Sherry is a sadly often misunderstood word. While Sherry is a style of fortified wine, it is not a generic word for the style. Sherry specifically refers to fortified wines produced in Spain, within a specific delimited area around the Andalusian town of Jerez.
Area of Sherry Production
The Sherry demarcated production area is colloquially called the Sherry triangle and covers the vineyard area between three towns, namely Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Sherry - a Fortified Wine
Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning that a spirit alcohol is added to the base wine. This elevates the alcohol and prevents further fermentation. Sherry wines are fortified to between 15% and 18% depending on the style.
Sherry is a DRY wine. All sherry wines are fermented dry before being fortified with grape spirit. Sweet styles of Sherry such as cream, medium or dulce are sweet, not because of fortification, but because a sweetening agent has been added post fortification.
Two Main Styles of Sherry
There are two main categories of Sherry: 1) those such as Fino and manzanilla, which are biologically aged in the absence of oxygen and under a thin film of yeast called flor, and 2) those which are called Oloroso, which are oxidatively aged. All other styles of Sherry emanate from these two main categories.
Aging - The Solera System
All Sherry wines go through a unique aging system called the solera system. This is a dynamic system through which the wines from different stages of the aging process are blended together (also called fractional blending). It is often affectionately explained as putting the young wines in touch with their ancestors.
This also means that most sherry wines are not vintage dated, but rather a combination of many different vintages.
The Different Styles of Fino and Oloroso Sherries
- Manzanilla is a Fino style of sherry produced around the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. An aged Fino or Manzanilla that retains its flor protection is known as a Fino or Manzanilla 'pasada'. Fino and Manzanilla wines stay about 3-4 years in the solera system
- Amontillado is an aged Fino that has lost its flor protection after about 3-4 years of biological aging and has been moved to an Amontillado solera system to further age oxidatively for an additional 3-4+ years (so about 7-8 years in total).
- Oloroso Sherries are oxidatively aged from the beginning. They can be dry (secco) or sweet (dulce). If sweet, a small amount of sweetening agent such as Pedro Ximenez (PX) wine is added. Cream Sherries are sweet Oloroso Sherries.
- Palo Cortado Sherries are exceptional and rare. They are produced from the finest sherry wines and go through a very long aging in the Solera. They combine the delicate pungency of an aged Amontillado and the nuttiness, richness and structure of an aged Oloroso. Definitions of Palo Cortado are as numerous as the Bodegas making it!
- VOS and VORS are old Sherries, which mean Vinum Optimum Signatum (VOS) and Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (VORS). VOS is a sherry that is officially certified as being at least 20 years old. VORS is a sherry that is officially certified as being at least 30 years old.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.
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