Dry sherry is essentially just wine. Where it differs from normal wine boils down to the fortification and maturation process. With the help of the Solera blending system this makes dry Sherry what it is. The Solera system involves a complex method of blending grape juice which is fermenting in wooden Sherry casks of different ages, resulting in sherries that are a mix of old and younger vintage wines.
What Is Sherry Wine?
Sherry is the Anglicized version of the word ‘Jerez’, which refers to the wine-producing town Jerez de la Frontera. Sherry is a fortified white wine which is either a dry or sweet style and meant to be paired with food. It is made from vineyards situated in Jerez, in the Andalusian region of Spain. Sherry is best produced in regions with extreme heat, where the daily temperatures in summer exceed 40 degrees Celsius. This heat is countered by cool afternoon and evening breezes which come off the Atlantic ocean, which is perfect for making complex and stable dry sherry wines.
One of the biggest reasons for the popularity of Sherry is its stability. This is the reason why it acquired widespread popularity in 16th century Britain because temperature-controlled shipping and storage was not an option at the time. In the late 1970s, the popularity of sherries peaked again, and around twice as much of it was exported from the region than is shipped today.
Where is Sherry Produced?
The sherry vineyards are located in the region surrounding the towns Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria, which is known as the ‘Sherry Triangle’. The characteristic soil of this region, the chalky albariza, is excellent for retaining water. The water retention capacity is especially useful because the evaporation levels are quite high in this warm and breezy region. The vines are routinely pruned by a method known as vara y pulgar, and the harvesting is done by hand.
How Is Dry Sherry Made?
Just like Champagne, true Sherry can only be made in a tiny corner of the world which surrounds Jerez in southern Spain. Throughout history, many have tried to replicate the nutty, salty and aromatic profile of dry Sherry and have produced sweetened bulk wines in its place. However, the true magnificence of Sherry can only be achieved in the unique soil, climate, humidity and winds of the Andalusian wine region.
The sherries are produced by using three varieties of grapes, which are Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez. The dominant variety of grapes in this region is the Palomino which is used to make dry sherry, while the two latter grape varieties are used to produce sweet sherry. The harvested pale green grapes produce wine with an initial alcohol level of 11–12.5%. This results in base wines that have a neutral character and are crisp. Dry sherries take on their compelling character after the unique production process, which uses flor, American oak butts (or barrels) and a solera system of maturation.
The wine is classified and fortified after the fermentation has been completed. The process of classification determines the destiny of the wine. While the elegant and lighter wines are classified as Fino, the darker and heavier wines become classified as Oloroso’s.
Types Of Sherry Wine And Their Taste Profiles
Sherry is made in a wide range of styles. Each type of Sherry has a distinct flavour profile and alcohol content. A common factor among them all is that they are low in tannins since they are made using white wine grapes.
Fino and Manzanilla Sherry
Fino and Manzanilla are the lightest styles of dry Sherry. Dry Sherry pairs with cured meats, oysters, Marcona almonds and olives. Their alcohol content is 15% abv and has a crisp, tangy, yeasty and nutty flavour profile. Fino Sherry is very dry with delicate acidity which leaves a pleasant and fresh aftertaste of almonds. Manzanilla is a fino-style sherry, which has a distinctive salty tang and is fresher than Fino. The flavour of Manzanilla is reminiscent of chamomile tea. Manzanilla is Spanish for Chamomile in English so there is method to the madness!
Amontillado Sherry is an aged Fino Sherry. It acquires its unique characteristics after oxidation. This occurs when the flor layer fades in the wine casks. Amontillado is an amber-coloured dry sherry, which leaves a complex, nutty and rich finish on the palate. It is fortified to contain between 17.5-18% alcohol, but it is not as dry as the Fino Sherry. Amontillado has notes of tobacco and toasted cedar, and a hazelnut aroma.
Palo Cortado Sherry
Palo Cortado Sherry offers a balance between Fino and the Amontillado. The Palo Cortado is a complex, fresh and nutty sherry that contains between 20-22% alcohol content. It is reddish-brown in colour and has a salty, delicate character. Palo Cortado has subtle lactic notes, which are reminiscent of fermented butter. The texture of this Sherry is smooth and rounded.
All the flavour in the Oloroso Sherry wines comes from the interaction of oxygen with the wine whilst it is fermenting. Oloroso is a full-bodied sherry, which is dark in colour. It has an alcohol content of 18 to 19% and is bordering on being sweet. Oloroso Sherry has a distinct aroma of walnuts, raisins and old furniture and a rich caramel flavour.
The sherries listed below are classified as sweet sherries. The sweetness comes from drying Pedro Ximénez grapes in the sun before fermentation.
Cream Sherry is a full-bodied sweet sherry that has a mahogany colour and smooth texture. It is made by blending Amontillado or Oloroso dry sherries and Pedro Ximénez. Note that it varies greatly in quality. Don’t spend less than £10 a bottle for cream Sherry.
Pedro Ximénez (PX)
Pedro Ximénez is an intensely sweet sherry consumed as a dessert wine. It is also used to sweeten other types of dry Sherry as mentioned above. The flavour profile of the Pedro Ximénez sherry is typified by chocolate, toffee, date, fig and molasses.
Sherry wines pair well with a wide variety of dishes and foods like olives, seafood, meats and cheeses. They are served in small wine glasses or special sherry schooners. Serve dry and lighter style Sherry chilled.
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