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Sherry is a collective term for a group of fortified wines produced in Spain. They are produced in a certain region of Andalucia, a small triangular area between the communities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

The name Sherry comes from the old Arabic name of the city Jerez, which was Xérès.

Starting point for most Sherry wines are dry white wines from the region, mostly made from Palomino grapes. After the first vinification they are fortified to 15 to 20 % alcohol and then stored in open barrels at about 17 degrees Celsius. The open barrels lead to the formation of a yeast film, the so-called flor, on top of the wine. It can disappear after long storage or with the addition of more alcohol. The exposed surface allows more oxidation.

Sherry is mostly served as an aperitif before a meal. There is no vintage Sherry, since most Sherry wines are a mixture of wines of several years and grapes (for example Pedro Ximenés and Palomino). Blending provides a consistent quality and taste of the Sherry. The typical taste is produced from the naturally occurring wine yeasts, which form after fermentation and float on the surface of the wine.

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Production of Sherry

The so-called Solera system is used for the production of Sherry. When the system is started a first barrel is filled with basic wine. After the production of the next basic wine in the following year, part of the first year barrel is transferred to a second barrel and the first barrel is refilled with the new basic wine. In the third year a third barrel is added. Three scales or barrels are the minimum but the numbers can go up to ten or more scales. A Sherry therefore needs at least three years of aging but high quality products age for ten years or more. Since only part of the Sherry is moved to the next scale the first barrels contain aging wines that are more mixed each year. Before the wine is filled into bottles from the last scale or solera, it has aged in several different other barrels, which are also called criaderas. Since wines from different years are mixed, there is no vintage Sherry and no vintage is stated on the label. Where this method is used, the endproduct is always very similar in characteristics to the years before. Only the age of the first bottling can be stated for sure, all successive years contain traces of older products. The Solera system is also used for aging other wines, vinegar and brandy. In Italy several barrels are used for the production of Aceto Balsamico die Modena, in Sicily Marsala wine is produced similarly but the method is called in perpetuum.

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Grape varieties used for Sherry

The second most important grape variety for the production of Sherry is Pedro Ximenez. A certain type of Sherry is even named after this grape. It is mainly grown in the area surrounding Jerez. Wines made from this grape have about 17 % alcohol and are dark brown, almost black, with intensive sweetness and aromas of raisins and other dried fruit. They are used as dessert wines or for assemblage. The optimal temperature for serving Pedro Ximenez Sherry is 16 degrees Celsius.

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Sherry types

Depending on the alcohol content and level of oxidation different sherry types can be distinguished.

  • Fino - is a dry Sherry of light golden colour. It has a fine taste and is seen as the highest quality Sherry.
  • Manzanilla - a smooth and supple Fino.
  • Amontillado - older, dryer and stronger Fino with hints of hazelnuts.
  • Oloroso or Amoroso - is a full-bodied, powerful and heavy Sherry with dark brown colour and strong nutty taste. It is often aged without flor.
  • Abocado - a semisweet Oloroso.
  • Cortado - is a Sherry between Amontillado and Oloroso.
  • Cream - also known as Old Brown Sherry or East Indian Sherry. It is mild and sweet and can be counted as a dessert wine.

High demand and a pressure of price lead to the production of many Sherry wines of low to moderate quality. A counter movement is that of the Almacenistas, which are small, private retailers that buy good basic wines and use traditional methods to store and age the Sherry for long periods until it is resold.

See also:
white wine,
red wine,
rosé wine,
sparkling wine,
semi-sparkling wine,
table wine,
vin ordinaire,
blended wine, and
grape variety.

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