Enotourism

  • Sherry and its different types

    Sherries. Domecq winery. Jerez de la Frontera.

    In the previous entry, we saw in detail the production of Sherry wine (if you haven’t reached that point, please stop and go back one entry so you can fully understand what I’m discussing here).

    We start with the initial classification where the lighter, sharper, and more delicate wines were classified as Fino, and the rest as Oloroso.

    Now, it’s time to talk about the aging process.

    Biological aging.

    Biological aging barrel. Argüeso winery. Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

    When we classify these first-press juices with delicacy as ‘Fino’ and fortify them to 15 percent alcohol, a biological evolution begins once they are placed in the barrel.

    In this case, the barrel cannot be completely filled, but rather filled up to 500 liters of its total capacity of 600 liters.

    Over the course of days, a sort of veil starts forming on the surface of the wine, some describe it as resembling cream, and here on earth, we call it the ‘Flor del vino,’ which translates to ‘Flower of wine’ in English.

    This is a type of yeast, a member of the bread yeast family, ‘saccharomyces,’ which, as a living organism, rises to the surface in search of oxygen to breathe, thus forming this unique flower-like veil.

    Characteristics:

    • Color: Clear golden. This is because the yeast acts as a protective barrier between the wine and the air chamber inside the barrel, preventing oxidation.
    • Aroma: Bread, yeast, and fruity notes.
    • Taste: Dry, with a sharp aftertaste.
    • Pairing: Tapas, Iberian products, olives, nuts… All kinds of fish and seafood, especially those with a pronounced salty flavor and raw preparations.
    • Temperature: Very cold (6-8 degrees Celsius).
    • Storage: Once opened, it should be consumed within a short time and kept in the refrigerator. After a few weeks, it may undergo changes (oxidation and flavor variations). It can still be consumed or used for cooking.

    And what about Manzanilla sherry wine?

    Manzanilla has its own aging place, the beautiful Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Along the banks of the Guadalquivir River, the perfect climate for biological aging with Palomino grapes allows it to develop salinity and native yeasts that distinguish it from Fino.

    The closer we get to the sea, the more salinity we can perceive in the biological aging process.

    The best way to experience this is to enjoy a Fino in Jerez, a Fino in Puerto de Santa María, and a Manzanilla in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, always well chilled and accompanied by the previously mentioned pairings.

    Oxidative aging.

    Oloroso sherry glass. Emiligo Hidalgo winery. Jerez de la Frontera.

    The rest of the wines, with their alcohol content raised to 17 degrees, will age without the veil of flor, as the alcohol concentration is too high for the yeast to survive.

    As a result, Oloroso, without the flor, remains in constant contact with oxygen, developing a character completely different from Fino.

    Characteristics:

    • Color: Mahogany.
    • Aroma: Highly aromatic, with hints of vanilla, oak, and nuts.
    • Taste: Round and full-bodied.
    • Pairing: It can be enjoyed with appetizers and pairs perfectly with red game meats, meat stews, and braised dishes. It also goes well with mushrooms and very aged cheeses.
    • Temperature: 12-14 degrees Celsius.
    • Storage: Once opened, it can be enjoyed for about 3 months. If the bottle remains sealed, it can be stored for several years.

    Between biological aging and oxidative aging lies the Amontillado.

    Starting with biological aging under the flor yeast, it can happen, for various reasons (climate, chemical reactions, etc.), that the yeast begins to fall, inevitably leading to oxidative aging. This is how Amontillado is born when the wine undergoes ‘amontillado,’ or oxidizes.

    Characteristics:

    • Color: Amber.
    • Aroma: Nuts and vegetal notes.
    • Taste: Gentle, with balanced acidity and a dry finish, with a prolonged aftertaste.
    • Pairing: Aged cheeses, oily fish, spicy dishes, and vegetables like asparagus and artichokes.
    • Temperature: 6-8 degrees Celsius. Storage: If the bottle is unopened, up to 1 year. Once opened, up to 1 month.
    • Storage: if the bottle remains sealed, one year. Once opened, one month.

    Pedro Ximenez sherry.

    It is said that during the Second World War, a German soldier who was in this region brought a new grape variety to the Sherry region, a grape that was named after the soldier, Peter Siemens, which in our language eventually became Pedro Ximénez… I find this story somewhat unreliable, but after years of research while working for many wineries in the region, it’s the most commonly mentioned one…

    We saw that the Pedro Ximénez grape variety, like Palomino Fino, is white and harvested at the same time as Palomino Fino. So far, so good… Once harvested, we observed that Palomino Fino grapes were transported to the place where they are crushed, destemmed, and pressed. However, Pedro Ximénez grapes, after being harvested, remain in the vineyard for a few days before undergoing the same process as Palomino Fino.

