Liquor & Spirits

Fortified & Dessert Wine



Sherry, the other great fortified wine, is produced in southwestern Spainin 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 sherrieswith Pedro Ximenez (PX) or even less common, the third and only other authorizedgrape, Moscatel fino.

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

The unique processes that characterize sherry are controlled oxyidationand fractional blending. Normally, a winemaker guards against letting airinto the wine during the winemaking process. But that is exactly what makessherry - air oxydizing the wine. But a slower oxidizing wine will be lighterand 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 approximatelytwo-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 winefrom oxidation. The effect of the flor on Sherry is to absorb remainingtraces of sugar, slow oxidation and lower acidity. The amount of flor todevelop in each vat, determines the classification and its next treatment.A highly developed flor will classify that vat as a fino or amontilladoand will be fortified to 15.5%. A lesser developed flor will expose a sherrywine to more oxidation creating a coarser, higher in acid wine and willbe classified a Oloroso and fortified up to 18%. In futher classificationof the wines developing a good flor, the light and delicate wines will beclassified as fino, the richer and fuller, are classified as fino-amontilladoor an amontillado.

The fractional blending is accomplished through the Solera system.The solera system is an aging and maturing process that takes place throughthe continuous blending of several vintages of sherry that are stored instill rows of barrels (as many as seven and up to 14 in a Manzanilla). Wineis drawn out of these barrels - never more than one third the contents ofthe 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 baseand refreshing it with a portion of the younger wines. Thus, there are novintage sherries. The date on a bottle of sherry denotes the year in whichthe 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 afterfermentation is completed, bringing the alcoholic content to 15 1/2%. Thenext and most important step is dictated by nature. With the proper alcoholcontent and temperature, a "flor" develops on the sherry. Floris a living layer of yeast that forms on the wine and continues to growevery spring and fall. This flor is responsible for the unique taste ofa fino-styled sherry. Sometimes this flor does not continue or maintainitself. 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 madeby the same process as Fino, except for the fact that grapes are grown andthe wine is made in Sanlucar, which is located on the coast. Between thesalt 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 Finosherries, the neutral grape brandy is added after fermentation to bringthe alcoholic content up to 15 1/2%. If no flor has developed after 18-24months, brandy is added again to this coarser more acidic wine, raisingthe alcoholic content to 18%.

Cream sherries are a blend of Pedro Xirnenez and Oloroso. Pedro Xirnenezsherries are made from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been sun-dried for10-21 days, the Seleo system. The raisinated grapes have very high residualsugars and the Pedro Ximenez wines are very dark, thick, syrupy, viscousand sweet.

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