Andalucia & Jerez Wine Notes — 10/11/2008
Centred around Cadiz, the wines of south west Spain have been flowing to the UK since the mid 16th century, when Sir Francis Drake brought them back after the sack of Cadiz.
The recent history has been one of decline, partly due to changing tastes and partly due to poor quality in the 1970s. There has been some revival in fortunes lately, as a new audience discovers this, one of the world’s best value wines.
Grapes are selected in the vineyard rigorously according to location. There is a ‘Golden Triangle’ of Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria, and San Lucar de Barrameda, where soils known as arenas, barros and albariza, each suit some vines better than others. The main varieties are Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, the latter used for unctuous dessert wine or for blending to colour and sweeten other Sherries.
Despite the many sub categories, all Sherries can be divided into one of three categories:
Fino: Lightest, driest category, (called Manzanilla when made in Sanlucar de Barrameda). Subject to the yeast flor which intensifies the flavour and protects the wine.
Oloroso: Not subject to Flor but do go through soleras. They are not necessarily sweeter than Amontillado but have a distinct nutty character.
Amontillado: Begins life as a Fino, but is aged for longer in the solera system and gives a wine of dark colour and intense aromas.
Production is amongst the most complex of any wine and is best explained when seen in situ, but here goes! Once the base wine has been made, it is fortified and stored in partially filled wooden butts where the natural flor is allowed to develop. The spring after harvest the wines, if destined for fino, are left to age further, or if destined for Oloroso, are refortified to just over 17˚ (a level at which the Flor cannot form).
All sherries are a blend using the solera system of ageing which work as follows: the barrels are stored in cool, high warehouses protected from heat and sunlight, known as ‘cathedrals’. They are stacked up to seven high. The young wine is poured into the top layer known as the ‘criadera’ or nursery. Each year a third of the wine is removed from the end of the solera and the butts are filled up with younger Sherry from above. Although a simplified explanation, this is a superb system of blending the wines to maintain the house style and quality.
Montilla – Moriles
On our Andalucia tours, we usually visit the neighbouring region of Montilla – Moriles, where a similar style of wine is made. The wines here are stored in ceramic pots called Tinjas, which can stand 25 feet tall