    Asoleo o soleo process.

    The process to which Pedro Ximénez grapes are subjected involves placing the grapes on esparto grass mats in a designated area of the vineyard.

    Over the course of a few days, the grapes gradually dry out, meaning that water evaporates, and the sugar becomes concentrated.

    After a little over a week, the grapes undergo the same process as Palomino Fino: pressing, fermentation, fortification, and aging in barrels.

    Characteristics:

    • Color: Brown, with a dense structure.
    • Aroma: Highly fragrant, with notes of raisins, figs, dates, honey, licorice…
    • Taste: Velvety and unctuous, very sweet.
    • Pairing: Best enjoyed on its own right after a meal, or with chocolate and ice cream. It can also be used as a salad dressing or for cooking meats.
    • Temperature: Room temperature.
    • Storage: If the bottle is unopened, it can last for years. Once opened, it should be consumed within 1 year.

    A Sherry made to suit the English taste…

    Summarizing what we’ve already seen to keep things clear: Sherry is made from Palomino grapes, classified as Fino and Oloroso, and from there, we have biological aging (under yeast) and oxidative aging (without yeast). Amontillado falls between these two aging processes, aging under the flor yeast and then, upon losing it, through oxidative aging. These are the dry Sherries.

    On the other hand, we have Pedro Ximénez wine, made from the same grape and the same process as Palomino Fino, except for the sun-drying process, as we’ve seen. This is the sweet Sherry.

    Fortifying the Wine.

    It’s impossible to talk about Sherry wines without thinking of the English market. They are big consumers of our wines, so much so that the designation of origin includes the word “Sherry,” which is what they call our wines.

    In the 19th century, many people from England came to this region to learn about Sherry production, establish their own wineries in the city, and export these precious wines from here.

    The English palate is unique, not accustomed to dry wines, but also not necessarily fond of sweet ones.

    As a result, they decided to create a wine to their liking, fortifying or blending Oloroso with Pedro Ximénez, giving rise to Cream Sherry.

    To obtain it, a common practice is to blend 70% Oloroso wine with 30% Pedro Ximénez, creating a blend that balances dry and sweet wines, the English way.

    Characteristics:

    • Color: Dark chestnut mahogany.
    • Aroma: Pronounced notes of Oloroso with hints of raisins.
    • Taste: Round and sweet.
    • Pairing: Pairs well with fruits like melon and orange, as well as all kinds of pastries or ice creams. It’s also suitable for blue cheeses and foie gras. As an aperitif, it can be enjoyed on its own with ice and a slice of orange.
    • Temperature: 10-12 degrees Celsius.
    • Storage: When unopened, it can last for years. Once opened, it’s best consumed within a year.

    With some things left unsaid, I’m bringing this entry to a close because I believe we’ve covered the main types, aging processes, and variations. However, if you enjoyed it, I’d be happy to explore the remaining varieties and share some curiosities in a second part… Don’t forget to comment and share!

    THANK YOU!

  • Elaboration of Sherry wine

    From Grape to Wine.

    “Now that we know the setting and the history that gives rise to Sherry wine… AND IF NOT, STOP READING AND GO BACK ONE ENTRY! We are ready to delve into its production process.

    We could summarize the steps through which the grape goes until it reaches our table bottled as Sherry wine in these six stages:

    • The harvest.
    • Crushing and pressing.
    • Fermentation.
    • Classification and encabezamiento (vinification)
    • Aging.
    • Soleras and Criaderas.

    The harvest.

    The harvest in the sherry triangle.

    At the end of August or early September, when the two grape varieties mentioned earlier, Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximénez, reach their optimal level of ripeness, the grape harvest takes place.

    Traditionally, it is done by hand, and this method is still mostly used today because human hands are more attentive to plant care and more skillful than machines.

    The Palomino Fino grapes are quickly transported to the location where crushing will take place. In contrast, the Pedro Ximénez grapes will remain in the vineyard. We will see the process that this grape goes through when we discuss the different Sherries.

    Crushing and Pressing.

    Grapes crushing process.

    The next step is to pour the grapes into the hopper, a type of screws that, when turned, promote the breaking of the skins. As for the stems, they can be removed before or after crushing in the destemming machine.

    Now it’s time to press the grapes. By exerting low pressure, we obtain the first juices, which are more suitable for biological aging wines. These juices are known as the first must. By exerting even more pressure, the next juices are the second must, which will be used for the rest.

    Fermentation.

    Fementation tanks.

