Jerez is home to an exceptional culture in winemaking and viticulture, producing an incredible variety of wines. Sherry and the DO. Jerez region are unlike any other wine or region in Spain and symbolise a centuries-old culture and a true art form of ecological tradition. Even today it is fair to say that these wines have not found their equivalent in the world, and are therefore a real asset to the Spanish word of wine.
The history of Jerez can be traced back sometime around the 10th and 9th centuries B.C, when the first vines were brought to the Jerez Region by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. However, the culture of wine did probably not come about until the Phoenicians were followed by the Ancient Greeks, who rooted deeply in a Mediterranean culture of wine and moderation, brought over knowledge of pruning and other advanced cultivation techniques. Jerez de la Fontera, which stands in the centre of the region, was referred to as Xera by the Phoenicians (fourth Century BC), this was then changed to Seris, or Sherish, during Muslim occupation of the region, which is indeed a phonetic derivation of Sherry, the name given to the wines of this region.
The invention of Sherry as we know it today dates back no earlier than the seventh century. It is true that the first wines produced were able to travel without being spoiled by being fortified with a high natural alcoholic content, however, it was not until more advanced distillation techniques were discovered and improved that Sherry came about. Since the late middle Ages, Jerez wines were systematically strengthened with alcohol, although at first with brandy instead of ethyl alcohol. The industrialization of the distilling process was down to the advanced knowledge of the Arabs, who used alcohol for medicinal purposes. The idea of modifying the wines came from the need to ensure wines did not spoil on their journey to northern Europe, particularly Britain and the Netherlands, and then to America.
In the late sixteenth century, Sherris sack, as it was known back then, was considered one of the best wines in the world and its reputation grew especially in northern Europe. The name "sack" comes from the Spanish form "saca", "tirage" in French, which means it comes out of the barrel.
In the nineteenth century, sherry experienced a golden era in England, with sales continuing to rise after 1945 thanks to the expansion of the Dutch market. However, due to this continued popularity fakes started to appear. The wine makers of the Jerez region wanted a regulation to be imposed on their wineso only they could produce it, and thus in 1891 the "Convenio de Madrid" (Agreement of Madrid) issued a series of protection decrees that specified the geographic origin of Jerez. This was the first step towards the creation of the designation of origins DO Jerez-Xerez-Sherryand DO.Manzanilla - Sanlucar de Barrameda, which were officially established in 1933.
Jerez de la Frontera is the wine capital of this region, however El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlucar de Barrameda (which has its own DO Manazilla title) are the other two cities whose vineyards make up the production area of Jerez. They are all nestled on the bay of Cadiz. DO Jerez-Xeres-Sherryand Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda are located in the southwest of Spain, in the south of Andalucia facing the Atlantic. Established in 1933, this is the oldest designation of origin in Spain. There region is a triangle formed by three towns north of the city of Cadiz: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria. Only vineyards in the municipalities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Trebujena, Chipiona, Rota, Puerto Real, Chiclana de la Frontera and Lebrija are able to produce grapes for the production of Sherry wines and Manzanilla. Within the region lies the "zona de crianza”, also known as the Triangle of Jerez, which is composed of the three municipalities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Only here can Sherrys be aged, produced and exported.In the case of the denomination "Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda", Manzanilla can only be aged in the one city, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, yet the grapes used for the production of Manzanilla can come from anywhere in the areas of production.
Climate, Soil and Varieties
The 7,000 hectaresof vineyards cultivated across this region are characterised by their undulating terrain. The most important soil variety here is known as “albariza”, which is a white limestone. This soil type is particularly valued for its high albedo (the amount of sunlight it reflects back up to the vines), as this helps provides the grapes with additional insolation, raising the proportion of sugars and allows for a uniform ripening. Because of this, under Andalucia's bright summer sun, albariza soils can be blindingly white. The albariza has great properties as a soil, as it acts like a sponge absorbing the winter rains, and dries on the surface in summer, retaining the water. High moisture retention is also a significant boon, as this corner of Spain endures the hottest temperatures found anywhere on the entire Iberian Peninsula.
Traditionally vintners from Jerez have also divided the region into ‘pagos’ (plots), each considered a small area of vineyards, defined by their soils and mesoclimates, bounded by topographic features. Some famous pagos includes Carrascal, Macharnudo, Anina and Balbaína. The Regulatory Council has produced an official map with more than 70 plots throughout the region.
The southern climate of the region is moderated by Atlantic influences, resulting in hot summers and mild winters. The regions proximity to the sea provides high moisture and humidity, which contrasts to the high levels of insolation.
