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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 23, October 2004   
Jerez (Sherry)Jerez (Sherry)  Contents 
Issue 22, September 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 24, November 2004

Jerez (Sherry)

Produced in Andalusia, Jerez - or Sherry - is an extraordinary wine which in past times was considered among the best ones of the world, a masterpiece of wine making art rich and enchanting

 In case we should tell the most complex wines to make, those requiring the mastery of talented wine makers, as well as the patient work of time and the invaluable contribution of the nature of a place, one of the first wines to mention would certainly be Jerez. No matter it is extremely difficult to make, and capable of giving emotions like few others, this wine - known in English speaking countries as Sherry and in France as Xérès - today it is probably one of the most underrated wines of the world, a condition it unfortunately shares with all fortified wines. Nevertheless a glass of this extraordinary wine, or better a copita, in case we want to use a Spanish word, as a tribute to the homeland of this great wine, always offers lots of pleasing emotions and to the nose of the connoisseur an extraordinary olfactory experience which can be hardly found in other wines. Despite of this, facts tell a truly different story and among wine lovers few of them seek or appreciate fortified wines, including Jerez.

 Jerez is named after the homonymous city of Jerez de la Frontera, located in Andalusia, in the southern part of Spain and near the Strait of Gibraltar. It seems Phoenicians introduced vine in Spain and at Roman times wines of this country were already well known and appreciated, as witnessed by the writings of Pliny the Elder in his monumental Naturalis Historia and of Lucio Columella - who was born in Cádiz, not far from Jerez - in his De Re Rustica. Jerez wine has always known a very high fame outside Spain and since the half of fourteenth century there are documents which prove huge exports, annotated in trade books with the term saca. They were two words of Arab origins - saca and Xeris - to give origin to the term still used in England to refer to this wine: Sherry. It seems it was William Shakespeare to “invent” the term sherris sack - a clear Anglicization of the two Arab terms - that will soon become Sherry.

The production area of Jerez (Sherry)
The production area of Jerez (Sherry)

 The interest Englishmen had for this wine has always been very high, so high that many families moved to Spain both for beginning flourishing trade businesses with their mother land, as well as for establishing wineries for the production of Jerez, an event this wine shares with other great fortified wines: Port, Marsala and Madeira. Englishmen were not the only ones who moved to Jerez de la Frontera and working on the local wine trade, even French, Scottish, Irish and Dutch businessmen did the same. The interest of these businessmen greatly contributed to the spreading and development of Jerez and still today some of the most important Jerez wineries - called bodegas in Spanish - are owned by the European families who moved in this region. The area of Jerez de la Frontera is also famous for other two excellent products: brandy and vinegar. At Jerez the distillation of wine is an activity having a double importance: it is fundamental for the production of the excellent brandy as well as for the fortification of Jerez wine. Vinegar of Jerez is made with the wine which during the many phases of production is affected by acetic bacteria and therefore it cannot be used for making wine. Vinegar of Jerez is aged with the Solera y Criaderas system, the same used for the production of wine and of brandy.


Jerez, Sherry, Xérès: Three Names, One Wine

 Jerez - Sherry or Xérès, as it is generally known outside of its homeland, was the first wine in Spain to which was conferred the Denominación de Origen - abbreviated as DO - whose area is delimited by the territories of the communes of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. The climate of this area is strongly affected by the influence of the Atlantic ocean and by the rivers Rio Guadalquivir and Rio Guadalete. Grapes cultivated in this area and used for the production of Jerez are three and precisely Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel. Of the three, Palomino is the most important one, considered the Jerez grape par excellence. Palomino is a white berried grape - just like the other two varieties - with a thin skin and clusters of average size and the white wine tables produced with this grape do not have truly interesting organoleptic characteristics: it will be the particular method of production of Jerez that will transform Palomino into an extraordinary wine rich in complex organoleptic qualities.

 The area of Jerez in which is being cultivated the vine is classified according to the percentage of calcium carbonate found in the soil, the typical and appreciated soil made of chalky sediments, a characteristic Jerez shares with Champagne. The best grapes for the production of Jerez comes from vineyards whose soil is rich in chalky sediments, very porous and capable of keeping water and air, while forcing the vine to extend its roots very deep. The types of soils classified in the area are four:


  • Albariza - considered as the best soil which gives Jerez its typical character. Albariza is the most common soil type in the Jerez Superior area, north from Jerez de la Frontera, and considered as the best soil for the cultivation of the vine. Its composition can also be made of 50% of chalk, has an excellent capacity of absorbing and keeping water and air. This type of soil is easily recognized because of its pale color, almost white
  • Albarizones - made of about 25% of chalk, this soil is a blend of albariza and clay
  • Barros - a soil manly made of clay and about 10% of chalk. Its color is dark brown, it is pretty rich in organic substances, however its grapes produce less delicate wines
  • Arenas - soil of yellow-reddish color because of the presence of iron oxides, it is typical in the north-eastern area. It is made of sand with a subsoil of clay


