Discovering Spanish Sherry

by Ainhoa Barrio - 10 December 2012

spanish-sherrySpanish Sherry is a variety of wine matured in the south west corner of the country. It is a fortified wine made using white grapes, mainly of the Palomino type.

The grapes are grown in the Cadiz and Seville provinces, but they are only processed and left to mature in the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cadiz.

Sherry takes its name from the town of Jerez, which at the time of the moors was called Shiraz and it has derived into Sherry for native English speakers.

What makes Spanish Sherry so unique is its location, sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and with only 30 days of intense rain per year. The land in this area is off-white in colour and it forms conglomerates a few meters under the surface that gather and keep the rain water throughout the year.

The harvest is done towards the end of the summer, in September. Once the grapes have acquired a slightly darker colour they are cut by hand and sent to the grape-press. There is the exception of the Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grape types that are left to dry under the sun for a few days.

The production process of Sherry is quite complex and it involves a number of stages. First they press the grape to get mosto (the juice of the grape) and let it ferment in steel tanks for about two months. After this initial process, the resulting wines are classified based on their colour and taste qualities. Then they are fortified with wine liquor and left to mature and slightly oxidise in oak barrels.

sherry-barrels

As a result of the different procedures there are a few varieties of Spanish Sherry:

The so-called 'generous' varieties are all dry white wines with different alcohol grading:

  • Fino: is a light wine with a delicate almond flavour.
  • Manzanilla is matured exclusively in Sanlucar de Barrameda and it is golden in colour.
  • Amontadillo is light with an amber colour, strong on the nose and with a touch of hazelnut.
  • Oloroso is bull bodied with a strong bouquet and high content of alcohol at around 22% vol.
  • Palo cortado has a mahogany colour; it is also strong on the nose and has hints of hazelnuts.

The sweet types of Sherry use a different variety of grape, either Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez. After the harvest, they are left to dry under the sun for up to a week in order to increase their sugar content. These wines are only partially fermented which maintains the sugar content and results in sweeter Sherries.

  • Pedro Ximenez has a dark mahogany colour; it is a smooth wine with raisins scent.
  • Moscatel is very sweet; also dark mahogany in colour with its own characteristic smell.

In the southern region of Andalucia, it is common to drink dry Sherry as an accompaniment to a main meal. In the rest of the country the most common time to drink dry Sherry is before a meal as an appetizer; perhaps with a cheese tapa. The sweet Sherry is usually drunk after the meal for desert.

Spanish Sherry is also used as an extra ingredient to add flavour to a dish and is often used by top chefs in Spanish cuisine.

There is a specific glass from which to drink Sherry. It is called the Venetian tulip-shape glass. If you go on a wine tasting tour, Sherry may be served by a veneciador, pouring it with flare from head high into the glass on the other hand.

It is said that Sherry became popular in England after Francis Drake beat the Spanish Armada in Cadiz 1585; he took with him 2900 barrels of Spanish Sherry and brought them back to England.

Ainhoa Barrio is a Spanish food, drink and culture writer who lives in Barcelona.

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