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!

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