The Classification of Jerez (Sherry)

 Jerez is a very complex wine, not only in its production, but also in its classification. The wide range of Jerez styles goes beyond the simple definition of fortified wine, in fact these wines are classified according to their sweetness and - more important - according to the family they belong to. All Jerez wines are classified according to two main categories: fino and oloroso. Jerez finos are more delicate and with a pale color, dry and with appreciable acidity, whereas Jerez olorosos are more robust, with darker colors, and are produced both as dry and sweet. In these two categories are being grouped seven different styles of Jerez and the sweetness of these wines generally is a precise choice of each producer, therefore increasing - as a matter of fact - the range of Jerez styles. Jerez wines belonging to the fino category are: Manzanilla, Fino and Amontillado; whereas in the oloroso category there are: Oloroso, Cream and Pedro Ximénez. There is also another style, Palo Cortado, by many considered as a member of the fino family, whereas for others it makes its own category because its characteristics reminds both the ones of fino and oloroso.


  • Manzanilla - this style of Jerez, produced at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, is very appreciated for its elegance and finesse. Thanks to the influence of the moist air streams coming from the Atlantic ocean, Manzanilla is dry, characterized by a pleasing salty hint and a taste that could be defined as “sea”. Manzanilla, which belongs to the family of fino, depends on the development of the so called flor, the layer of yeast which forms on the surface of the wine inside the cask. Because of its extreme fragility, many producers bottle the wine only upon order. Manzanilla should be served chilled and an opened bottle can be rarely kept for more than two days
  • Fino - with refined and complex aromas, fino has a pale color, strong and dry taste, it is considered the most typical style of Jerez. Even this style depends on the development of flor and it is more robust and strong than Manzanilla. An opened bottle should be consumed within two or three days
  • Amontillado - it is a Jerez aged in cask, after having been drawn off from the solera, it is fortified and then kept in a cask where it will be allowed to age without the protection of the flor. In this way the wine will increase its oxidation and its color will get darker, while exalting toasted and nutty aromas. Amontillados have a demi-sec taste because of the adding of a small percentage of Pedro Ximénez and few producers make this wine in the dry style
  • Palo Cortado - a pretty rare and sought Jerez style, for its qualities it is often considered as a in-between wine from fino and oloroso. It is a particular style of dry Amontillado which after having aged for a long time, it develops the typical qualities of oloroso, that is higher structure, concentrated and creamy. Palo Cortado reminds aromas of Amontillado, whereas the taste reminds an oloroso
  • Oloroso - style of Jerez produced without the development of the flor and therefore strongly exposed to the effects of oxidation which gives a very dark color, toasted and dried fruit aromas. Olorosos have a higher alcohol percentage than finos, typically 18-20%, full body and higher concentration. The trend is a production of sweet or demi-sec Olorosos whereas dry styles are considered a rarity. Sweetness in Olorosos is obtained by adding variable quantities of Pedro Ximénez
  • Cream - in the beginning this style of Jerez was created for the English market and they are characterized by a higher sweetness than Olorosos. Sweetness in Creams is obtained by adding high quantities of Pedro Ximénez, variable from producer to producer. Creams are pretty dense with aromas of chocolate, licorice, jams and dried fruit
  • Pedro Ximénez - this style of Jerez is exclusively produced with Pedro Ximénez grape, as opposed to the other styles where Palomino is the predominant grape. Pedro Ximénez styles are very dense, syrupy and sweet, robust structure and complex aromas of dried fruit. Pedro Ximénez is generally used for sweetening other Oloroso styles, however they are very appreciated and sold as a style of their own, in particular for being paired to desserts


The Production of Jerez (Sherry)

 Everything begins with the harvest and grapes are sent to the winery in order to start the production of wine. Palomino grape is pressed and the free run juice is fermented in steel or concrete tanks in order to make wine, just like any other white. At this point the producer, for each production batch, will make a decision, that to choose the destination of a wine for the production of fino or oloroso: this phase is called first classification. A choice, apparently simple, which is determined by the organoleptic qualities of the wine while trying to understand its development and its best destination. Wines destined for the production of fino are fortified with alcohol up to 15%, whereas the ones which will become oloroso will be fortified at 18%. Wines are now transferred in casks and allowed to age for their first year. This new wines are called añada, that is wines of the year, or sobretablas. The cask is filled only four fifths of its volume and the bung is not completely sealed. In this way the oxygen will enter the cask while allowing the evolution of wine. Wines which are not considered suited for the production of fino and oloroso, are destined to the production of vinegar of Jerez or distilled in order to obtain alcohol to be used for the fortification or the making of brandy.


