Liquor & Spirits

Fortified & Dessert Wine



Sherry, the other great fortified wine, is produced in southwestern Spain in Andalusia. The primary grape in the creation of fine fino is from Palamino. Most Sherries are 100% Palamino, though they may be sweetned for cream sherries with Pedro Ximenez (PX) or even less common, the third and only other authorized grape, Moscatel fino.

Although sherry and port have a great deal in common, the end results are quite different. What sets sherry apart from port is the point at which the winemaker adds the neutral brandy. Added to port during fermentation, the extra alcohol kills the yeast and stops the fermentation, which is why port is a relatively sweet wine. For sherry, however, the brandy is added after fermentation.

The unique processes that characterize sherry are controlled oxyidation and fractional blending. Normally, a winemaker guards against letting air into the wine during the winemaking process. But that is exactly what makes sherry - air oxydizing the wine. But a slower oxidizing wine will be lighter and finer, and is thus more desirable.

Wine is placed in barrels and stored in above-ground cellars called "Bodegas" (also the term for a Spanish winery). They fill the barrels approximately two-thirds full and leave the bung loosely in the barrel to let air in. Here a grey-white film, which is a strain of yeast called the flor, develops over the wine to a greater or lesser degree protecting the wine from oxidation. The effect of the flor on Sherry is to absorb remaining traces of sugar, slow oxidation and lower acidity. The amount of flor to develop in each vat, determines the classification and its next treatment. A highly developed flor will classify that vat as a fino or amontillado and will be fortified to 15.5%. A lesser developed flor will expose a sherry wine to more oxidation creating a coarser, higher in acid wine and will be classified a Oloroso and fortified up to 18%. In futher classification of the wines developing a good flor, the light and delicate wines will be classified as fino, the richer and fuller, are classified as fino-amontillado or an amontillado.

The fractional blending is accomplished through the Solera system. The solera system is an aging and maturing process that takes place through the continuous blending of several vintages of sherry that are stored in still rows of barrels (as many as seven and up to 14 in a Manzanilla). Wine is drawn out of these barrels - never more than one third the contents of the barrel. The purpose of this type of blending is to maintain the "house" style of sherry by using the "mother" or oldest wine as a base and refreshing it with a portion of the younger wines. Thus, there are no vintage sherries. The date on a bottle of sherry denotes the year in which the Bodega was established.

There are five basic types of sherry: Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Cream.

To make Fino sherry, the winemaker adds neutral grape brandy after fermentation is completed, bringing the alcoholic content to 15 1/2%. The next and most important step is dictated by nature. With the proper alcohol content and temperature, a "flor" develops on the sherry. Flor is a living layer of yeast that forms on the wine and continues to grow every spring and fall. This flor is responsible for the unique taste of a fino-styled sherry. Sometimes this flor does not continue or maintain itself. Then it gradually dies off, the wine takes on a deeper, fuller taste, and is reclassified as Amontillado.

There is another type of fino called Manzanilla. This wine is made by the same process as Fino, except for the fact that grapes are grown and the wine is made in Sanlucar, which is located on the coast. Between the salt air and the humidity, the flor layer formed on Manzanilla is much denser, giving the wine a slightly briny taste.

Oloroso sherries are made from sun-dried Palomuno grapes. Like Fino sherries, the neutral grape brandy is added after fermentation to bring the alcoholic content up to 15 1/2%. If no flor has developed after 18-24 months, brandy is added again to this coarser more acidic wine, raising the alcoholic content to 18%.

Cream sherries are a blend of Pedro Xirnenez and Oloroso. Pedro Xirnenez sherries are made from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been sun-dried for 10-21 days, the Seleo system. The raisinated grapes have very high residual sugars and the Pedro Ximenez wines are very dark, thick, syrupy, viscous and sweet.

Labeling: To add to the confusion in identifying sherry, many sherry houses name their types of sherries with proprietary names, instead of simplly Fino or Oloroso. Such as Gonzalez Byass' famed fino, Tio Pepe. Tio Pepe is their proprietary name for their fino.