What is Sherry wine and how is Spanish sherry made?
Sherry wine is a Spanish traditional fortified wine aged in a solera system (explained below). It is famous worldwide, thanks to the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, who attracted English merchants and encouraged foreign trade since the 15th Century.
Spanish sherry is one of the most versatile wines in the worlds. These wines range from extremely dry (the majority of the Sherry) to one of the sweetest wines in the world. Sherry, Vino de Jerez in Spanish, is produced only in Cadiz, Spain. The wines that will be aged to become sherry can be produced in the “Marco de Jerez” area. This area includes Rota, Chipiona, Trebujena, Lebrija and Chiclana de la Frontera (as well as the sherry triangle of course). Wines from Montilla Moriles made with Pedro ximenez is also allowed to be used for Sherry. However, these wines can only age within the Sherry Triangle to be considered Sherry wine and have the D.O. Jerez-Sherry-Xeres. This last sentence has changed in October 2022, same as some of the information below.
Background information and new rules in sherry 2022
I have thought to delete the information, but I think that it is interesting to know the original rules to understand the new changes. Some of the rules have changed, like the sherry triangle. Please click here to read more about the new sherry rules.
Please click the following link to read about the different types of sherry wine.
Please watch the following video for a short introduction to the world of sherry wine.
The Sherry Triangle
The Sherry triangle is the only place allowed by the committee where sherry can be aged. It is formed by: Jerez de la Frontera, where the origin of the name Jerez/Sherry comes from, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. We always like to make names in Spain short and easy to read…not.
Soils to grow grapes for Sherry wine
There are three soils used to grow grapes for the D.O., Sand, clay and Albariza soils. Why is Sherry wine produced in this small area in Spain? Here we find a soil called “Albariza” a basic soil produced by marine organisms’ carcasses and other material. The soil has a very white colour in summer and able to absorb large amounts of rain. This is necessary in an arid region, since the D.O.committee does not allow farmers and producers to water the vines.
However, while Palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes grow well in this soil, some say that the Moscatel de alejandria prefers Sandy soil. Most of the Pedro Ximenez grapes come from Cordoba province, from the Montilla-Moriles region.
A layer of yeast, called “flor”, is created at the top of most sherries during the aging of the wine. The flor separates the base wine from the oxygen within the barrel. This is used for wines such as Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and, sometimes, the begining of Palo cortado.
The region of Sanlucar de Barrameda, also adds complexity to the wine with its micro-climate. Fine salt and floral tasting notes are noted, producing a different type of wine, not sherry, that has its own D.O. called Manzanilla. Though when it ages and oxidises becomes amontillado, a type of Sherry. Thus, the rest of fortified wines produced in Sanlucar are types of Sherry wines.
Sanlucar is the only place where this type of wine is produced, due to its location near the sea at the end of Guadalquivir river. The local climate has higher humidity with moderate temperatures, which creates a thicker layer of Flor. This is the only thing that differenciates Manzanilla from Fino, which is produced in Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa María.
Throughout the Sherry triangle the strong humid, cold wind of Poniente (winds from the west), helps to develop the flor. However, people here are careful with the wind from Levante (from the east), as it is a warm and dry wind! The weather, together with the type of soil found in this region, makes this area of Spain a unique and ideal place for Sherry production and ageing.
How Sherry wine is aged
Sherry wine is a fortified wine. This means that they add destilled alcohol from grapes to the already fermented base wine. The destilled alcohol comes from the third press of the grapes or from outside the sherry region. We only add destilled alcohol before to stop fermentation to the sweet wines PX and Moscatel de Alejandria. Dry base wine is produced by using a single grape variety called “Palomino”. In contrast, the sweet base wine is produced by using Pedro Ximénez and/or Moscatel de Alejandría. This last one can be mostly found in Chipiona or Chiclana. There are also sherries where dry and sweet sherry wines are combined.
Sherry Solera System
Sherry is then aged in a solera system, where there are at least 3 criaderas (rows of barrels) on top of each other. The bottom one is called Solera. This process helps to create a similar wine in quality, year after year. In addition, the newer wine added feeds the flor with nutrients.
Every certain amount of time, the wine from the solera is bottled. The cask is then filled up by the wine in the row above (1st Criadera), and this one filled by the 2nd Criadera, and so on. Therefore, the newly produced wine is in the top row and the oldest is in the bottom. Sometimes there are so many criaderas, that they stack the group of criaderas side by side (most common in Sanlúcar de Barrameda). They fill up the top criadera with the bottom criadera of the next stack of criaderas to create a more complex system.
