. This allows it to gain iodized aromas and a stronger acidity. “Manzanilla pasada” is a wine that has been aged during a prolonged period or with partial oxidation which gives its signature aroma of hazelnut. “Amontillado” is a Sherry of an amber/brown color that begins its aging period under the protection of a veil of yeast that is then lost which creates a light oxidation. resulting in evolved aromas of rancio (nuts, roasting, and cooked fruits). “Oloroso” is a type of Sherry of a dark brown color with dominant oxidized aromas of spices, leather, and caramel. The “Olorosos” wines can be quite astringent, so it is allowed to add a small quantity of sugary wine from a Pedro Ximenez while keeping the dry mention on the label. Just like the “Amontillado” style of wine, it can be fortified up to 22% of alcohol. “Palo Cortado” is a very rare Sherry that combines the finesse and character of an “Amontillado” and the strong structure of an “Oloroso”. The elaboration methods are quite diverse, and the final result is quite hard to distinguish from an “Amontillado” or an “Oloroso”. Even so, this style is often referred to as the highest quality Sherry. On the sugary side of things, the “Pale Cream” is a “Fino” type of Sherry with added grape must to obtain a more sugary product. Medium Sherries are “amontillados” that are naturally sweetened. Cream Sherries are, typically, “Olorosos” that are naturally sweetened. Lastly, the Pedro Ximenes is the sweetest of all the products (the sugar levels can reach up to 500g/L). Of a brown opaque color, the texture is syrupy and the aromas are mostly dry fruits, coffee, and licorice.
To serve these wines to your guests, the food and wine pairings are quite simple. The “Finos” and “Manzanillas” will be ideal to accompany any types of entrées with olives, almonds, oysters, and pork. The “Amontillados” and “Olorosos” will be ideal for dishes with sauces and strong flavors such as truffles, chocolate, and roasted nuts. Lastly, the sugary Sherries can replace the classic Portos and chocolates pairing or they can be the perfect partner for blue or cheddar cheeses with dry fruits and roasted nuts. Do not miss this unique opportunity to taste these products that are amongst the finest wines in the world. Also, since these wines are fortified, they can easily be kept in the fridge for months after the bottle has been opened.
This “manzanilla” Sherry, at a more than affordable price, is the ideal partner for a fine dinner or for simple “tapas” on a Sunday night!