    The must is poured into temperature-controlled metal tanks to allow the natural transformation of grape juice sugar into alcohol. This process is rapid at first, and then the rest gradually transforms into alcohol, until the end of November, or the feast of Saint Andrew, because as the saying goes…

    “Por San Andrés, el mosto vino es” (“On Saint Andrew’s day, the must turns into wine.”)

    Classification and vinification.

    Sherries. Diez Mérito winery. Jerez de la Frontera.

    And by the end of November, we already have that new year’s wine, the must, which contains about 12 degrees of alcohol after the fermentation process.

    This is the moment when the wisdom and skill of the winemakers, knowledge passed down and learned from generation to generation, come into play.

    Through sight and smell, the wise winemakers, along with the oenologists, classify the wine into two main groups that will undergo the two main aging processes, fino and oloroso.

    The clearer, more piercing, and delicate wines from the first must are classified as fino, while the rest are categorized as oloroso.

    Once classified, it’s time to increase the alcohol content, in other words, fortify the wines. For this, wine alcohol from the same Palomino Fino grape is used.

    Fino is fortified to reach up to 15 degrees of alcohol to facilitate its biological aging. The rest, classified as oloroso, has its alcohol content increased to 17 degrees to achieve oxidative aging.

    All these terms may seem a bit confusing, but if you continue to follow this blog, you’ll surely get a better understanding as I address and develop each point (and if you have any questions, feel free to comment, and I’ll clarify).

    Sobretablas.

    Andanas.

    At this point, we have the wine ready to transfer it to barrels, or as we say in Jerez, ‘botas,’ for a period of 6 months, at the end of which we will check again if the wine follows the evolution established in the initial classification.

    It’s important to consider that Sherry wine is a living entity, subject to many factors such as climate variations, chemical reactions, and other elements that can alter its evolution.

    The ‘bota’ is also a crucial factor since it will be the vessel where the wine spends a season or many years.

    The Jerez ‘bota’ is made of staves (planks) of American oak wood. These are joined and shaped using fire. Metal rings are used to hold them together and give shape to the ‘bota.’

    American oak wood is ideal for Sherry, given its porosity and durability. It must endure over the years while allowing the wine to oxygenate and the alcohol to evaporate, that perfume that fills the cellars when we visit, better known as ‘the angel’s share.’

    Soleras and criaderas anging process.

    Solera and criadera system.

    After six months in the ‘bota,’ the wine reveals its character and is finally ready to age in the ‘botas.’

    One of the processes that makes our wines unique is our aging system, the Solera and Criaderas system.

    When we visit a winery, we can observe that the ‘botas’ are grouped or stacked in three or four rows, one on top of the other, forming a pyramid-like structure. This pyramid is called an ‘Andana’ (see photo above).

    Starting from the ground, the row of ‘botas’ closest to the ground is called the ‘solera’ (which derives from the Spanish word for ground, ‘suelo’… ‘solera’). The rows above the ‘solera’ are called ‘criaderas,’ with the first row directly above the ‘solera.’ So, in a typical ‘andana,’ we see the ‘solera,’ the first ‘criadera,’ the second, and the third.

    In the ‘solera,’ the oldest wines are stored, and as we move higher, the wines are younger, with the highest ‘criadera’ containing the youngest wines in the entire ‘andana.’

    How does the process begin? Well, it starts with the ‘saca,’ when the wine is ready for bottling.

    The ‘saca’ involves drawing wine, always from the ‘solera,’ and specifically one-third of the ‘bota’ (of those with a capacity of 600 liters, although in some cases, the ‘bota’ is not completely filled, and a space is left inside, as we will see later…).

    So, we extract one-third of the wine from the ‘botas’ in the ‘solera,’ which continues its process for bottling. Now, the one-third that we have taken from the ‘solera’ is drawn from the row of ‘botas’ above it, the first ‘criadera,’ and it is poured into the ‘botas’ of the ‘solera.’

    Following the same method, we reach the last row of ‘botas,’ usually the third ‘criadera,’ which is topped up with one-third of the new wine from the last year.

    As you can see, the wine that ends up in our glass is the result of blending many harvests…

    Clarification and Bottling.

    Bottling process.

    When we remove the wine from the barrel, it’s necessary to clean it of impurities so that it reaches the bottle, and consequently, the glass, clear.

    Clarification is done today in large metal tanks where the wine undergoes a cold process to induce the settling of any impurities it may contain at the bottom of the tank. In the past, this process was not mechanized and was done differently, which I will also mention later (so stay tuned).

    Finally, the wine goes through the bottling process, to the storage, to the store, and to the consumers.

    With all that said, I believe we can conclude here the Sherry production process and continue with the types of wine and their pairings.

    Please comment and share if you’re enjoying this.

    THANK YOU!