Adding destilled alcohol to wine to produce Sherry
Up to a third of the Sherry is bottled from the bottom row. This top row, or last “criadera” will be filled by a new base wine mix. The mix is 50% destilled alcohol and 50% wine, so that the flor is not killed with 100% alcohol. Depending on what Sherry they are producing, they will add either 15% mixture for biological ageing or 17% for oxidative ageing.
A cool fact is that there is always sherry wine left at the solera, as it is not completely emptied. Therefore, in each bottle there will always be at least a very small fraction of the first ever batch! This means part of the sherry may be hundreds of years old.
Types of Spanish Sherry wine
Spanish Sherry is generally divided into different types, depending on the grape used, the amount of destilled alcohol used to start, the amount of biological ageing, if it is composed of different sherry wines, and the location where the base wine is aged.
Of course, within these types are more special sherries like the Very Old Rare Sherries (VORS). VORS have to spend more than 30 years in the solera system. At Bodega Fundador, they dedicate a whole warehouse just to these. They use a special mold that helps keep the moisture and temperature steady.
Other types of sherries, from dry to sweet
If this blog makes you feel like you need a sherry in hand and it doesn’t fit, you may want to check out the following blogs. Click on any of the following links if you are interested in knowing my favorite sherry wines for each type of sherry.
Is your favorite sherry wine el palo cortado? If so, click here to see some of my favorites. For the amontillado sherry wine click here. If you prefer biological ageing and your favorite is manzanilla wine then click here. However, if you prefer sweet sherry wines, click here to see what I recommend within cream sherry.
On the other hand, if you want to learn more about: biological and oxidative ageing; the soleras system; and the “flower” (the layer of yeast that grows on some sherry), click here.
Full day tours in Vejer de la Frontera and Cadiz province
If you are looking for Sherry wine experiences to taste and understand even better the types sherry wine contact us. We do cultural and culinary eperiences throughout Cadiz province. I will now take advantage to show you the great food tours in Cadiz province that we do. Officially, Vejer de la Frontera is one of the most beautiful villages of Spain, you should come and meet us! If you are love sherry, please click here to read about the amontillado sherries I recommend in my tours.
Sherry bodega wine tours
If you have your own transport we can accompany you while learning about Jerez-Sherry-Xeres D.O. and Manzanilla, from the vineyard to your glass. Enjoy the best Sherry bodega tours, local culture and traditions and the local gastronomy. In case you do not have a car we can arrange transport, restaurant and the rest of your trip for you on our Ultimate Sherry wine Tasting tour. We can design a private tour just for you and your family.
Please watch the next video to see what do we do in the sherry winery tour:
Food tours in Cadiz
If you are staying in Vejer de la Frontera or within Cadiz province we can organize a private Sherry wine tasting with local gourmet tapas for your group. We will go to your place and do a Sherry wine or Andalusian wine tasting for you privately. Learn how to pair local food tapas with each type of sherry. We can focus on premium Sherries; VORS and premium Sherries; or Andalusian wines in case you do not like Sherry wine.
If you want to learn more about Jerez de la Frontera while tasting 5 different sherries with 5 local tapas in traditional tabancos bars and enjoying a little bit of flamenco join our tabancos tour in Jerez. However our sherry wine & tapas tour in Cadiz or Vejer de la Frontera! Learn about 5 different sherry wines (from dry to sweet), wine tastings, and how to pair it with gourmet traditional food from the area. The tour includes 5 tapas and 5 wine/Sherries.
Sherry wine love is very contagious, surely you will also become one!
Cultural and culinary food tours
If you want to learn the whole process of the Almadraba and Bluefin tuna in Cadiz province check our Bluefin tuna tour. You will learn the history of Bluefin tuna in the area since Phoenician times. You will go in a private boat ride to visit the Almadraba (if you are lucky it may be active). After you will visit a local food market and finallly, taste different parts of bluefin tuna in diffent ways.
If you would like to visit other beautiful white villages like Vejer, we can do a tour of the white villages in Cadiz province. On the other hand we can visit to a beautiful white village and visit an olive oil mill. Or you can choose to do a private tour that we can design especially for you based on your interests. Come and join Explore la Tierra in Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain!
Our latest addition is our become an artisan for one day tour. Make your own cheese and your own leather souvenir in Ubrique and enjoy its great history and panoramic views. This white village is famous worldwide for its importance for the international leather companies.