What is Sherry and how are they made?
Sherry 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.
Sherry is one of the most versatile wines in the worlds. These wines range from extremely dry (the majority of the Sherry produced) to one of the sweetest wines in the world. Sherry, Vino de Jerez in Spanish, is produced in Spain in the Sherry triangle. As well, sherry can be produced in the “Marco de Jerez” area. This area includes Rota, Chipiona, Trebujena, Lebrija and Chiclana de la Frontera. However, it can only be aged within the Sherry Triangle to be considered Sherry.
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, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. We always like to make names in Spain short and easy to read…not.
Why is Sherry 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 committee does not permit winemakers to water the vines.
However, while Palomino grapes grow well in this soil, some say that the Pedro Ximénez grape prefers a clay soil. Most of these come from Córdoba 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 Palo cortado.
The region of Sanlúcar 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 sherry called Manzanilla. Sanlúcar is the only place where this sherry 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.
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 is Made
Sherry is a fortified wine. This means that they add brandy to the already fermented base wine. 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 these two types are combined.
The 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.
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% brandy and 50% wine, so that the flor is not killed with 100% Brandy. 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 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 Sherry
Sherry is generally divided into 11 different types, depending on the grape used, the amount of brandy used to start, the amount of biological ageing, if it is composed of different sherries, 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.
If you are looking for food, traditional and Sherry experiences keep reading.
Are you visiting Cadiz and you would you like to learn more about Sherry and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions? If you want to learn and experience it with the company of a local guide and turn your visit to Cadiz into an exciting gastronomic adventure, book with us. Sherry love is very contagious, surely you will also become one!
If you have your own transport we can accompany you while learning about Sherry. Enjoy the best Sherry bodega tours, local culture and traditions and the local gastronomy. In case you do not have a transport we can arrange transport, restaurant and the rest of your trip for you.
If you would like to learn all about Jerez-Sherry-Xeres D.O. then join us for our Ultimate Sherry Tasting tour. We can design a private tour just for you and your family.
If you are staying in Vejer de la Frontera or within Cadiz province we can organize a private Sherry tasting with gourmet local tapas for your group. We will go to your place and do a Sherry or Andalusian wine tasting for you privately. We can focus on premium Sherries; VORS and premium Sherries; or Andalusian wines in case you do not like Sherry.
If you are thinking to travel to other parts of Cadiz, we are based in Vejer de la Frontera. Officially, Vejer is one of the most beautiful villages of Spain, you should come and meet us!
Food and cultural tours
If you want to learn more about Vejer de la Frontera, its traditions and gastronomy book our Sherry&Tapas tour! Learn about sherry, wine tastings, and how to pair it with gourmet traditional food from the area. Taste different types of Sherry and local food like bluefin tuna, bull meat, salmorejo, eggplant with honey and pinenuts, etc. The tour includes 5 tapas and 5 wine/Sherries .
We also have a tour that focuses on Bluefin tuna. You will learn the history of Bluefin tuna in the area since Phoenician times by going in a private boat ride to visit the almadraba; visit a local food market; and taste different parts of bluefin tuna in all ways, salt-dried, grilled, raw.
If you would like to visit other beautiful white villages like Vejer, we can do a tour of the white villages in Cadiz province. Come and join Explore la Tierra in Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain!
Our last 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 leather international companies.