Sherry is the unique fortified wine made in southwest Spain. Like Champagne, its name is protected by law and may only be applied to the wines made in the ‘Sherry Triangle’ around the town of Jerez. ‘White, chalki’ Albariza soil, ample sunshine and the cool influence of the Atlantic Ocean help to ripen the Palomino grapes whitch produce the base wine for sherry fortified wine. The best sweetening fortified wine will be made from the Pedro Ximénez grape.
After fortification, the sherry will be stored in casks (butts), until the following year, when classification will take place. All sherry butts are filled just five-sixth full. The delicate fortified wine, fortified to a maimum of 15.5 per cent alcohol, will be classified as finos.
There are three major styles of fino: fino fortified wine, manzanilla fortified wine and amontillado fortified wine. The type of fino fortified wine depends on the influence of flor, a yeast unique to Jerez. It’s in the atmosphere and grows on the surface of the wine, affecting its composition and flavour. The very presence of flor produces the characteristic tanghy and ‘yeasty’ nose and flavour of the dry sherries.
Butts not classified as finos will develop into the richer fortified wine known as olorosos, which are fortified to 18 per cent alcohol, a level too high to be affected by flor. Olorosos mature in direct contact with air and are sometimes sweetened during this process.
To maintain style and consistency, a system of fractional blending and maturation takes place. Known as the solera system, this allows a younger fortified wine to be added to an older wine after one-third of the older wine has been drawn off for bottling.
Styles of Sherry fortified wine
Sherry fortified wine is diverse and therefore not only makes an excellent aperitif wine, but is also extremely versatile with food:
FINO FORTIFIED WINE: light and dry.
MANZANILLA FORTIFIED WINE: delicate, dry with a salty tang.
OLOROSO FORTIFIED WINE: full, smooth with a walnut flavour.
AMONTILLADO FORTIFIED WINE: dry, smooth, nutty.
PALO CORTADO FORTIFIED WINE: amontillado, nose, oloroso-like palate.
PALE CREAM FORTIFIED WINE: crisp, subtle sweetness.
CREAM FORTIFIED WINE: sweet, dried fruit flavour.
PEDRO XIMÉNEZ FORTIFIED WINE: rich, sweet, raisin-like flavour.