Sherry wines: the vineyard

The Solera system, Velo de flor, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Pedro Ximenez, there are many different concepts that spring to mind when referring to sherry wines. However, there are others such as Mahina, Carrascal or Balbaina, for example that are not so much associated with the region or not as well known.

They are simply names of reference plots in the Marco de Jerez, vineyards with special characteristics that make them stand out by producing wines with characteristic profiles.

vinedo-jerez

We are not used to referring to specific vineyards or estates when referring to wines from Jerez. However provide you with a bigger insight into this aspect because we believe that it has an increasingly significant importance on the Spanish wine scene.

However, before we start with the specific plots of vineyards (pagos) and their specific characteristics, we will give a brief general introduction into the general characteristics of the conditions on the vineyards in Jerez.

Climate.

The region is home to a warm climate, with a medium annual temperature of around 22ºC, which can reach as high as 40º in summer. The summer experiences the Ponente winds, humid, before the Levante, dry. The vineyards’ proximity to the sea and ocean winds help temper the weather and top with a characteristic humidity of the area known as “blandura” or dew, which reaches the farthest payments as Macharnudo in Jerez. Annual rainfall is around 600ml and is concentrated in the autumn and winter seasons, although 2016 has been a somewhat unusual year, with a very strong attack of mildew from the late April rains.

Soils.

The “Albariza” is probably the main and most renowned soil in Jerez. The plots and vineyards planted on this soil variety come under the “Jerez Superior”. However there are other soil varieties that are so characteristic that makes them inferior plots such as those with mud in lower areas of the hills, as well as those with sand soils in coastal areas which are used for the Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez varieties.

The Albariza soils come from the sedimentation of the waters in the Oligocene. It is rich in calcium carbonate, clay and silica from the shells of diatoms and radiolarians that were present in the sea. This soils variety has a high clay content (50-60%), with silts (30-40%) and sand (15%-20%). It has a great capacity for retaining humidity, when it rains these soils act like a sponge, and when it is very hot the surface manages to retain the water.

As a result of the topography, the rocks formed by Albariza is formed by very gentle slops with gradients of around 10-15%. The soils are not all uniform either, as Albariza erodes, which differentiates the character on each of the plots.

Although these two variables, climate and soil, are very important in differentiating different plots and vineyards, geographical location also plays an important part, as the distance from the coast, the orientation and altitude can have an effect on grapes. Factors that can influence the quality of the vineyard include,

  • Albariza content and type of albariza. Examples of this include La Tosca de Barajuela, which is a type of Albariza which is present on grand estates such as Mahína in Sanlúcar and Macharnudo in Jerez. Its main characteristic is its great capacity to retain humidity, as are the course of Antehojuelas which belong to the soils of the Carrascal estate in Sanlúcar. Lustrillos is rich in gypsum, Pelirones is slightly rockier …. It is here where the Palomino variety unlocks its greatest potential.
  • The areas that are on slopes are not only different because of their temperatures and winds that come from the sea, but also for their Albariza content. As previously mentioned, the highest concentration of Albariza soils can be found on slopes. For example, in the Macharnudo estate there is a difference with the Macharnudo alto.
  • Exposure to the sun and winds. Less exposure to the sun and a bigger influence from the Ponente wind means that the grapes mature at a slower rate, producing a slightly more delicate wine.
  • Proximity to the sea: an important factor in regards to the finesse of the wine. Vineyards that are situated closer to the sea tend to experience a larger Atlantic influence and a more tempered climate.

Having explained the different factors that occur at the vineyard we will see the estates that exist in the frame and where they are located geographically. Here are some famous examples, since there are countless divisions within the estates.

Jerez:

  • Macharnudo is the most prominent plot of the zone. It is situated inland, but at one of the highest altitudes in the region with a high quality albariza which makes it an ideal terroir. There are many subdivisions within the estate as it is home to an impressive 56 hectares of vineyards, such as Macharnudo alto, Majuelo, Blanquez …
  • Aniña y Balbaina, on the same to Puerto de Santa María with a stronger Atlantic influence, and therefore with slightly more delicate wines.
  • Carrascal is one of the oldest estates of Marco de Jerez, and is one of the farthest from the sea.
  • Los Tercios, the closest to the Atlantic coast in Jerez.

 

Sanlúcar:

  • Mahina, for the region this estate rivales the Macharnudo in Jerez. It is the most famous estate in the region, is home to the purest Albariza soils, but it is also complicated by its orientation and exposure to the constant dry Levante winds.
  • Callejuela, Pastrana, Hornillo y Miraflores with the Atlantic coast and delicate.

We have analysed a little more into the theoretical aspect of how estates are classified. However the industrialisation of the vineyards, large winemaking companies, the low price of grapes and the overproduction have indeed had a slight effect on the character of the vineyards in Jerez. Fortunately, there are winemakers who are trying to revive them. Examples of these winemakers include, Ramiro Ibañez, Fernando Angulo, Paola Medina, Armando Guerra, Willy Peréz, El Bolli, Jesús Barquín, Eduardo Ojeda, Álvaro Girón…

Thank you to all of those for the passion for the region, and for believing in its potential. They have sparked again our interest in Jerez.

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