A bit of history
The Greek historian and geographer Estrabon, in his work “Geography”, wrote that the vineyards in the south of the Iberian Peninsula were planted by the Phoenicians about 1000 years before the arrival of the Greeks and the establishment of the Greek colonies. It is also known that the city of Jerez was founded by the Phoenicians, and after its conquest by Rome in 138 BC. NS. and with the beginning of the export of original local wines, the time of their world fame came.
Immediately after the completion of the Reconquista, the King of Castile Alfonso X the Wise himself acquired vineyards in the area, and later the fame and growing demand for local wines from England, France and Holland led to the adoption in 1483 of a special decree regulating the production of local wines.
After the discovery of America by Columbus and obtaining the right to monopoly trade in the cities of Cadiz and Seville, winemaking here developed at an unprecedented pace. Thanks to the flourishing of winemaking and the emergence of a huge demand for these wines in the New World, modest family farms turned into powerful bodegas. The special love of the British for these wines and the strong fashion for them in London forced English, Scottish and even French merchants to create their enterprises here to ensure uninterrupted trade. Spanish merchants, fabulously rich in trade with America, also invested their capital here.
At the end of the 18th century, the wines produced in Jerez were very different from modern ones in that they were supplied to the market young (without any aging), but very fortified – to prevent spoilage on the way. In 1755, all prohibitions on production and cask aging were eliminated, and the need for an uninterrupted and uniform supply led to the invention of the Soleras y Criaderas system, as a result of the addition of various amounts of grape alcohol to wines, prototypes of modern sherries appeared.
The continuation of the thousand-year history of sherry was its recognition in 1932 as one of the first legislatively approved wine-making regions in Spain. A Regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barramedа) was established. The result was an increase in production volumes, which did not in the best way affect the quality of the wine, and in 1979 a record was reached – about 260 million bottles, and this, of course, led to difficulties with the sale of products. The situation was aggravated by the fact that sherry was actively counterfeited at that time (especially in Great Britain and Ireland), and the name Sherry on the label did not guarantee anything, and in conditions of overproduction, we also had to compete with counterfeits. Only after the accession of Spain to the Common Market countries in 1986 was a ban on the illegal use of this name imposed, and from January 1, 1996, sherry producers received the exclusive right to indicate this name in Europe. Along with this, serious reforms began in the industry, the area of vineyards was significantly reduced (due to lower quality vines) from 17,000 to about 10,000 hectares today. The good name gradually returned to sherry, and high-quality wine was added to the glasses of connoisseurs.
Due to the combination of climate and soil, Jerez de la Frontera is a unique place for the production of sherry – a wine that has been tried to create in many countries of the world, having never achieved the same quality as in Spain. In this, sherry has a lot in common with Champagne – both regions have enormous potential for the production of specific high-quality wines. Both sherry and champagne are made from neutral, unbalanced base wines that are unremarkable until a complex process turns them into high quality, perfectly balanced and complete.
The soil in the Jerez region is the famous Albarisa, a lime-rich variety of soft organic marl that absorbs and retains moisture well. Dazzling white, it perfectly reflects the sun’s rays, providing them with the lower parts of the vines. Thanks to the active lime, the grapes have a higher acidity level than is usually the case in hot climates and prevent unwanted oxidation before setting.
It is the hottest region in Spain and is dominated by a Mediterranean climate, but the Portuguese border is influenced by the Atlantic. Thanks to the Atlantic westerly wind, which is called poniente here, several species of the fungus Saccharomyces are formed in the microflora of Palomino grapes. This fungus (by the way, outwardly resembling dirty soapy foam) is poetically called flor, and without it sherry would not exist. Aging under flor changes the wine greatly (flor reduces alcohol content, prevents browning, reduces glycerin levels) and largely determines its properties and style. Flor is constantly refreshed (by adding new wine), otherwise it will die from lack of nutrients. The microorganisms that form the flora are gluttonous and almost omnivorous, but it is they who make the truly great and unique from the faceless wine.
