Sherry is one of the oldest wines in the world. It has a rich history influenced by the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors who lived in the area but also by some of its key markets like the United Kingdom. In fact the identity of sherry wine is not simply a matter of winemaking traditions and natural conditions, most of its characteristics are the result of long trading traditions and the fact that it was always intended to be an export wine.
The history of sherry starts with the introduction of winemaking in Spain by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC, first around the city of Gadir (Cádiz), later also more inland at Xera, near current-day Jerez. The Romans called the city Ceret and the wine Vinum Ceretensis. Ceret became Xeres and Šeriš (sherish) under the Moors, which the English eventually turned into Sherry. Different civilizations helped to form the winemaking traditions and the wine’s identity has been shaped by 3000 years of gradual evolution.
Manzanilla - Sanlucar de Barrameda
The special microclimatic conditions in the bodegas located in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda produce a very distinctive kind of "flor". This very special kind of biological ageing confers unique characteristics to the wines. Indeed they are so special and are produced in such a well-defined area that they have their own Denomination of Origin, that of "Manzanilla - Sanlucar de Barrameda".
Manzanilla are straw-coloured wines with a dry, sharp bouquet which is light and often salty on the palate. It is exclusively aged under "flor" in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Its alcohol content varies from 15º to 19º. Although the definitive Manzanilla is the so-called Manzanilla-Fina, an extremely pale, light , dry wine, depending on the length and circumstances surrounding its ageing process, there are other types of Manzanilla. Among these, special mention must be made of Manzanilla pasada which is less pale and has more body due to a slight oxidation of the wine during its very long ageing process.
Straw-coloured or golden, finos have a spicy, delicate aroma reminiscent of almonds, and are dry and light in the mouth. Their special properties are the result of the exclusive ageing process under the veil of flor. The very dry finish of Fino is due to the consumption of glycerol by the flor. They have an acquired alcohol content of 15º -18o. Fino are best served cold.
The ageing process used in these wines includes an initial phase under the veil of flor - similar in procedure and duration to that undergone by finos - followed by a phase of oxidative ageing. The result is an amber-coloured wine with aromas of hazelnut, mildly tangy, soft and full in the mouth, with an alcohol content of between 16º and 22º.
An initially dry wine, from amber to mahogany in colour, with a strong aroma reminiscent of walnuts, full-bodied, with an alcohol content of between 17º and 22º. Ageing begins under the veil of flor, then continues with a phase of oxidative ageing. Ideal as an aperitif, as well as with game and red meats.
A bright mahogany-coloured wine, with a bouquet suggestive of hazelnuts and a dry palate. Palo Cortado is a special style that results from an early transition from development under flor to oxidative development. This used to occur when the flor failed to develop at an early stage; now it is more a matter of selection on the basis of the organoleptic qualities of the wine. After a few months development under flor, it is fortified to 18-20% cent alcohol, and develops into a halfway house between Amontillado and Oloroso. The decision is made at the second classification. A Palo Cortado is recognized by an aroma similar to Amontillado, but the body associated with Oloroso. One theory is that these wines occur when an unusually high content of malic acid leads to a malolactic fermentation; this could explain the lactic quality that is associated with the style. Its alcohol content varies between 17º and 22º.
Sweet Natural Wines
Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel are other wines that are produced in Jerez by a Solera system similar to Sherry, each using grapes exclusively from the varietal. They give very ripe grapes, with high sugar content of up to 400 g/l, which is increased further by desiccation through drying in the sun (typically on sand for 7-10 days). Some oxidation is associated with the process and is seen in the style of the wine. There is some variation in style, because the wines can be fermented to completion (with the sweetness resulting from the sugar that remains) or can have alcohol added before or during fermentation in a mutage-like process to increase the level of residual sugar. Traditionally, after pressing, the must was put into 500 litre casks which already contain 60 litres of wine spirits. (Before 1987, some P-X wines would have low alcohol levels, around 9%, but now because of the need to conform with E.U. regulations, the style is required to have >15% alcohol). The wines thus obtained are very dark in colour, sweet and immensely concentrated in reducing materials.
This style of Sherry offers one of the great sweet wines of the world. A dark, mahogany-coloured wine with a deep bouquet of raisins and mollasses, it is a smooth, highly viscous and sweet style. Pedro Ximenez Sherry is a perfect match with chocolate, and is also consumed over ice in the warmer weather.
A dark mahogany-coloured wine, produced exclusively from sun-dried grapes of the same name (English: Muscat). It is a smooth, sweet wine with an aroma characteristic of this grape variety
Originally dry (Generoso) wines are occasionally blended with sweet wines to produce other, slightly sweet Sherry wines, such as:
Pale Cream: A straw-coloured wine with a sharp, delicate bouquet. It has a delicate, slightly sweet flavour. Its alcohol content varies between 15.5% and 22º.
Medium: An amber- to mahogany-coloured wine with a delicate bouquet and a slightly sweet palate. Its alcohol content varies between 15º and 22º. The richest, darkest versions of Medium are often called "Golden".
Cream: A sweet, mahogany-coloured wine, made from Oloroso. It has an intense aroma, velvety palate and full body. Its alcohol content varies between 15.5º and 22º.