The history and traditions of Sherry production in the Sherry Triangle

by Lorraine Williamson
Sherry triangle

Sherry is a fortified wine that is produced in the Sherry Triangle, a region located in the province of Cadiz, Andalucia. The Sherry Triangle is a delimited area that includes the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

The Sherry Triangle is home to a unique combination of climate, soil, and grape varieties, which give the wine its distinct flavour and aroma. Three grape varieties, Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel, are grown in vineyards within the Sherry Triangle, and are hand-harvested to produce this exceptional wine.

The history of Sherry production in the region dates to ancient times, when the Phoenicians first settled in the area around 1100 BC. They introduced grape cultivation and winemaking techniques, which were later refined by the Romans and the Moors.

The modern era of Sherry production began in the 16th century. This was when the wine became popular in England, and established trade links with the region. The English traders found that the wine improved during the long sea voyage back to England. Therefore, they began to request more of it. This led to an increase in production and the establishment of large wineries, known as bodegas.

Solera system

In the 18th century, a new technique was developed for aging and blending Sherry, which involved using a system of barrels known as the solera system. This system involves blending young wines with older ones in a series of barrels, with the oldest wine being drawn off and bottled first. The technique allowed for a consistent quality of Sherry to be produced year after year.

Also read: Does climate change mean the end for Spanish Sherry?

The grapes

Today, the production of Sherry is tightly regulated by the Consejo Regulador, a governing body that oversees the entire production process. Sherry is produced from three main grape varieties as mentioned above:

  • Palomino
  • Pedro Ximénez
  • Moscatel

The grapes are grown in vineyards within the Sherry Triangle and are harvested by hand.

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Palomino

Palomino is the primary grape variety used to produce Sherry. It is a white grape that is grown extensively in the Sherry Triangle, and is prized for its ability to produce a dry wine with a light body and a delicate aroma. Palomino grapes are harvested in late August or early September, and the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks to produce a dry wine that is then aged in oak barrels for at least three years. The aging process gives the wine its characteristic nutty flavor and golden colour.

Pedro Ximénez

Pedro Ximénez is another grape variety that is grown in the Sherry Triangle, and is used to produce a sweet and rich Sherry. The grapes are left to dry in the sun for several days, which concentrates the sugar levels, before they are fermented in oak barrels. The wine is then aged for several years, during which time it takes on a dark, syrupy texture and a complex flavour profile of raisins, caramel, and molasses. Pedro Ximénez Sherry is best enjoyed as a dessert wine and pairs well with chocolate and other rich desserts.

Moscatel

Moscatel is a third grape variety that is grown in the Sherry Triangle, and is used to produce a sweet and floral Sherry. The grapes are harvested in late September and are immediately pressed to extract the juice, which is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The wine is then aged in oak barrels for several years, during which time it develops a complex flavor profile of orange blossom, honey, and dried fruit. Moscatel Sherry is best served chilled as an aperitif or paired with light, fresh desserts.

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After fermentation, the wine is fortified with grape spirit to raise the alcohol level to around 15-18%. The wine is then aged in a solera system, with the final product being a blend of wines of different ages.

Also read: Demand for Sherry is growing

The styles

The different styles of Sherry are produced by varying the aging process and the type of barrel used. For example, Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are aged under a layer of yeast known as flor, which gives them a distinctive nutty flavour. Oloroso Sherries are aged without flor and have a richer, more full-bodied flavour.

The different styles of Sherry offer a wide range of flavours and aromas, from the dry and light-bodied Fino to the sweet and syrupy Pedro Ximénez. Each style of Sherry is unique and reflects the skill and expertise of the winemaker, as well as the terroir of the Sherry Triangle. Whether enjoyed as an aperitif, with tapas, or as a dessert wine, Sherry is a wine that can be appreciated by both novices and connoisseurs alike.

Also read: The art of Sherry from the heart of Jerez

Here are some of the most common styles of Sherry:

Fino

Fino is a dry and light-bodied style of Sherry that is made from Palomino grapes and aged under a layer of yeast, called flor, in oak barrels. It has a pale straw color, a delicate aroma of almonds and bread dough, and a crisp and refreshing taste. Moreover, this is best served chilled and pairs well with seafood, tapas, and olives.

Manzanilla

Manzanilla is a type of Fino that is produced exclusively in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a town located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It is similar in style to Fino, but it has a slightly salty taste that comes from the sea air that permeates the aging cellars. Moreover, it is often described as the perfect wine to pair with seafood dishes, especially shellfish.

Amontillado

Amontillado is a style of Sherry that starts off as a Fino or a Manzanilla, but then undergoes a second stage of aging in oak barrels without the protection of flor. This exposure to air gives Amontillado its characteristic amber color and a complex aroma of hazelnuts, caramel, and tobacco. Amontillado has a dry and nutty taste and pairs well with cured meats, nuts, and hard cheeses.

Oloroso

Oloroso is a style of Sherry that is made from Palomino grapes and aged for a long time in oak barrels without the protection of flor. It has a dark mahogany color, a rich and intense aroma of dried fruits, spices, and leather, and a full-bodied and sweet taste. Oloroso is best served at room temperature and pairs well with stews, roasted meats, and strong cheeses.

Pedro Ximénez (PX)

Pedro Ximénez (PX) is a style of Sherry that is made from the Pedro Ximénez grape variety that is sun-dried to concentrate the sugar levels. The wine is then aged in oak barrels, where it develops a syrupy texture and a complex aroma of raisins, figs, and caramel. PX is a sweet and luscious wine that pairs well with chocolate desserts, ice cream, and blue cheeses.

The Sherry Triangle is home to a unique combination of grape varieties, climate, and soil that produce some of the world’s most exceptional wines. Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel grapes are hand-harvested to produce a range of Sherry styles, from dry and nutty to sweet and floral. Whether enjoyed as an aperitif or a dessert wine, Sherry is a versatile and sophisticated choice for any occasion.

Also read: A Sherry is not just for Christmas

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