The dominant variety of the region is the Palomino Fino, which accounts for around 95% of production, the two other notable varieties approved to make Sherry are Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, all of which are white.
Winemaking in Jerez
The DO Jerez-Xérèz-Sherry and DO Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda produces 8 different types of Sherrys, such as Manzanillas, Finos, Amontillados, Palo Cortado, Olorosos, Creams, Pedro Xíménez and Moscatel, all differing in sweetness and colour, as well as young and fruity white wines.
The production of Sherry depends on the mysterious evolution of flor and the subsequent ageing processes. After the grapes have been harvested and pressed, the must is fermented, producing a dry white wine with around a 11-12% alcohol content. Immediately after fermentation, the wine is sampled and the first classification is performed.
The sherry is then fortified using destilado, made by distilling wine, usually from La Mancha. The distilled spirit is first mixed with mature sherry to make a 50/50 blend known as mitad y mitad (half and half), and then the mitad y mitad is mixed with the younger sherry to the proper proportions. This two-stage procedure is performed so the strong alcohol will not shock the young sherry and spoil it.Recall that, after fermentation, the wine naturally reaches an alcoholic content of between 11 ° and 12.5 °.
Wines classified to produce Fino or Amontillado Sherries are fortified to about 15 per cent alcohol, allowing the growth of flor. Wines used to produce Olorosos, however, are fortified to about 17.5 per cent.
Following this, the wine is stored in 500-litre casks, which unlike other wines, are only filled to around 5/6th of their capacity. The casks are left partially empty at the top to allow flor (a film of yeast) to develop on top of the wine.
Flor is a family of yeasts which spontaneously develops more or less during the first phase of the ageing process for Finos, Manzanillas and Amontillados. This Flor enriches the unique aromas of the Sherry, and prevents the Sherries contact with the air, protecting against oxidization, giving this wine its unique character.
The Flor contributes to total fermentation of sugars, lowering the levels of glycerin and non-transformed sugars. The yeasts gain the energy needed for their survival by oxidising wine alcohols to a group of compounds called aldehydes, which help achieve the delightful aromatic notes that define Sherries. In order to form and thrive, Flor requires an alcoholic content of between 13.5%-17.5%, (an ideal level would be 15%), which stops the formation of acetic bacteria, which would cause it to spoil.
The use of Flor provides the natural characteristics that help define Sherry, using a complex spontaneous and natural process that occurs in very few places across the world (Jura and Armenia are two examples). Depending on this evolution and development process, the resulting wines are extremely different.
The other principal that characterises Sherry wines is the double ageing process. Firstly, they undergo the static ageing in oak casks, remaining within their vintages just like any other wine. This is then followed by a dynamic ageing period, using the traditional solera method. Apart from the young white wines, the Solera method is used for all wines in Andalusia. This system consists of blending different vintages and ages in different aged casks. The system consists of a succession of mixtures, beginning with taking a certain amount of the youngest wine, and decanting it into barrels from the previous year. In order to make room for the new wine, these barrels must be emptied by a third, which is removed and is drawn off to the casks containing wine from the vintage before that, which in turn has been emptied by a third, and again added to the previous vintage. This process is continued until it reaches the floor (with the barrels forming almost a pyramid). The solera method is refered to as “Criaderas y Soleras” in Spanish. Criaderas being the name given to the casks, and solera refers to the fact that the sherry come from the casks resting on the floor, “suelo” at the base of the pyramid of casks.
Within the region as well, the Consejo Regulador introduced a system to qualify the ages of the different Sherries: VOS (a Latin acronym which stands for Vinum Optiumum Signatum) which has undergone ageing for 20 years; and VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum) which is for sherries that have to be 30 years or older.
The region of Jerez has also become the designation of origin (Denominación of Origin) to other agricultural products. In 1994, the region became the Denominación de Origin for ´Vinagre de Jerez´ (Sherry Vinegar)
Varieties of Sherries
Fino Sherry. A pale, straw-colored Sherry that is dry and delicate. Fino Sherries are always matured under flor and are usually between 14.5-15.5% alcohol. They are characterized by their clean and sharp aromas, with elegant floral notes, well integrated into the aromas from the solera, with a good fruity acidity. There is also a sub-variety called Fino Amontillado: where the flor blanket does not quite hold, but it is not quite an Amontillado.
Manzanilla. A very dry style sherry, produced in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This is the lightest and driest sherry produced, with a unique taste, slightly salty, attributed to its proximity to the sea. These wines are usually fortified to 15.5% percent. There is also the sub-variety Manzanilla Pasada.
