Jerez de la Frontera was one of the “Frontier” towns between areas ruled by the Moorish Caliphs and by the Christian Monarchs. “De la Frontera” (on the border) was attached to many of those towns who existed on that strange border, including Chiclana, Arcos, Conil and Vejer. Jerez was reconquered and conquered several times by both Spanish and the moors.In fact, Jerez is the capital of Sherry country. “Jerez” is actually “Sherry” mispronounced, centuries ago by British wine importers. It is the native place to many of the historical names. such as Gonzalez Byass, Garvey, Emilio Hidalgo, John Harvey, etc). If you ever visit you will find that the town has an aristocratic feeling, with wide avenues linked with palms, and many lovely squares. The two most interesting architectural monuments are the Cathedral of Salvador (boasting a masterpiece painting by Zurbarán, “The Sleeping Girl”, in the Sacristy) and the remains of an 11th century Moorish fortress (called the Alcazaba, it contains a maintained mosque).
Jerez came onto the world scene with the huge increase of demand for its local fortified wine.
The Solera System is the traditional Spanish system used for the production of Sherry. It is a process of gradual blending of different vintages which helps achieve uniform character and quality.
The traditional Sherry Solera is exposed to the sun, hence the name. The warmth of the sun encourages an active fermentation and natural aging. This unique blending system consists of several rows of small oak barrels stacked upon one another grouped by vintages. The oldest is at the bottom and the most recent at the top.
At bottling, approximately one third of the contents of each of the barrels on the bottom level is removed. Sherry from the row immediately above will replace what was removed and so on until a complete transfer is made from top to bottom.
The soil in the region of Jerez plays a very important role in the quality and characteristics of the wine. There are 3 types of soil in Jerez: Albarriza, Barro and Arena. The main differences between the 3 is the amount of calcium carbonate that is present. The higher the calcium carbonate present the better the soil is for the wine. The richest deposits of calcium carbonate are found in the Albarriza zone. The percentage of calcium in this soil can range from 30% to 100%.
The grape varieties that are permitted by the regulatory body of Jerez are all white and are as follows: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Jimenez. Palomino is the predominant grape variety accounting for over 90%.
There are four main styles of sherry that are produced.
Fino is a light pale golden colored dry wine with an alcohol content of between 15.5% and 16.5%.
Amontillado is an older fino, richer in character with a soft copper or amber color and an alcoholic content of between 18% and 20%.
Oloroso is a rich dark dry mohogony wine with a full rich nose. Most Olorosos have an alcoholic content of 21%.
Cream sherries are a blend of dry Oloroso and sweet Pedro Jimenez. Cream sherries are dark rich wines with a soft sweet finish. The alcoholic content of these wines are generally 20% – 22%.
At the heart of this classification lies the concept of Flor in Jerez. T is the veil or thin layer of indigenous yeast cells that forms on top of sherry wines. It is a kind of Ivory coloured, wrinkled, waxy foam, up to two centimeters thick, that protects the wine from air contact and that can only grow naturally in the specific climate of Southern Spain.
Flor basically divides all wines from Jerez into two main categories:biologically aged sherry (which matures entirely under this layer of flor – Manzanilla and Fino)and oxidative sherry (which matures partially or entirely without flor – Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez). Recently quite a lot of research has been conducted to understand this microbiology especially since the popularity of biologically aged sherries has increased.
The production of sherry has been reduced significantly since the early 70’s, with an annual production around 90,000,000 litres today.
Sherry is making a comeback, although slowly. There has been some rumours that the Scotch whisky business’s need for sherry casks was keeping the sherry wine business afloat, and it would be ok to say the used barrels over from sherry production are still a big part of a sherry bodega’s bottom line.
These wines are meant to be drank with food, and not just tapas. Seafood such as sushi is stunning with fino, but so are olives, almonds and hard cheeses. Olorosos can handle creamy mushrooms soups, lamb or mushrooms, and hard or blue cheeses. Cream or sweet sherry is probably best for the cheese or dessert course, though. As for service, a small white wine glass is a good way to go. Fino should be served very cold, while palo cortado and olorosos should be a little warmer, but not quite room temperature.
Here are some to try from acclaimed producer Emilio Lustau
Manzanilla Papirusa. SAQ Code: 11767565. Price: $12.65
Dry walnuts, butterscoth. Medium to full body. Refreshing and so elegant with retronasal flavors of green olives. Fruity notes as well. Very long with a smoky, mushroom finale. 93/100
Almanecista-Fino del Puerto. SAQ Code: 12340150. Price: $21.80
On the nose, toffee, macadimia nuts and a delicious grilled peanuts nuance. Lots of white flowers as well. Full body with a beautiful mellow texture. Midpalate reveals a lot of tension. Refreshing with a ground coffe finale. 93/100
Puerto Fino. SAQ Code: 11568347. Price $20.30
Very vibrant. Dominant in flowers with spices bringing to mind mustard seed oil, Medium body. Refreshing with a silky rich texture. 92/100
Palo Cortado. SAQ Code: 12365761. Price: $33.50
Smokey nose. Dry meat, roasted cashews, tamari almonds. Pecan Neurotic nose. Screaming with life. Capuccino Apricots. Full body, elegant with a unique personality. Iode and smoke with notes of cofee bean. caramel. Sweetish but balanced by the acidity. Very long. 95/100