A far cry from the sun lotion scented beach resorts of the Costa del Sol lies a mystical land that echoes Spain’s agricultural roots. Andalusia’s ‘Pueblos Blancos’, white towns, are scattered along the parched, dusty hillside like broken pieces of shells on a beach. These towns stretch from the Sierra to the coast. However, it is their renowned reputation for wine and sherry production that has put them on the map. But, don’t be mistaken. Spanish sherry is not just the stuff that Grandma drinks at Christmas. For many, it is a complex explosion of flavours. And, every drop tells the story of Spain’s turbulent past. However, if you are still left mystified, read on to discover how to savour the wine of Jerez like a pro.
What is sherry?
Sherry is pretty much like Spanish sunshine in a glass. But, according to the official definition, Spanish sherry is a fortified (aged) white wine from the Jerez region of Andalusia. Jerez translates as sherry in Spanish and the wine is named after the region. To clarify, there are strict rules as to what classifies as a sherry. Only fortified white wines bottled in Jerez and made using Jerez grapes can be awarded the D.O Jerez y Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Denominación de Origen) title. This protected designation of origin is what sets this wine apart from the rest. However, despite the modern regulations, sherry is one of the oldest wines created. Despite having a fuddy-duddy reputation in the UK, in Spain, sherry is the stylish drink of choice for combatting the heat of the summer.
Fun facts about Spanish Sherry:
- Sherry winemakers only use Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grape varieties.
- The sherry triangle is the name given to the three towns where sherry is made: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.
- Sir Francis Drake imported the first recorded Spanish sherry into the UK in 1587. Shakespeare was also a big fan of sherry. He referred to it in his play, Henry IV
- Winemakers only use green grapes for sherry. Most importantly, 90% of these green grapes are the Palomino variety which gives the sherry a sharp, bitter taste.
- All sherry is aged in barrels. As a result, the youngest drinkable sherry wine is 3 years old.
What are the different types of sherry? How are they different?
Now that London’s hottest neighbourhoods are home to chic sherry bars; it is time to get to know your Fino from your Palo Cortado. In total, there are seven different kinds of sherry. One for every day of the week! So, before you go adding splashes of this delicious wine to your cooking, let’s discover what makes each sherry different.
Overall, Spanish sherry can be:
- Dry (Vinos Generosos)
- Naturally sweet (Vinos Dulces Naturales)
- Sweet through blending (Vinos Generosos de Licor)
Fino de Jerez – dry Spanish sherry
For many, Spanish Fino is the textbook example of a classic sherry. Because of this, it is easier to find than other varieties despite only being made in Jerez and Puerto de Santa María. It boasts aromas of freshly baked bread, fresh herbs and almonds. The light straw colour mirrors the delicate bouquet of this wine and contributes to the dry taste. However, the dryness of Fino wines does not stop them from being enjoyed at all hours. In fact, they are often served as a refreshing tipple alongside light cheese, olives or even a seafood dinner. Winemakers use the Palomino grape to make Fino. The wine is left to age in a barrel for 3-7 years and is protected from contact with the air by a cap of yeast, known as Flor. Famous Fino producing sherry wine brands include Tío Pepe (González Byass), La Ina and Inocente.
What is Manzanilla Sherry?
Just like Fino, Manzanilla sherry wine is a dry Spanish sherry that has been aged for 3-7 years in a barrel. With similar tasting notes, this wine encompasses the salty, seaside spirit of Sanlúcar, where it is made. Sanlúcar is the only place where Manzanilla wine is made.
Amontillado – one of the many types of Sherry wine!
Amontillado sherry starts life as a Fino or Manzanilla wine. After the initial ageing process, a second process begins involving oxygen. This sherry is slightly sweeter than the first two, despite still being classed as naturally dry. It is one of the best types of sherry for drinking with main courses such as meat dishes thanks to its elegant nutty aromas.
Oloroso – Spanish sherry wine
After harvest, winemakers reserve young wines with the most robust structure for the Oloroso sherry production. The second pressing of grapes is the key ingredient for this tasty tipple. The young wine is fortified to 18% and then stored in barrels to oxidise for as long as 40+ years. The name translates as fragrant sherry wine in Spanish and to taste, this wine is exotic with notes of leather, spice and citrus.
Palo Cortado – one of the best sherry wines for a hot day
Palo Cortado Spanish sherry combines the richness of the complex structure of Oloroso with the freshness of Amontillado. However, this Jerez Spain sherry has a personality of its own. It starts life as a Fino sherry. But, the mysterious disappearance of the Flor (yeast layer) creates an ambiguous wine that to taste is a lighter version of the Oloroso.
What is Cream sherry?
A favourite amongst the British! Cream sherry sweet wine such as Croft Original is a sweet, pale coloured sherry. The colour can range from a dark straw to treacle and the darker the sherry, the more intense the flavour. Harveys Bristol Cream is an example of a dark cream sherry. It is created by blending a dry Spanish sherry with a sweeter variety such as Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel. Drink this with cheese before dining, or with something equally as sweet. The choice is yours!
Pedro Ximenez – the sweetest of the Spanish sherry types
If there ever was a way to taste the sun, a glass of Pedro Ximenez is it! This is the sweetest of all Sherries. It is made using Spanish sherry Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been sundried under the heat of the Spanish sunshine.
How to drink sherry in Spain?
One of the best times of the year to try a glass of sherry is during the Ferias de Abril. The festivities were first celebrated in 1846 and lasted 3 days but that changed to 6 days in 1952. If you are staying in Seville during April, the city will be ablaze with colour. The fun spills out onto every street corner as traditional Sevillian folk music floats on the breeze. The elaborate Flamenco style dresses worn by local women provide an elaborate show of Spanish culture that will brighten up your holiday snaps. Be sure to take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage before heading to the food stalls to taste delicious Seville tapas or a home-cooked stew. Refresh the palate with a glass of good sherry wine before dancing into the night. Expect this party wild as 1.5 million bottles of Manzanilla sherry are drunk each year.
Stay Close to the Sherry Triangle
If you are a sherry enthusiast, staying in Cadiz means that you are just a stone’s throw away from the action. The whitewashed city is the epicentre of culture in Andalusia and the perfect place to spend a minibreak. Cadiz is also home to an idyllic coastline. Luxurious resorts such as Sancti Petri, offer picture perfect beach experiences which could make you believe that you were in the Caribbean. Cadiz is also a wonderful hub for day trips. Venture to Jerez de la Frontera for a sherry tour, sightsee in Granada or visit one of Cadiz’s prestigious golf clubs. After a full day exploring, don’t miss the chance to rest and unwind at Andalusia’s largest spa and wellness centre.
Visit a sherry bodega in Jerez
If you plan to visit Malaga, a quick detour to the winemaking region of Jerez is a must. However, be sure to book a sherry tour to experience the sights and smells of a real-life working Jerez winery. Tío Pepe winery is a fantastic family-friendly option if you are planning a day trip from Malaga. Travel through the extensive vineyard on a train to see the vines in their full glory. Likewise, learn about how the region’s chalky soil provides the ideal growing conditions for the three key sherry grape varieties. Take shelter from the sun and head inside the 180-year-old winery. Breathe in the heady aromas of fermenting wine and let your eyes take in the enormity of the barrel hall. Most importantly, don’t miss their friendly helper, a mouse with a profound love of sherry. His wine glass even has a little ladder to ensure he can drink every last drop.
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