About Sherry: Part One

January 27, 2012

Spanish tapas have become hugely popular in recent years and surely an upsurge in the popularity of Spanish sherry can’t be far behind. Sherry is enjoyed in Spain with many different foods and for many different occasions

Sherry is made from white grapes that are grown in the Sherry Triangle, an area in the province of Cádiz in the southwest of Spain. It is a fortified wine and is protected under the designation of origin, which cites that all wines labeled as sherry must come from this area (like Italian D.O.C and D.O.C.G. and French A.O.P wines). In Spain sherry is called vino de Jerez, after the town Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz, one of the three towns that make up the ‘Sherry Triangle’ and the word sherry has evolved from the English pronunciation of the word ‘Jerez’. The chalky, limestone soil in this region of Spain provides excellent growing conditions for the Palomino and Pedro Ximenez varieties of grapes that are used in sherry making.

Sherry is a wonderful companion to tapas, canapés and desserts, cheeses, nuts, appetizers and entrees; depending on the type. It has a rich place in history and over centuries everyone from kings and queens to ordinary people have discovered its rich, subtle charms - it was mentioned in texts as far back as the first century. It was often referred to as ‘sack’ in literature - Shakespeare apparently was a great fan of sherry, mentioning it often in his plays. Hugely popular at that time it was imported all over the world and often the ships became targets for pirates who were after the valuable cargo.

Sherry is ‘solera’ aged – the wine is stored in a series of barrels and blended with tiny amounts of the remnants of the previous wine; the barrels are never drained - in a similar way to a ‘mother’ of a vinegar, the finished product has traces of a much older sherry - so it doesn’t have a vintage date like wine. A similar process is used for Marsala wine in Italy and one of Glenfiddich’s Scotch Whiskies.

Sherry is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from dry, light finos to darker, heavier olorosos. The fortification of wine is what decides which type of sherry is going to be produced. Fortification is the process of adding a spirit to the wine, in the case of sherry, usually brandy. Depending at what stage of fermentation the wine is fortified effects the resulting sweetness. Fortifying the wine after fermentation has been completed means the original product is dryer tasting and any sweetness will be added, while fortifying halfway through the fermentation process, (as in the case of port wine) results in a sweeter original product because not all of the sugar in the grapes has turned to alcohol.

Sherry Part Two: Types, Serving and Storage coming soon.