Production and aging
In fact, the entire stylistic variety of sherries is formed from what kind of aging is used at the very beginning of production: under flor (biological aging), without it (oxidative aging), or the resulting flor then disappears for various reasons, and the wine is aged without it (combined excerpt). Next, you need to take into account the dynamic (criadera and solera) or static (anyada) will be the subsequent aging of the sherry. So, the multiplication of three types of production by two types of aging gives rise to all the richness and variety of sherries that exist today.
Diagram illustrating the production of biological, oxidative and combined aging sherries
Historically, different farms have worked in completely different ways – some focused on growing and processing grapes; others mixed wines and aged them, then reselling them, while still others were engaged in the full cycle – from grapes to delivery of the finished, aged wine to the consumer. On this basis, a modern classification of manufacturers was formed, which legally consolidated the already established system. There are currently three main types of producers in Jerez.
- Bodegas de Crianza y Expedición are farms that are directly involved in aging, bottling and shipping wines to the market. These farms must be located only in one of the three cities of the “Sherry Triangle”, namely Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda (Sanlúcar de Barrameda). There are only 64 such bodegas.
- Bodegas de Crianza y Almacenado (the so-called Almacenistas), that is, “warehouse bodegas”, the wines of which are sent exclusively to bodegas of the aforementioned first category; but they should also be located in the same three settlements of the “sherry triangle”. There are 18 such bodegas.
- Bodegas de Producción (Bodegas Producers) are 13 bodegas located in other localities in the Jerez region, but not in the three key cities of the Sherry Triangle. These bodegas are given the right to make their own wines, but they are required to indicate the name of the locality on the label.
In addition, about 40% of the vineyards are in the hands of 2,800 winegrowers, united in seven large cooperatives.
Sherry aging can be static – anyada (Anada), when the wine of one year is not mixed with others and, in fact, is vintage, which allows you to reflect the characteristics of a particular vintage. This is permitted by law, but is rarely used in practice. This type of aging naturally limits the types of sherries that are suitable for vintage.
The most common vintage ones are Amontillado, Oloroso and Palo Cortado. Their labels feature the word Anada with the year.
Dynamic Exposure System – Criadera y Solera
Sherry aging is much more often dynamic – Criadera y Solera (“Criadera and Solera”). This is the name of a group of barrels in which sherry is gradually aged, where Solera is the group of barrels from which sherry is bottled, and Criadera are those barrels between which sherry is poured during aging. With this type of aging, the natural difference between the harvests of different years disappears and a uniform quality of the finished wine appears. This aging system began to be applied at the end of the 18th century, before that production and aging were concentrated on wines of the same vintage.
Dry (Vinos Generosos) are sherries with minimum sugar content, made from wine (almost dry) and aged for some time under the flora.
Dry sherries include:
Fino – biologically aged dry sherry, aged under a film of sherry yeast (flor).
Manzanilla is a biologically aged dry sherry, produced only in the area of Sanlucar de Barrameda, and in the same way as Fino (under flora). But here, the proximity to the ocean makes the flora more active, so the solera is added with fresh wine much more often than in Jerez de la Frontera (up to 12 times a year), which forms the style differences between Fino and Manzanilla.
Bio-aged sherries can also be old. When the flora in them dies from age and lack of nutrients, it saturates the wine with various pleasant components. These sherries are bottled and labeled as Fino Amontillado and Manzanilla Pasada. As a rule, they are darker than the original sherries, they have a more developed aroma and deeper taste.
Amontillado is a dry sherry that has undergone full biological aging and then oxidative aging for a long time. First, it is aged under flor (like Fino), and then the wine is re-fortified to 17%, the flor dies, and the wine is aged without flora, gradually becoming stronger, oxidizing and changing properties.
