The fortified wines of Jerez

To be honest I’ve always been a fan of Sherry whether it’s a dry Fino or a nice bodied Pedro Ximénez. I realized that a lot of people mainly know the drink in its dry nutty Fino form. A market that is dominated (certainly in Belgium) by Domecq and Tio Pepe.

But what exactly is Sherry and what differences are there? Well, Sherry is made in Spain, more precise in the Sherry triangle (which is formed by 3 towns: Jerez de La Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María). Sherry can be classified as a fortified wine. The insane part is that the aromas in these “wines” can range from straw yellow very dry and slightly bitter to deep brown and sweet.

The difference in aroma comes mainly from the distinct flavors of the grapes. For dry Sherrys, you use Palomino grapes while for most sweet sherrys you use Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez grapes. The production of dry and sweet sherries is also distinctly different.

For dry sherry, the grapes are picked and pressed before submitting them to fermentation. With most sweet Sherrys the grapes are dried before fermentation. What I didn’t know is that the yeasting for this is a bit like the Belgian Geuzes. The sherry is covered with a veil of yeast called flor. The flor is indigenous to the Sherry region, much like the yeasts used for Geuzes that are indigenous to Brussels. It’s the flor that prevents the sherry from oxidation.

After the fermentation, the choice must be made which form of aging would be most appropriate for the Sherry you have. There are two ways to age a Sherry, biological or oxidative. The difference between the two is mainly contact with air, biological aging has no contact to air, whereas oxidative aging does have contact to air.

Sweet Sherry’s are always aged by oxidative aging. Exposing the sherry to air makes the color much darker as well. I found a nice visual on the aging of sherry thanks to the Gonzales Byass site.

Aging the Sherry in barrels is done in a system called Solera y Criaderas. In short this means there are different levels of aging the Sherry in a warehouse. The youngest is the Criadera and is shifted from the upper levels to a next Criadera on a lower level. The ground level is a finished product, the Solera.

All these different grapes and production methods can create 7 styles of Sherry! I know, that’s more than I thought as well! Next to the well-known Fino you have the Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.

The amazing part here is that these different types of Sherry can be used in a lot of different parts of a menu. As an aperitif, the dry Fino Sherry’s are divine. When combining them with food a Manzanilla or Amontillado can be perfect with seafood or game, while a Pedro Ximenez can make a chocolate dessert into pure perfection.

So, now you know a bit more about the Sherry landscape, be sure to try some new ones and let me know what you think! 

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