Hola tod@s, I hope all you vino lovers are happy and well!
Following the roaring success of our sherry tasting evening with Gonzalez Byass we’re going to dip our toe into the wonderful world of Sherry. Now, forget any preconceptions you may have about Sherry just being Nana’s tipple at Christmas, straight from the sideboard with a quick burst of Bing Crosby!
Sherry is a wonderfully diverse yet underappreciated vino, from the driest of bone dry Finos through to the sweet, syrupy dark Pedro Ximenez. In Europe, ‘Sherry’ is a protected designation of origin; all wine labelled as ‘Sherry’ must legally come from the ‘Sherry Triangle’, which is an area in the province of Cádiz in far South West Spain on the Atlantic coast. The three towns that make up the triangle are; Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. The soil here has a high chalk content giving great moisture retention capacity, perfect for those hot dry Andalucian summers.
Palomino is the dominant grape used for the dry Sherries. The Palomino grape produces a wine of bland and neutral characteristics. Some good light, dry ‘hot summers day’ drinking vinos are made here ‘Barbadillo’ being a classic. However, this neutrality is actually what makes Palomino an ideal grape because it is so easily enhanced by the Sherry winemaking style.
After the grapes are pressed and fermented they are classified into the two types for ageing, ‘Fino’ (fine in Spanish) for the lighter, dryer styles or Oloroso (scented) for the fuller and sweeter styles.
The ‘solera’ system then takes over, a pyramid of American oak barrels, four barrels high, where 1/3 of vino is removed from the bottom barrel (the solera) for clarifying and bottling, 1/3 is removed from the next barrel up and put in the bottom barrel and so on to the top barrel which is filled with our new vino. This system of blending helps give great consistency to Sherry and can neutralise any ‘bad’ year’s harvest.
The unique flavours of the dry styles of Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) come from the naturally occurring cap of yeast known as the ‘flor’, under which the vino ages without contact with the air retaining those crisp, dry, fresh flavours.
My favourite of the dry styles is ‘Manzanilla’, which is a variety of Fino but can only be made in the unique micro-climate around the town of ‘Sanlúcar de Barrameda’ (incidentally, Columbus’ point of departure from the Spanish mainland!) where most of the cellars are below sea-level. The Palamino grapes are grown between the Guadalquivir river and the sea. Manzanilla should have that classic ‘salty’ tang, which most people believe comes from the sea air settling on the grapes but actually comes from the soil which has a high sodium content.
Star bright and clear, elegantly sharp and marked with hints of olives and dry fruit, the perfect aperitif goes wonderfully well with shellfish, olives and toasted almonds. Some good names to look out for are La Gitana and La Guita.
‘Palo Cortado’ (cut stick) is probably my favourite style of sherry, so called because as they check the barrels during ageing they draw a vertical line (the Palo) in chalk on the butt of the barrel to indicate the Flor is alive and well and draw a line through the Palo if the Flor has died. Years ago they thought the vino had a fault and threw it away! Nowadays they kill off the Flor on purpose and allow the wine to age in the barrel exposed to the air, producing a well-rounded vino with darker toasted tones, elegant and complex with notes of dried fruits, vanilla and mature wood. Goes well with cured meats and stews but I’ve had it with everything from Dover Sole to steak! Both Gonzalez Byass and Lustau make fine Palo Cortados.
I’ve just touched on my favourite styles here and will cover the other styles in later blogs but at Rincón you can enjoy the full range and if you ever find yourself in the south west corner of Spain the three sherry towns are beautiful places to visit where you can enjoy some of the best Tapas in Spain.
As you can probably tell i’m a sherry fanatic, such diverse vinos and given that the Finos and Manzanillas are at least 5 years old, the Palo Courtados 12 and the Olorosos over 20 they represent some of the best value vinos out there, so get trying!