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Jerez (Sherry)

sherry-casks.jpgIn the south of Spain, below Seville deep in Andalucia, are the towns in Jerez (de la Frontera) and Sanlucar de Barrameda, home to the incredibly diverse range of styles of Sherry.

Sherry is a white wine, grown predominantly on white, chalky soils.  The most important grape variety is Palomino Fino, which tends to produce high yields of somewhat dilute wine lacking in sugar.  Yet through vinification, fortification and the solera system, it results in a wide range of styles of compelling wines.

There are several styles, or classifications of Sherry.  The dryest, lightest styles are Fino (or Manzanilla for those that come from Sanlucar de Barrameda), which are aperitif styles and like table wines, should be served chilled and consumed within a day or two.  Amontillado has a hint of sweetness and are darker in colour, and are usually produced from aged Finos and are often paired with soups.  Olorosso is a much more powerful, strongly flavoured style that are rich, dark and may be either dry or sweet.  Palo Cortado is like a blend between Olorosso and Amontillado, rich yet dry on the palate, dark in colour and a perfect match with gamey meat dishes.  Finally, Pedro Ximinez (or PX as they're often known) is a rich, full-bodied, thick and luscious dessert style of Sherry, yet without a cloying finish, and is often paired with chocolate or nut-based desserts.

jerez.jpgThe grapes are harvested and fermented, and then sorted or classified depending on quality and style (ie, light and delicate enough to be a Fino, or a bigger, more full-bodied wine to be made as an Olorosso) and then fortified with grape spirit up to around 15% alcohol for Finos and Manzanillas, or 18% for Olorosso.  The wine is then placed into barrels (or butts as they're known) and begins its ageing in the unique 'solera' system.

The solera system is essentially the topping up of old barrels with younger wines, and each year a portion of the oldest barrels is bottled, the barrels then being filled with a portion of the younger barrels and so on, with the new vintage of wine being placed in the youngest barrels, resulting in a continual blending process that ensures a consistency of style.  Then the magic of Sherry, courtesy of a natural yeast 'flor', takes place.  It grows inside the barrels of Fino and Manzanilla (the Olorosso barrels, having been fortified to 18% don't allow it to grow) forming a protective layer of foam on the wine and imparting a unique character to the wine.

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