Sherry, is a complicated, misunderstood, and all too often dismissed wine. These are wonderful fine wines, not just for cooking with, folks.
The name Sherry comes from an anglicized version of the wines place of origin, the Spanish region of Jerez. Winemaking there dates to the Phoenicians in 1100 BC but the Sherry wines are a stylistic original and all wines called “Sherry” must originate in this part of southwest Spain.
There are a number of factors that make Sherry such a unique wine. Similar to Port and Madeira, Sherry is fortified, that is to say, after the grapes ferment, a grape based spirit is added to bring the overall alcohol percentage up. The final percentage depends upon the Sherry’s classification. The wine is then aged in barrel, in some cases for a very long time. Sherry barrels are often selected because they’re porous and allow more oxygen to enter. In some styles of Sherry space is left in the barrel for flor yeast to form, this yeast bloom creates a seal and protects the wine from oxidizing further.
This oxidized style made Sherry popular very early, certainly in Spain but far beyond, as the wine was able to withstand both the difficulty of travel by ship, and the long time between production and consumption. Sherry wine was wildly popular in England thanks to Sir Francis Drake, and supposedly was on board the ships of Columbus. Word is Magellan had more Sherry on board than he did weapons as he prepared to sail around the world.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Sherry is the use of solera barrel aging process. The wines are always listed without a vintage because of this sort of age-blending approach to winemaking. This is done via a group of barrels called a solera, and contributing barrels or criaderas. The finished wine is removed from the solera barrels, and other wine is blended into those barrels from the criaderas. Criaderas have a sort of cascading effect, where younger wines make their way into the more established blend. In theory, the original solera though has wines still in the blend from the oldest vintage when the solera was established.
The four or five main classifications of Sherry are:
Fino; these wines are fortified to the lowest alcohol percentage, of 15.5% and then as they age in barrel they are protected from oxidation by flor yeast. They are typically the driest, and lightest style of traditional Sherry.
Manzanilla; a fino style of Sherry that comes from a sub-region of Sanlúcar.
Manzanilla Pasada; is a Manzanilla Sherry that has spent an extended amount of time barrel aging so that it develops characteristics more often associated with longer aged Sherries. These wines are darker in color and nuttier in flavor profile.
Amontadillo; is aged under flor yeast but then given oxygen exposure and represents a sort of mid-point in Sherry styles. It is still often dry but more darkly hued than the fino styles of Sherry.
Oloroso; is a wine that is aged a longer time, and as a result the additional exposure to oxygen creates a more rich, darker wine.
There are three different grapes used in Sherry production. Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Palomino makes up almost ninety percent of Sherry production, as the other two grapes tend toward a sweeter style.
This is a thinking person’s aperitif. Aromas of nutshell, and salt, and hints of lime zest. The “La Goya” is considered the flagship wine of Delgado Zuleta. The wine typically ages in barrel for around 7 years. The wine is assembled like all sherries in a solera style. This particular wine was launched by the winery in 1918 and so it’s likely that their solera dates to that year. The palate of the wine mixes in youthful citrus notes with more established bready elements (thanks to the yeasty character). There are hints of olive, mint and thyme, and notes of kumquat flavor.
Williams & Humbert are like many of the historical Sherry cellars in the Jerez region, they were established hundreds of years ago by British companies that drove some of the earliest markets for these and other fortified wines. (You’ll see very much the same thing in the Portuguese city of Oporto.) The Williams & Humbert vineyard holdings are absolutely enormous, over 1,000 acres and they boast the largest wine cellars in the world.
From the Palomino grapes, aged in the solera barrels for 12 years. Aromatics of honey, dried fig and poached pear. The palate is full, yet not quite rich. Flavors of caramel, almond and more fig. The finish is fine, dry and velveteen.
This wine is an embodiment of the coolness of Sherry.The Dos Cortados solera actually dates to the founding of Williams and Humbert in 1877, and it’s around 300 barrels. Imagine the work that goes into all the barrel blending and topping.
Dos Cortados refers to a “second cut” or a second introduction of grape spirits into the wine. This wine as a commercial production is quite a rare treat. The aromas are of honey, caramel and dried fig, with a rich orange hue. The palate is almost luxuriant, raisins, prunes and almonds. The finish is one of balance and elegance.