Sherry is a fortified wine, that is produced in southwest Spain's “Sherry Triangle.” This triangle consists of the three towns of Jerez, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. The Pedro Ximenez and Palomino grapes are the primary grapes used to make Sherry, with small amounts of Moscatel sometimes used.
Sherry is aged using the Solera system. New wine is put into barrels at the beginning of a series of three to nine barrels. Periodically a portion of this wine is moved from the newest barrel to the older barrel, mixing some of the new wine with some of the older wine. This takes place over a minimum of three years. Once the wine has moved through all the barrels it is ready for bottling.
The main styles of Sherry produced are:
Fino: This is a Very dry, light-bodied Sherry that tends to be straw-like in color. The characteristic aromas associated with Finos are almonds. Finos are usually around 15-17% alcohol.
Oloroso: This Sherry is dark in color and rich in flavors of caramel and walnut aromas. They have alcohol levels between 18-20%, making them the most alcoholic of the Sherries. Manzanilla: This is an especially light variety of Fino Sherry which is made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Manzanilla Pasada: This is a Manzanilla Sherry that has undergone extended ageing or has been partially oxidised, giving it a richer, nuttier flavour.
Amontillado: This Sherry is in between Oloroso and Fino in color and body. This off-dry Sherry loses its flor during the aging process and yields deeper color and a lovely nutty flavor. The characteristic aromas of this Sherry are hazelnuts.
Pedro Ximenez: This example is an ultra sweet almost syrup-like dessert Sherry, made from sweet, sundried grapes of the same name. This Sherry is low in alcohol. It typically exhibits flavors and aromas of toffee, date, fig and molasses.
Palo Cortado: This Sherry is initially aged like an Amontillado, typically for three or four years, but subsequently develops a character closer to an Oloroso.
Cream Sherry: This Sherry is a sweetened version of olorosso. The Sherry is often sweetened by adding amounts of Pedro Ximenez, a sweet wine made of the same-named grape.
Sweet Sherries: These Sherries are produced either by fermenting dried Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes, which produces an intensely sweet dark brown or black wine, or by blending sweeter wines or grape must with a drier variety. They tend to exhibit sweet flavors of fig and molasses.
Many people believe Phoenicians first introduced sherry to the area, with the Romans continuing the wine growing tradition in the area. Sherry, or “Sack”, as it was known back then, was exported to other European countries, including Britain, as early as the 13th century.
After Sir Francis Drake attacked the port of Cadiz in 1587, he seized 3000 barrels of sherry. The drink then became a favourite with the English Court and was even recommended by Queen Elizabeth.
Due to the ever growing popularity of sherry, many British entrepreneurs set up their own business in the area during the 17th and 18th centuries. Names such as Gordon, Garvey, Mackenzie and Sandeman became identified with the area.
In the 19th century the Sherry industry was crippled by the phylloxera epidemic which had ravaged the European wine industry. Some vineyards were replanted with plague-resistant stock but some areas never recovered from this disaster.
The 18th and 19th century saw the founding of most of the famous wine producers such as Sandeman, Domecq, Gonzalez Byass and Osborne.
In 1967, the Spanish sherry growers won a important legal battle against the British producers of British Sherry. They established from an Arabic map dated 1160 that their area was known at that time as Seris, a precursor to Xeres and Jerez. They were able to claim therefore that the term was a denomination of origin which gave them exclusive rights to the name.
The production Zone for sherry is located in the north west of the province of Cadiz and north of the city, broadly between the rivers Guadalete and Guadalquivir, and consists of a triangle of towns. Jerez de la Frontera is about 20 km inland from the Atlantic, Sanlucar de Barrameda in the north at the mouth of the Guadalquivir and opposite the famous marshy nature reserve called Coto Donana, and Puerto de Santa Maria in the South at the mouth of the Guadalete, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa are both coastal.
The landscape is low-lying, rolling country, which is well protected. Currently the Sherry vineyards cover 21,745 acres (8800 hectares) and are located at modest altitudes from about 0 - 490 feet (150m) above sea level, mainly facing south east. This land was once part of the ocean and is made up of marine sediments, principally clay and limestone with lots of chalk, with sandy areas near the coast.
The chalky areas, are known as “Albariza”, and make up some 62% of the vineyard, these areas are ideal for the growing of Palomino, which is the main grape for the production of Sherry. The albariza has great properties as a soil, absorbing the winter rains like a sponge, and dries on the surface in summer, retaining that water below ground88. This soil can be incredibly muddy and slippery when wet and an amazingly bright white when dry. These types of soil can be quite pure with up to 40% calcium carbonate, the rest being made up of clay and silica from long extinct shellfish. Vines find it easy to extend their root systems in this type of soil, making them very suitable for growers. Most of the famous “Pagos” or top vineyards, of which there about 300, are to be found on this soil type.
The sandy coastal soils, called “Arenas” and the heavier clay soils, called “Barros”, are better suited for the growing of the less fussy Moscatel grape. This grape seems to grow well on all types of soil. The other important grape used in the production of Sherry, Pedro Ximenez (PX) is generally found growing on albariza soil types.
The various types of Sherry taste can be found listed in the information section of this page. Food pairings for the different types of Sherry are:
Oloroso: These pair well with beef teriyaki, filet mignon stuffed with goose liver pate and thick soups.
Manzanilla: Go well with seafood dishes such as scallops and sushi.
Fino: Try this Sherry with beef Consommes or chilled with tapas or as an aperitif.
Amontillado and Palo Cortado: These are full bodied Sherries and pair well with blue cheeses such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola. Try with pan seared satay chicken breast with red current jus.
Pedro Ximenez: Pair with dark chocolate and dried fruits.
Cream Sherry: Try with dried fruits such as apricots, pears, apples, dates and figs. Also pairs well with many desserts such as coffee infused custard with chocolate.