Sherry, the masterful wines from the cathedrals of Jerez de la Frontera
Sherry wines have had a somewhat old-fashioned image outside Spain for several decades. They are said to be of inferior quality and are mainly sipped by elderly women who quickly become 'tipsie' at their afternoon drink at the sports club due to the high alcohol percentages. The semi-sweet, cheap supermarket variants in particular were in great demand in that image. This image does not do justice to all the good things that come from the region. The wines from Jerez de la Frontera are among the very best in the world due to the vineyards, unique production methods and distinctive palate.
The spirit of sherry
Sherry wines are produced in true wine cathedrals where tradition, the architecture, the craftsmanship and the amazing scents immediately overwhelm you upon entering. The subtly refracting light on the rows of barrels stacked meters high and on the many curves of the vaults creates an almost spiritual experience. The spirit of these beautiful wines cannot be better imagined. Unfortunately, the export figures of sherry wines are still declining, perhaps also due to the trend towards less and less alcoholic wines. No matter how refreshing and mineral a glass of Fino may be to cool down on a hot day, the Spaniards are also increasingly exchanging it for beer. That's a pity, because they deserve the highest appreciation and are an important part of Andalusia's cultural heritage. Sherry wines also contain antioxidants that promote the balance between 'good' and 'wrong' cholesterol and it does not make you fat quickly (50 ml/58 kcal).
The great secret of the sherry region, in addition to the unique chalky 'terroir' (caused by crustacean sediment) and climate, is the unique production method of the various dry sherries, Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso and Palo Cortado. In a 'Tabanco' a typical wine bar in Jerez you can taste them all from the barrel. To begin with, these are all fortified wines ('vinos genorosos'), which means that extra alcohol has been added during winemaking in addition to the alcohol obtained by the fermentation of the grape juice (the must). Subsequently, it concerns the choice for biological or oxidative ripening or a combination of both. The cellar master determines which part of the base wine is intended for which type of sherry.The Finos are given a biological aging whereby the strengthening of the base wine to approximately 15.5 degrees creates a layer of yeast on the wine in the barrels, the so-called Flor. De Flor seals the wine from contact with the oxygen in the air. The wine remains clear and does not discolour. The Flor is a living organism and feeds on the wine. The exchange between the two leads to the creation of certain aromas and the characteristic taste of a Fino.
The wine matures in casks in the unique solera/criadera system, the next secret of sherry wines. Barrels lie in rows on top of each other. A certain amount of wine is extracted from the bottom layer (the 'solera') to be bottled. The same amount of the layer on top (the first 'criadera') is added to the 'solera'. The same takes place between the other various layers. The young wine is added to the top 'criadera'. The various vintages intermingle by finding their way down. The older the solara/criadera is, the better and more complex the wines. Fino is a fresh wine with a subtle bouquet of almond, floral aromas, chamomile, yeast and dough. Delicate acidity and a light bitterness in the aftertaste. Fino has an extraordinary ability to stimulate the taste buds and is therefore excellent as an aperitif.
Manzanilla is a wine made in the same way, but from the neighboring town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. According to the experts, Manzanilla has an unmistakably more ´salty´ character than the Finos due to the microclimate of Sanlucar, located at the mouth of the Gualdalquivir River, and you can never be mistaken between the two.Special mention deserves the unfiltered versions, Fino and Manzanilla en rama, a feast of texture and depth.
For an Oloroso, the base wine is fortified to 17 degrees alcohol, so that the Flor cannot arise. This wine is fully exposed to oxygen during maturation (oxidative maturation) because the barrels are not completely filled. Hence the deep, intense brown color. Oloroso has warm round aromas of nuts, vegetation, tobacco, autumn leaves, animal notes, truffle and leather. The wine is complex and powerful. The alcohol percentage can be up to 20 degrees, because the wine also has some evaporation due to the long aging in the barrel. An Amontillado undergoes a double ripening process, both biological and oxidative. They are beautifully elegant, subtle and complex wines that, depending on which aging has prevailed, are known by the fresh aromas of Fino or the more powerful of Oloroso. A Palo Cortado, on the other hand, combines the best qualities of Amontillado and Oloroso: the subtlety of Amontillado and the full, round structure of Oloroso. Aromas, for example, of citrus, orange peel and butter.
Semi sweet and sweet wines
In addition to these dry wines, the syrupy fortified intense sweet wines are also made from Pedro Ximenez grapes in Jerez. For the semi-sweet (or semi-dry) variants Cream, Medium and Pale Cream, the dry wines (especially Oloroso) and sweet wines are mixed. In southern Spain we see a trend whereby the indigenous grapes that were used in the past to make fortified wines are now also used to make 'normal' still wines without the addition of extra alcohol. In Jerez this means that we see more and more still wines with a unique character from the palomino fino grape.
The second region (next to Jerez and Sanlucar) where Finos, Olorosos and Amontillados are made is Montilla-Moriles (near Cordoba) with an important difference. These wines are not made from palomino fino but from pedro ximen grapes. Here too we find more and more interesting still wines. The fortified wines of southern Spain can sometimes seem a little intimidating, but they bring a wealth of flavors rooted in a long tradition. They are culinary powerhouses and excellent for use with a multitude of wine/food combinations, with tapas or simply as a spectacular aperitif. The also go well with many cheeses. With the loss of this tradition, Andalusia would have lost a piece of its soul and the cathedrals would fade into oblivion.