Spanish Sherry

Sherry-wine-SpainThe Spaniards definitely know how to enjoy life – good music, good friends and most importantly good food and wine. Spanish sherry is not universally known, but is not to be missed as you travel through Spain, especially in Southern Spain. Good dry sherry is one of the world´s sexiest drinks, an ideal companion to tapas or just sitting in the plaza watching the beautiful Spanish horse carriages pass by.

Though beer and wine have dominated the drinking population, sherry continues to be the drink of choice for the older Spaniards. Mid-day you can count on seeing groups of men, whether in suits or the men from the country enjoying their daily glass of sherry. There is a saying in southern Spain, you either have one glass of fino at 11, or 11 glasses at one. Andalucíans drink it like mother’s milk to no apparent ill-effect!

This specialty sherry originated in the town of Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalusia, where most of it is produced and where viticulture has flourished since the time of Phoenicians (12th century BC). Spanish sherry has a very long history, but the methods of producing the different types of sherry have not changed throughout the years and, in fact, are bound to the strict rules of production.

The sherry grapes, predominantly alomin and the sweet Pedro Ximenez grapes, grow in the unique chalky soil called albariza of Jerez de la Frontera, where the soil soaks up the winter rain like a sponge, and feeds the deep roots of the vines throughout the hot, arid summers. After the grapes are picked, crushed and fortified with grape spirits, the liquid is place in wooden casks where the wine develops a characteristic covering of yeast called flor (flower) on its surface. Flor intensifies the wine´s flavour, keeping it crisp and dry.

Sherry that develops flor will be labelled and bottled as fino, sherry that doesn´t will be left to oxidize and will be sold as oloroso. Next, the sherry undergoes a complex maturing and blending process known as solera, in which some if it is blended at regular intervals with wine from an older barrel and then topped up with a younger wine. This ensures consistency and leaves the consumers free from having to worry about particular vintages.

Bottled sherry comes in the following categories (Sherry from local vineyards can be found in barrels and is also worth a try):

FINO (meaning “fine”) is light, dry and delicate with the colour of straw. It is usually fortified to about 15 percent alcohol. (Pale Cream sherry is sweetened fino)

MANZANILLA is the incomparable fino-style sherry produced in the picturesque seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, which is located on the Atlantic Ocean and is believed to be the reason manzanilla has an irresistible crisp-dry salty tang.

AMONTILLADO, another member of the fino family, is aged longer in the solera system and left to oxidize after it loses its flor, which gives the sherry its amber colour, deep nuttiness, and brassy richness. Amontillado, which should really be enjoyed dry, is often sweetened for export. Its alcohol content is higher than that of a fino.

OLOROSO (“fragrant”) is a dark amber, walnutty, rich sherry with a high degree of alcohol (about 20 percent). Olorosos do not develop flor and take longer to mature than finos. While olorosos are also frequently sweetened (and labelled cream sherry), the best examples are dry.

PALO CORTADO is the much prized, complex rebel sherry that begins life as amontillado, then “mutates” into an oloroso, sharing the best characteristics of both. A special treat, it is worth seeking out.

PEDRO XIMENEZ, or PX, is the raisiney-sweet dessert sherry made from Pedro Ximenez grapes, which are traditionally dried in the sun.

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