Sherry indisputably has a tough time. Although now enjoying a slight resurgence with the number of high-end tapas and Sherry bars (polpeto), even those who know more than the average about wine often don’t know that much about Sherry. It’s not widely understood or appreciated. In some ways that is completely understandable, it’s not straightforward, and that to me gives it its charm. With 10 recognised styles ranging from the intensely sweet to the eye wateringly dry it’s one complex category!
Now Sherry is becoming increasingly more ‘fashionable’ in certain outlets styles, it’s worth remembering the category when it comes to working through your menus. We’re keen advocates of highlighting Sherry within the On-Trade!
A bit of background on this wonderful liquid is that Sherry is only Sherry if it comes from the Jerez region in Spain, with the very best coming from the ‘Sherry triangle'. This is the region defined by the three towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Pueto de Santa Maria where the wines mature in bodegas.
There are 3 key grapes used in Sherry production and 95% of all production is made with Palomino, a relatively unheard of white grape. Despite the many different styles, there are basically two groups of Palomino sherries:
- Fino and Manzanilla, both pale and bone dry.
- Amontillado and Oloroso, mahogany coloured and concentrated.
All Sherries made with Palomino are dry, it is how they are aged, treated and mixed that creates the diverse styles and gives them character.
The two other grapes used in Sherry making are Muscat and Pedro Ximenez. Both are used to sweeten other Sherries to make the likes of Pale Cream, Medium and Cream as well as sometimes being used to in addition to Oloroso and Amontillado. However, they both also produce wines in their own right; Moscatel, and the incredible dark, rich and sweet Pedro Ximenez – commonly known as PX.
In Sherry production, unlike most other styles of wine, it is not how and where the grapes are grown that is important but where and how the wine is made. The two key elements are ageing and blending (not unlike making Champagne). The winemaking takes place in the Bodegas. They're positioned to attract the sea breezes or humidity that are very important in the maturation of the wines. The ‘how‘ involves a secret ingredient known as ‘Flor’ and the blending of younger and older wines in the Solera system.
Flor is a naturally occurring bread like yeast that grows on the top of the wine when it is stored in the old Sherry butts, protecting the liquid from oxygen. The growth of Flor varies according to the type of wine being made. It is thickest in Manzanilla and less vigorous in Fino and killed off completely in Amontillado and Oloroso when they are fortified to around 18% alcohol. Flor will be killed off by 16% ABV, therefore, ageing the wine oxidatively.
The Solera system is just as accountable for the varying characters in Sherry. It is an accelerated ageing process that allows the older wines to impart their qualities to the younger ones.
When Sherry is needed for bottling a little is removed from the oldest barrels, which is then topped up with an equal amount of the next oldest barrels and so on back to the youngest. The young wines gain complexity and intensity they wouldn’t otherwise and quality, style and consistency are ensured.
Education, sampling and recommendations are all things we can do in a restaurant environment to recruit people into the category and move it away from its reputation as an old person tipple. Let’s get it selling over the bar and accessible to the newcomer.
You can find more information about the Sherries we stock here. If you want to stock any of the wines mentioned, click here to place an order online now, or here to request an account with us; and don’t forget we’re here to support you with everything you need to ensure that your wine range is a success, from free menu design and print services to staff training.