The Triumphant Return of Sherry
While some people who are involved in the alcoholic beverage industry may think that Sherry is a drink that has become somewhat old fashioned, a sort of “grandpa’s drink”, the truth of the matter is that the younger generation is rediscovering just how pleasurable a nice glass of Sherry can be either before a meal or as an accompaniment to other foodstuffs. Sherry may not be on most people’s radar just yet, however, as more and more restaurant and bar patrons get tired of the same old wine, beer, and cocktails, Sherry is a type of alcohol that we will surely see on the menus of finer establishments and in the liquor cabinets of connoisseurs in the years to come.
Many of us may have some vague recollection of what sherry is; perhaps we’ve even had a sip of it once or twice in our lives at some special occasion with the older generation. However, since it’s been a long time and most bartenders unfortunately can’t tell us much about the fortified wine, here is a little bit of a “Sherry primer”.
Sherry is a wine that is fortified and is made of white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, in southern Spain. A fortified wine is a normal wine that has had a spirit such as brandy added to it at some time in the fermentation process in order to increase its alcohol by volume content. Sherry can range from dry to sweet, from light to dark in color, from fresh to aged.
Light styles of dry Sherry are very similar to white wine and are made with the Palomino grape; Manzanilla and Fino are two types of lighter wines. Darker, heavier versions that are left to age in barrels and oxidize are also made with Palomino grapes and include Amontillado and Oloroso Sherry. Very sweet dessert wines are made with Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes mixed with Palomino sherries.
Interestingly enough, the name “Sherry” is actually an Anglicization of Xeres, the alternative name for Jerez. In former times, the fortified wine which came from Jerez de la Frontera was known as “sack” which came from the word “saca” in Spanish, which means extraction. Under European law, “Sherry” has protected designation of origin status; because of this, all wine that has “Sherry” on its label must come from a region known as “the Sherry Triangle”. This triangle consists of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Jerez de la Frontera, and all three locations are found in Cádiz province. The official denomination of origin is Denominación de orígen Jerez-Xeres-Sherry.
As far as production is concerned, Sherry is basically made in the same way wine is, however, once fermentation is complete, the base wine is fortified with grape spirit to boost the alcohol content. Manzanilla and Fino wines must have an alcohol content of 15.5 percent if there are to be aged; while aging, a layer of a yeast-like substance called flor will develop and protect the wine from oxidization while it is aging in the barrel. Oloroso wines much have an alcohol content of 17 percent in order to be deemed as good for aging; Oloroso sherries will oxidize to a degree because flor does not develop, and the Sherry will become darker in color.
Sherries are initially dry, unlike their Port wine counterparts; this is because the spirit is added after fermentation, and any sugar will be added later. With Port wine, in order for it to stay sweet, spirit is added halfway during the fermentation process.
Sherry wines are blended with a variety of wines from different years, a process called solera and for that reason there cannot be anything considered a “vintage” sherry. What makes Sherry different from other fortified wines is that there is the possibility that an incredibly old wine may have been used, and for this reason some wine experts and true connoisseurs will state that Sherry is undervalued and underappreciated in the wider wine industry.
A Brief History of Sherry
Sherry has a long history. When distillation was introduced to the region around the year 711, winemakers and distillers found that their products combined to be a wonderful drink. Production had been established in the area for five centuries when Alfonse X of Castile took over the area, however it was after this reconquest that export of Sherry began in earnest.
Sherry was considered incredibly important for centuries, and was so important that when Magellan sailed around the world, the sherry he carried on board had cost him more than his entire weapons inventory. Sherry became very popular in Britain after Francis Drake sacked Cádiz in 1587; among the spoils were almost three thousand barrels of the fortified wine that he brought with him on the trip home.
Varieties of Sherry
Fino is the driest and palest variety of Sherry. It is aged in barrels with flor yeast and is unoxidized.
Manzanilla is a very light style of Fino and is made in the Sanlúcar de Barrameda area.
Manzanilla Pasada is a Manzanilla that is aged and partially oxidized, with a nutty flavour.
Amontillado is a Sherry that is aged under flor but is afterwards exposed to oxygen. It is darker than Fino but lighter in color than an Oloroso. Sometimes Amontillado will be sweetened; however, once sweetened it can no longer be labeled as Amontillado.
Oloroso is a darker and richer wine that has been aged for longer than a Fino or Amontillado. When Oloroso has been sweetened, it can only be sold as “Cream Sherry” and producers are not allowed to label it with the words “Oloroso”.
Jerez Dulce or Sweet Sherries are produced by fermenting dried Pedro Ximénez grapes or dried Moscatel grapes. The resulting wine is sweet and dark brown or black in color.
Sherry may not be the most fashionable drink now, but it’s only a question of time before it will get rediscovered; it is a sure thing that shortly it will make a triumphant return.
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