Amontillado. This sherry undergoes a complex ageing, starting out as a Fino, but during cask aging, it loses its flor, allowing for increased oxidization, resulting in deeper color of rich amber and golden hues. On the nose this sherry offers sharp floral notes, integrated with oak spices and hints of nuts, with a good body. There is a wide range of Amontillados available, depending on the balance between biological and oxidative aging.
Oloroso. A sherry, that unlike Fino or Amontillado, that develops without the layer of Flor to encourage oxidisation. Oloroso Sherries usually have an alcohol content of around 18%, making them the strongest variety of Sherry. They undergo a longer oxidative ageing in the barrel, sometimes withstanding decades in the oak barrels, before undergo dynamic ageing via the solera system. Oloroso sherries usually have an old golden and mahogany colour, with a fragrant nose, with fruity and nutty notes of toasted almonds, with background hints of oak. In the mouth, these are well bodied Sherries. Their high alcohol content, sometimes reaching above 20% vol., is simply the results of the long ageing process, in which the cask will allow for the evaporation of the water content in the wine, concentrating not only the percentage of alcohol, but also the components that contribute to the aromas, flavors and complexity of this type of Sherry.
Medium. Simply an Amontillado that is slightly sweetened by the addition of sweet wine. Medium came about as a response to the consumer tastes of northern Europe.
Palo Cortado. This is similar to an Olorosos but with special characteristics. It is a sherry that is an Amontillado on the nose, but an Oloroso on the palate. It is a rare sherry, and given how difficult it is to achieve, very little quantities are produced.
Cream. A sweet Oloroso that is obtained by mixing dry Oloroso and sweet Pedro Xímenez. Pâle, pâle cream, golden, brown sherry, etc., are all different definitions of the colour and sweetness given to cream Sherries, most are medium-sweet or sweet. This type of sherry is mainly produced for the export market.
Pedro Ximénez. This type of Sherry is made exclusively using grapes of this variety, which are dried like raisins in the sun to increase their sugar content. The fermentation of the must is interrupted by the addition of wine alcohol when there are still residual sugars, thereby obtaining a natural sweet wine. The sherry then undergoes the classic double ageing, in the barrel and via the Solera Method, until it acquires an incomparable bouquet that can be defined as generous, respectable and even aristocratic.
Moscatel is a type of single varietal sherry, produced using either fresh grapes, or like Pedro Ximénez exposed to "asoleo”, where the fruit is dried in the sun to achieve an intense raisin fruit. Dominated by fruity notes characteristic of the Muscat grape variety, this Sherry also as a lightly bitter and dry finish. When the Muscat grapes undergo the traditional process of "asoleo”, a high concentration of sugars is produced, resulting in a honeyed raisiny palate. The resulting wine is usually labelled as "Moscatel de Pasas” (Raisin Moscatel).
Wineries in Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
The region is home to a few cooperatives, many large wineries and a few family run wineries, with a total of 63 wineries qualified ageing and producing wines, 20 for ageing and 18 for production.
Also worth mentioning that all the wineries, large and small, offer a very wide range of wines in all styles, from Finos, Palos Cortados, Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez, Amontillados, Creams ... with very old wines or relics produced very limited. Also, in recent years, vintage wines have come back into fashion, with most wineries producing them. The truth is that vintage wines exist in Jerez, and is already marketed as such in the nineteenth century. In order to come under the DO Jerez, they must follow a static breeding system in which each harvest grapes are vinified and aged separately to other crops.
Also, “fino en rama” sherries have also become fashionable in the past few years, with many wineries marketing them,inspired by the days when finos were consumed directly from the barrel. In fact, the fino en rama is wine that has not been subjected to the usual processes of clarification and filtration.
Lustau is located in a complex of warehouses built in the “Los Arcos” facilities in the centre of Jerez, Spain, dating back to the nineteenth century and is a brilliant example of winery architecture that the region has to offer. It is in these facilities where the winery ages the majority of their wines. The Lustau winery is the only winery that crafts wines in the three areas that make up the sherry triangle. This has allowed them to create a range of over 30 different Sherries, including Botaina, La Ina, Emilín, Rio Viejo, Peninsula, San Emilio, as well as the Gama Especialidades Gama Especialidades, where you are able to find special vintage wines.
Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana was founded back in 1792 and has remained ever since independent and family run. It currently is home to vineyards in Balbaina and Miraflores, just 300 metres away from the sea. Its flagship product is the Manzanilla La Gitana. The winery also offers a wide range of quality sherries, which have been rewarded with a numerous awards on a national and international level, such as Napoleon, Alameda, Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, Pharaoh, Wellington, Triana.
