Sherry

It’s History

It was the Roman historian Avienus who first wrote about the wines of Jerez and stated that there were already vines in the region in the fifth Century B.C. He said that it was the Phoenicians who, around the year 1,100 B.C. introduced the first vines from the land of Caanan into the region.

In the year 138 B.C. Escipion Emiliano conquered the region from that date on, and for 500 years, there were wine exports to Rome with an annual average of some 8 million liters, an extraordinary amount for that time. Recent excavations have shown that the Monte Testaccio in Rome is nothing but an immense pile of amphorae that contained either Sherry or olive oil from the region, each with its corresponding identity seal.

The Arabs settled in Jerez from 711 until 1264 A.D. They renamed the town Sherish, hence the english word Sherry by which the British, who have been buying "Jerez" ever since the Xl th Century know these wines.

In 1264 A.D. King Alfonso X conquered the town. The Wise King, as he was called had his own vineyards that he like to cultivate himself. At the end of the XVII th Century, the first foreign investments took place in the area of Sherry production. English, Scottish, Irish, French and Dutch Investors established their own bodegas, thus emphasizing the international reputation of our wines.

The Region

The cradle of Sherry is a region roughly triangular in shape, with vertices at Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

The region, locally known as "el Marco", is limited on the norm by the river Guadalquivir, to the south by the river Guadalete, to the east by longitude 6°5′ West, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

El Marco covers contains some 11,250 hectares (27,800 acres) of vineyards.

The Climate

El Marco’s climate is southern one, with mild winters and hot summers. The average temperature is 17.5° C (63.5° F), although in July and August the vine endures temperatures well above 40° C (104° F!). The southwest wind off the Atlantic brings the vines the right amount of moisture, especially during the summer at dawn.

The annual average rainfall is 600 liters/square meter (23.64"). These are just the right conditions for the vines to thrive, and for the grapes to ripen easily.

The Soil

El Marco’s soil is a chalky composition of earth known as "albariza" (alba means white in Latin). This is white organic marl, formed by Sediments of an inland sea that covered the area in the Oligocene era.

Albariza soil is rich in organic remains (shells, sea urchins, starfish, etc.), which explains its great fertility. It also has a great capacity to retain moisture, storing the winter rainfall to sustain the vines during the long dry season.

The Jerez growers plant their vines on low ridges of albariza, facing southwest.

Grape Varieties

The viticulture of Jerez is practically mono-varietal. 95% of the vines are of the Palomino grape variety, which was brought to the region by Yafiez Palomino, a knight in Alfonso X The Wise’s court, after the conquest of Jerez in 1264 A.D.

Pieter Siemens, a German soldier from the Flanders Regiment, brought the Pedro Ximenez grape from Germany to the region. Over time the name "Siemens" was corrupted into "Ximenez".

Finally there’s the Moscatel grape, a variety common to both French (Muscat), and Spanish denominations.

Ageing

Sherry is aged by an original system called "criaderas y solera" in American oak casks of 600 liters, filled to 5/6ths capacity. While in other Denominations (D.O.) the casks are hermetically sealed, in Jerez they are open to allow the wine to be aired by the southwest breezes which, when in contact with the natural yeasts of the Palomino grape, form a veil of growing yeast or "flor" that isolates the wine from the air, thus giving it its characteristic nutrients, aroma and taste.

Sherry butts (casks) are stacked in at least three rows. The first row (solera) that is nearest to the floor contains the oldest wine ready to be drawn for bottling. The quantity that has been taken from the bottom row (solera) is replaced from the row above (1st criadera), which is refilled in turn from the row above (2nd criadera), and so on until the youngest criadera is topped off with carefully selected "new" wine.

All sherry wines must age for at least three years – the minimum for Finos and Manzanillas. Amontillados are left to age for (at least 5 years), and Olorosos 7 years.

Quality Control

All wines entitled to carry the label Jerez-Xeres-Sherry and Sanlúcar de Barrameda are protected by the Denomination of Origin that guarantees their control from vine to bottle.

The Romans were the first to establish control over our wines, making it compulsory for the amphorae containing wine from the region to be marked with four "A"s. In 1483, the town council of Jerez issued decrees governing the export of wines and raisins and establishing the laws that should control the production and ageing of wine, the characteristics of the casks and the wood they should be made, äs well äs rules for grape harvesting and transportation. Only casks, which complied with these regulations, could be marketed with the town seal äs a guarantee of quality.

On 27 October, 1733, the Consejo Real de Castilla (The Royal Council of Castille) endorsed the Decrees of the Wine Trade Guild regulating the storage, ageing and transport of wines from the called Xerez (Sherry), even establishing a register of inns authorized to dispense Sherry.

Finally, in January 1935 the Consejo Regulador of the Denomination of Origin Jerez-Xeres-Sherry was created.

Sherry and Food

Sherry is a blended wine of several years, not a single vintage. The differences between the various types of Sherry are much more marked that those of table wines from the same bodega with different vintages.

The diversity of Sherry makes it difficult to acquire a good knowledge of them, which is in itself a challenge to any gourmet.

Sherry has traditionally been thought of as an aperitif, but its diversity gives it an amazing versatility and makes it perfectly adaptable to different events and meals. There’s a Sherry for every occasion:

Fino

Fino is pale straw coloured, with a delicate crisp aroma (nutty), dry and light on the palate, and aged under "flor". Ideal with "tapas" and to accompany soups, seafood, fish, ham and mild cheese. It must be served chilled.

Manzanilla

Exclusively from the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where it is aged under "flor". Manzanilla is straw coloured, has a crisp aroma, and is dry and light on the palate. Ideal with all sorts of "tapas" or to drink with soups, seafood, fish, ham and mild cheese. It must be served chilled.

Amontillado

Amber in colour, naturally dry but with a deep fresh nutty aroma. Smooth and full-bodied on the palate. Besides being a perfect aperitif, it’s a good match for fowl, stronger tasting fish and ripened cheese.

Oloroso

Initially dry, amber-mahogany in colour, with a strongly fragrant aroma as its name implies. Full-bodied (nutty). Oloroso is very good before meals, and ideal to accompany game and red meats.

Pale Cream

A smooth wine of pale or very pale colour, with a crisp aroma, and a sweet taste. It is an excellent companion to fois-gras or a fresh fruit salad.

Cream

Cream Sherry is an Oloroso sweetened with rieh Pedro Ximenez. Its colour is dark of very dark mahogany. Its aroma is rounded, crisp and velvety being full-bodied on the palate. It’s the ideal type of Sherry to accompany desserts.

Sherry
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