Palo Cortado is a dry sherry that has undergone short-term biological and then long-term oxidative aging. Earlier, when the technologies were not so sophisticated, the flora suddenly, for inexplicable reasons, died, and then the wine was fortified again and, having aged for a long time without flora, this type of sherry was obtained. Now this process is almost learned to control (killing the flora by fastening), and the short life of the flora can last from several days to several months. But the main intrigue is why the winemaker decides that it’s time to make the rarest sherry.
Oloroso – oxidatively aged dry sherry. Wine made from Palomino grapes of the second pressing is fortified almost immediately, destroying the flora “on the vine.” This is followed by long exposure of the base flora (oxidative), as a result of which the wine grows stronger – the water evaporates through the pores of the barrel, and the flora that processes alcohol is no longer there.
The result is a dry wine with a strength of 17-22% and a sugar content of no more than 5 g per liter. Sometimes when old Olorosos become too saturated, a little Pedro Ximénez may be added to soften the flavor.
Natural Sweet (Vinos Dulces Naturales) are sherries made from withered Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes. The wort for this sherry is extremely sweet, and no flor is formed.
Blended (Vinos Generosos de Licor) are mixtures of dry and natural sweet sherries with each other and / or with special additives, which are strictly regulated by the Regulatory Council. There are only three of them: grape distillate, grape juice syrup or fortified concentrated wort.
The English names of blended sherries clearly indicate the market for which they were created and where they are now mostly sold. Blended sherries are almost exclusively an export product, mostly targeted at the mass consumer. Therefore, their role in sherry culture should not be underestimated – blends make money.
Dry is a slightly sweet, pale yellow or golden wine with a strength of 15-22% and sugar content of 5 to 45 g / l. Essentially, Dry is a slightly sweetened Fino. Available under the names Pale or Pale Dry for some markets.
If the sugar content is more than 45 g / l, then the wine can be labeled as Medium Sweet.
Sometimes in the commercial names of Medium blends, the words can be used: Avocado, Golden, Brown, Milk, Rich, Amoroso (if the basis of the blend is Oloroso).
Cream is a full-bodied wine from amber to mahogany with a strength of 15.5-22% and a sugar content of 115 to 140 g / l. Most often, Cream is a blend of Oloroso and natural sweet wines Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel. Therefore, in the aroma of these blends, you can feel the tones of Oloroso framed by dried fruits, toast, nougat and caramel. Cream taste is sweet but not cloying, rich and elegant. The finish is long and soft, with subtle hints of freshness. Sometimes the term Amoroso is also used for Cream.
Sherry labeling by age
V.O.S. Vinum Optimum Signatum, or Very Old Sherry, is a sherry with an average aging of 20 years.
V.O.R.S. Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, or Very Old Rare Sherry, is sherry with average aging of 30 years.
For sherries with an average age of less than 20 years, two more categories of Vinos de Jerez con Indicación de Edad (i.e. sherries with age indication) have been created: 12 and 15 years.
Sherry is a drink with wide gastronomic possibilities, the range of flavors of which ranges from ultra-dry and subtle to the sweetest-dense and thick. The ability to combine this drink with different types of world cuisines is amazing.
Dry sherries like Manzanilla are ideal aperitifs that go well with seafood, fried small fish, white fish and oysters. Fino shows miracles of flexible pairing with sushi and Japanese cuisine in general. Nut and mushroom sauces, smoked fish and grilled fish – the palette of combinations with Oloroso or even Amontillado is truly limitless.
Sweet sherries are ideal desserts in their own right, added to traditional ice cream or fruit tart, and they go well with blue cheeses and foie gras, etc.
It remains to wish that this stunningly beautiful, complex and multifaceted wine would have more true friends and admirers.
It is impossible to tell everything about sherry within the framework of one article, and the author, clearly understanding this, expects the sincere interest of amateurs and the benevolent indulgence of professionals. Finally, I would like to quote Hugh Johnson: “For the first time in the last 50 years, Jerez is experiencing a grape shortage. Prices are expected to rise. ”