Bodegas Barbadillo is located in Sanlucar de Barrameda, dating back to 1821 when it began developing Manzanilla. Ever since, the Bodegas Barbadillo has not stopped evolving. One of its trademark products, Castillo de San Diego, first produced in 1975, went on to become the bestselling white wine in Spain, a representative icons of quality and innovation in white wine. Its other labels include, Prince, Eva, Muy Fina, Solear en Rama, Solear, Laura, Cuco and Obispo Gascón. Their La Reliquia Barbadillo de Palo Cortado scored a perfect 100 Parker Points, the only dry sherry to do so. It comes from a solera of 120 casks that was constructed around stocks bought by the Barbadillo family around 1850. It is bottled from the last scale of the solera. A very serious and dry, with great complexity on the palate. Wine full of character
Gonzalez Byass was founded back in 1835 by González Angel, who was subsequently joined by Mr.Robert Blake Byass, his English agent. The winery offers a wide range of products, including Tío Pepe (the world´s best-selling fino sherry) and Soberano (the best-selling brandy in Spain). The company also produces Tío Pepe en Rame, which is a pure fino sherry, which expresses the unique character of Jerez and is a more natural, delicate fino. The company owns over 650 hecatres of vineyards in Macharnudo, Carrascal and Burujena, and was a pioneer in establishing modern viticulture techniques in the area, studying clonal selection and implementing scientific methods of quality control. The winery is home is home to old butts and barrels, signed by kings, artists, writers, scientists, athletes etc. They attest to a past of glory and grandeur. The winery is home to the oldest Sherrys of Jerez, real rarities and jewels of winemaking. Notably, its Fino Tres Palmas has been the best fino recently (2015) punctuated by several national wine guides.
Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, located in the historic centre of Jerez, this winery is home to many treasures. The brandies produced here, smooth and perfectly balanced, are made using selected distilled white wines, which begin the ageing process in new French and American oak barrels, before being moved to barrels that have contained high quality sherries. Their range of sherries present some of the finer products of the area, from pale finos, dry and elegant, to even the most unique wines sacristy, marketed under the brand Antique.
Sánchez Romate Hnos was founded back in 1781 by Juan Sánchez de la Torre, located in the historic centre of Jerez de la Frontera. It is one of the oldest wineries in Spain and is one of the few wineries in Jerez that remains in the hands of Jerezanos owners. Its historic track record has allowed it to maintain its independence and respect tradition, which is evident in the artisan production of its wines and brandies. While maintaining their independence up to today, the winery has witnessed other important events in during its history. For example, in 1909 they were appointed as Official Purveyor to the House of Lords in the United Kingdom and shortly afterwards, in 1917, they were appointed as Official Purveyors to the Sacred Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. Amongst their general production, the winery also produces a few private sherries that are very old, some even without a known birth date. These sherries have been traditionally preserved for private consumption. The winery works with soleras that are over 100 years old, which allows Sánchez Romate to produce expectional products with great character to all of their clients. They are also known for their work in Brandy production, such as their label Cardenal Mendoza. Their products have been praised in numerous international competitions, among which the NPV Amontillado, Oloroso and PX The Sacristy Romate and Duchess PX.
Ximénez Spínola is the winery's successors Zarzana Phelipe Antonio Spinola, whose first documented export dates back to from 1729. They are specialists in the development of natural sugars obtained 100% from Pedro Ximenez`s own fructose, produced when dried in the sun. This peculiar winemaking process reduces the yield of the raw material to 30% of the total harvest. Only produced in small quantities and numbered the annual selection of the hearth, and possibly winery with the most limited production around the Jerez, which markets under the brands Ximenez Spinola Spinola Old Harves and Ximénez Solera.
Estevez is an independent family company with a great tradition in production and aging of wines and brandies of Jerez. The group also owns the prestigious wineries Marqués del Real Tesoro and Valdespino undoubtedly one of the oldest in the area traces its commercial activity to 1430. In 2007 joined the Group wineries M. Gil Luque and Rainiera Pérez Marín, owner of the prestigious brand of chamomile Sanlúcar La Guita, chamomile 100% sanluqueña, undisputed leader in the domestic market. Also bottled under the brands, Del Principe, Uncle Diego, Royal, Uncle Matthew, Admiral or County. One example Valdespino Moscatel The Casks, who won the coveted 100 points Parker. It is a very old sweet wine that surprised by the freshness that shows on the palate, in perfect balance with its sweetness and age.
Maestro Sierra, founded in 1830, is located in the historic centre of Jerez. This is a family fun company, defined by its familiar and artisan character. Since its founding, it has remained in the hands of the same family. Its wines have received international recognition and acclaim, with all of its products produced in limited amounts. Their products include: Maestro Sierra, Superior 12 Años, 1830 and Extra Viejo 1/7, among others.