The Production of Jerez Fino and Manzanilla


 After about one month they have been transferred in a cask, in the surface of wines destined for the production of fino takes place the most important event for their development: the formation of the so called flor, that is the most important factor responsible for the complexity of Jerez fino. It is a spontaneous formation of a layer of microorganisms belonging to the saccharomyces family, which is technically called velo (veil). This precious layer of microorganisms is formed only in presence of particular conditions: the alcoholic percentage in wine must not be higher than 15%, the temperature must be constant between 18° and 22°C (64°-71°F), an optimal surface of contact of the wine with air, usually obtained by filling a 600 liters cask with 500 liters of wine. This microorganisms are fed with some components of the wine therefore changing its composition while shielding it from the effects of oxygen. The flor quickly develops on the surface of the wine and after about one month the wine is completely covered by this thick white layer of microorganisms, however its thickness varies according to the season and humidity.

 The protective action of flor against oxygen is not perfect and this allows the wine to slowly oxidize, while favoring the development of its organoleptic characters and the changes done by the flor. This layer of saccharomyces will be present in Jerez fino for the whole aging cycle and it develops only thanks to the particular climatic condition of the area. Researchers have discovered that in case the flor is moved from the area of Jerez to other places of the world, it rapidly changes its characteristics or dies, a characteristic which makes Jerez fino even more special. Manzanilla is a Jerez fino exclusively produced at Salúcar de Barrameda, a city located in the Atlantic coast. Even the production of Manzanilla depends on the formation of flor, however the fundamental factor is represented by the climate - different from the inland area where Jerez de la Frontera is located - more humid and maritime which gives the wine its character while allowing the flor to constantly cover the surface. Jerez Amontillado is produced by fortifying a fino and to its subsequent aging. The higher percentage of alcohol will not allow the development of the flor and therefore the wine will get a higher structure, color and oxidation. Amontillados that with time develop the typical character of Olorosos will be classified as Palo Cortado.


The Production of Jerez Oloroso

 The main difference between Jerez fino and oloroso consists in the presence or absence of the flor, the precious veil which is formed on the surface of wine. The flor, just like any other species of yeast, cannot survive in environments in which the alcoholic percentage is greater than 16.4%: for this reason olorosos are being fortified at 18% in order to prevent its formation. Today the production of olorosos is practically forced and not left to the “case” by waiting the natural evolution of the fermented wines. Olorosos are intentionally produced with free run juice and must produced by pressing grapes in order to extract a small quantity of tannins that will give the wine a higher structure. Olorosos usually spend a longer time in the solera y criaderas than finos, in order to give the wine a higher structure and organoleptic complexity which typically reminds dried fruit. At the time of bottling, when it is being drawn off from the solera, the oloroso is a very dry wine. At this point the producer decides whether to leave it “natural” or to sweeten it by adding a small quantity of concentrated Pedro Ximénez juice, as well as Muscatel, therefore obtaining a demi-sec oloroso (abocados). In case the presence of Pedro Ximénez represents about 15%, oloroso is classified as Cream. Jerez Pedro Ximénez is produced by using the homonymous grapes dried under the sun for two or three weeks in order to allow the concentration of sugar. The must of these grapes ferment very slowly and partially and then it is fortified: the result is a thick wine, syrupy and very sweet.


The Solera y Criaderas Method

 No matter the style - fino or oloroso - all Jerez wines are aged by using the solera y criaderas method. This method, despite the fact it has been always in use at Jerez, is also used for the production of other fortified wines - such as Marsala - as well as some distillates, such as certain brandies. The system consists in keeping the qualities and character of the wine or the distillate constant over the time; in fact products aged with this system never have the year of the vintage written in the label. The solera y criaderas method is based on the principle the youngest wine is enriched with the character and qualities of the eldest ones. In practical terms, the system consists in a series of casks, each one of them called escala, containing the wine of an average age, and the eldest escala is called solera, because when the escalas are stacked one upon the other, this is the lowest one and in contact with the soil (suelo in Spanish). The escalas above the solera are called criaderas. The number of escalas vary according to the type of Jerez to be made, usually from a number of five to even fourteen. Every year the wine contained in the solera is being drawn off - an operation called saca - and then bottled. The part of the wine drawn off is replaced by the wine of the first criadera, this one with the wine of the second criadera, and so on, up to the last criadera. The wine of the last criadera is replaced by the wines of the sobretablas. The refilling operations are called rocio. The skill of the wineries is to do the saca and rocio operations in small quantities in order not to compromise the quality and the characteristics of the whole system, result of an uninterrupted process of even centuries. According to the law, every year can be drawn off from the solera not more than 30% of its volume.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 23, October 2004   
Jerez (Sherry)Jerez (Sherry)  Contents 
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