Jerez, located in South Western Spain, is known as the city of sherry, flamenco, horses and motorcycles and in 2013 was the European Capital of Wine.
All Sherry Wines come from the Sherry triangle; a protected region in the south of Spain embracing Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
There are 3 basic grape types; Palomino grapes, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. Palomino grapes are harvested fresh and pressed almost immediately. Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel are left outside in the sun for up to a week, effectively turning them into raisins with a higher relative sweetness.
Each Sherry needs to spend at least an average of 3 years in barrel, with VOS (Very Old Sherry) spending 20+ years and VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) spending 30+ years.
The entire process from harvest (which is regulated and is therefore always done in the last week of August and first week of September) to bottle, therefore takes at least 4 years.
After fermentation, sherry’s are first either classified as Fino or Oloroso. Fino is the palest, lightest and driest of Sherries. This is also the worlds driest wine, containing zero sugars.
The wines are then fortified and after the fortification and a short maturation, the base wines will be classified again. Biological ageing will result in a Fino, while oxidative ageing will produce a Amontillado or Oloroso.
The different categories will then enter a solera, an array of barrels that are arranged in a certain hierarchical way. Barrels are stored in rows, stacked at least 3 high and up to 5 high. Each year, 1/3 of each barrel is taken out and blended into the next barrel in the stack i.e., in a stack of 3 high, the sherry in the bottom barrel will be 3 years old. 1/3 of this barrel is taken out and bottled. Then 1/3 of the barrel in the row above will be taken and used to top up the bottom barrel, such that it is full again. Then 1/3 of the top barrel will be taken and used to refil the second barrel. The top barrel will then be refilled with the current vintage.
Fino and Manzanilla are the most fragile types of Sherry and should usually be drunk soon after opening in the same way as unfortified wines (can be kept up to 1-2 weeks). Amontillados and Olorosos will keep for longer (1-2 months), while sweeter versions such as PX, and blended cream Sherries, are able to last several months after opening, since the sugar content acts as a preservative. Sherry bottles should always be stored upright and should be refrigerated once opened.
Jerez itself is a beautiful town with a number of spectacular cathedrals and churches as well as a range of fantastic dining options. There are a number of Bodegas within an easy walk of town, making Jerez the perfect base for exploring all things Sherry!
It's fair to say we had not had much experience with Sherry before visiting here, but we certainly found this an extremely informative and interesting region to visit and we would definitely love to visit this area again.