Wine & Ratings

Sherry

About Sherry

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown in Andalucía, in the south of Spain. Made in several different styles, Sherry can appear nearly clear in color or, when allowed to oxidize, deep brown and opaque. Wines also vary in style from bone-dry to extremely sweet.

The primary grape used in the production of Sherry is Palomino, although two other grapes, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, are often used in the dessert versions of the wine. Palomino is a pale-skinned, green grape with a conical cluster, while Pedro Ximénez, commonly referred to as PX, has a deeper, more yellow hue, and gives off more pigment when pressed. Moscatel, or Muscat, is a thin-skinned, early-ripening variety with light pigment. Ninety percent of the grapes used for Sherry production are Palomino. Pedro Ximénez used in Sherry production is typically dried in the sun prior to use.

Sherry has its own Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP), or recognized growing area: Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. In Spain, all wine labeled as Sherry must come from the area in the province of Cadiz between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

Jerez has a warm, sunny climate, with minimal rain and a dry, hot summer. Winds from the ocean offer moisture, especially in the mornings, and clay-rich soils retain moisture in the vines.

Sherry undergoes a specific production process. Sherry is broken into seven categories: Fino, Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasada, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and Jerez Dulce. Within these categories, subtleties define how vinification takes place.

Once fermentation is complete, a grape spirit is added to the base wine in order to boost the alcohol content. For wines that are classified as Fino and Manzanilla, fortification stops when the alcohol content reaches 15.5%. Once the wines are placed in barrel, they develop a layer of yeast on top, known as flor. This protective layer prevents the wines from oxidizing and the result is nearly translucent Sherries with no oxidative qualities.

Manzanilla Sherry is essentially the same as Fino, with the difference being that it can only be made in the small area of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Oloroso wines are fortified to 17% abv and have no layer of flor, allowing them to turn a deep brown, owing to their contact with oxygen.

Amontillado is, in essence, a happy medium, aging first under flor and then being exposed to oxygen thereafter. These Sherries, notably, are all vinified dry.

Palo Cortado Sherry is aged like an Amontillado, but presents more like an Oloroso, with darker, richer tones. This is because the flor layer dies, offering more opportunity for oxidation.

Unlike Port, which is fortified in the middle of fermentation and all fermentable sugar has not yet converted to alcohol, Sherry is fortified after fermentation is already complete. The caramel notes associated with Sherry are due to oxygen, and not to the presence of sugar itself.

The exception, of course, is the category of Sherries known as Jerez Dulces. Sweet Sherries are produced in two ways, either by drying PX or Moscatel grapes, which yields dark, sweet wines, or by blending sweet wine must with dry pressed juice. Dessert Sherry is thick, rich and syrupy, almost resembling a nectar. Cream Sherry is a type of dessert Sherry that blends together Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherries.

Sherries from different years are aged and blended using a solera system, meaning that most Sheries are not labeled with a specific year. In a solera, small volumes of different vintages are blended together to maintain a consistency of style.  

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