One of the oldest and most wonderful fortified wines
made is a Sherry. Sherry comes from a corner of south-west
Spain called Andalusia. The grapes are grown in
the white, chalky soil characteristic to that region
known as 'albariza'. This is a very porous soil that
soaks up the brief rains and allows the grapes to survive
the hot humid summers. Rain falls on average for
only 75 days a year. Palamino and pedro ximenez
grapes are the two traditional grape varieties used in
Sherry. When picked, the grapes will be left to dry for
up to two weeks to concentrate the sugars before they
are crushed. This gives a small quantity of juice with a
very high sugar content.
In a twist on the ancient method of crushing grapes by
foot, the grape stompers of the finest Sherries wore
boots with nails in the soles. The nails trap the pips and
stalks and leave them undamaged enhancing the pure
grape flavours. The wine is fermented for several
months before fortification. The final Sherry blend is
produced by a 'solera' system using rows of barrels of
wine drawing from 'criaderas' (smaller reserves of
younger wines). As wine is drawn from the barrels of a
solera it is replaced with wine from the first criadera.
This criadera is now topped up from the second cria-dera
and so on down the track. The finest Sherries may
have wines over 200 years old in them.
The barrels are only ever filled to about two thirds ca-pacity.
Generally, a white yeast called a Flor develops
on the surface of the maturing Sherry and contributes
to the unique Sherry flavour. It floats on top of the
wine in the barrel. The flor forms a protective, foamy
layer over the wine that seals off the air from the wine.
Fino, Oloroso and Amontillado are the three classifica-tions
used to very closely define the quality of Sherry.
A fino is left at around 15.5% alcohol by volume as the
flor is a natural yeast and will die when the alcohol
content exceeds this.
A fino is allowed to develop for many years growing
natural flor yeast. It will be pale straw in colour, dry and
with a light fresh clean nose when ready to drink.
Oloroso is a Sherry that has never developed a natural
flor or has had the natural flor growth stopped by fortifi-cation.
Fortification is the process where pure grape
spirit (alcohol) is added to the wine to stop the fermenta-tion
by killing the yeast and leaving some residual natu-ral
grape sugar in the wine. Oloroso matures earlier than
fino and is richer and fuller to taste but not necessarily
sweeter. Oloroso means 'fragrant' in Spanish and this
describes very well the darker, richer oloroso Sherries.
An oloroso Sherry will be fortified to over 17% alcohol
to produce a richer and stronger wine. Some partial oxi-dation
will have occurred in the process and this contrib-utes
to the natural golden colour.
Amontillado is a fino Sherry that's matured in the barrel
for at least eight years. The flor yeast will have died and
the wine will have partially oxidised. It will be a fuller
and richer Sherry with nutty flavours and a strong nose
with a dark gold colour.
And, the Australia Wine and Brand Corporation say that:
The Australian Traditional Expression "SHERRY" was
entered in the Register of Protected Names on 1/2/1995
under the following conditions of use:
"Except where the word "sherry" is used as a registered
geographical indication, it may only be used to describe
and present a fortified wine."
Wine has been made in Spain for many hundreds of
years but it was only in the 18 th century when the mod-ern
Sherry business began. The English were familiar
with Sherry since the Middle Ages. 1340 is the first year
we have a written English record of wine being imported
from Spain. 1340 was also the year when Chaucer was
born. He wrote in the Pardoner's Tale: "This wine of
Spain creepeth subtilly Of which there riseth such fu-mositee."
He was almost certainly writing about a rich
1587 was the year when Sherry shot to prominence after
Sir Francis Drake set alight the Spanish fleet in Cadiz
and made off with 3,000 casks of Sherry. This helped
start large scale Sherry drinking in England. During the
next centuries, Sherry became a common drink that was
found in every house. In 1873 some 68,500 casks were
imported into England.
Sherry is usually served after dinner with fruit, cheese or
desert. Usually it is served at room temperature in a
small glass and if you're really lucky, in front of an open
fire with wonderful company.
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery