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A Quick Overview Of Jerez
'Jerez' is Spanish for 'sherry' (the English word comes from the name of the Spanish town Jerez de la Frontera). Sherry can only come from the so-called 'Sherry Triangle' in Spain, and it is protected by by DO laws.
What is sherry?
Sherry is a fortified wine, which means that grape spirits are added to wine after fermentation to slightly raise its alcoholic content. Sherry is matured in barrels called 'butts' which are deliberately never completely filled to allow the growth of a 'flor' cap - this is a particular yeast that grows in a layer on the exposed surface of the wine.
The flor is finicky and will only grow on wines with an alcohol of around 15%, but it imparts the aromas and flavors which distinguish sherry, and give it character. (Vin Jaune made in the Jura is also made with flor).
What are the different kinds of sherry?:
- Fino is the finest, palest and driest sherry, with an alcohol content of about 15%;
- Manzanilla (mahn/thah/NEE/yah) is a fino sherry from the village of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. In this area, the flor grows more thickly than usual, and this creates a particularly light, fresh sherry. Manzanilla is also the Spanish word for chamomile;
- Amontillado (ah/mohn/tee/YAH/thoh) is a fino which has been aged and lost its flor. When the flor goes, oxidation causes the Amontillado to become darker and nuttier than Fino. Once fortified, it has an alcohol content of around 17.5%. This is a dry sherry;
- Oloroso is aged without the flor for much longer than amontillado, and is richer and darker, with nutty, complex flavors. The Oloroso is naturally dry, and has an alcohol content of 18-20%. Sweetened Olorosos are referred to as 'Cream Sherry'. This type of sherry keeps the best once opened.
- Pedro Ximénez (xee/MEH/neth) is made with partially dried grapes. This is a very sweet, deep, rich sherry. It is excellent over ice-cream.
If you look carefully, you will see that most of the names of the types of sherry end in '-o'. This is because 'jerez' is masculine noun!
Some useful things to know about sherry
- Sherry is never made in a vintage - you don't get, for example, a 2004 sherry;
- Sherry does not usually age well - it should be drunk younger, rather than older. Check the date of production, and don't buy sherry which is more that 12-24 months old, unless it is specially labeled as an 'aged sherry';
- You don't have to drink sherry in a puny little sherry glass - in fact many experts recommend a white wine glass to better bring out the aromas of the drink;
- Once the bottle is opened, sherry, particularly the fino, quickly loses its bloom. Keep it tightly closed in the fridge, and drink within a couple of days;
- Sherry should be drunk well-chilled;
- Sherry is made with white wine grapes - most often Palomino (for the dry sherries), as and Pedro Ximénez for the sweet. Moscatel is also used, but less commonly;
- Pour sherry over ice, and add some lemonade for a refreshing drink.
Fino and Amontillado sherry make a good accompaniment to meals, particularly fish and chicken, in fact wherever you would pair the food with a dry, complex white wine, you can use one of these.
Sherry has an undeserved reputation for being the drink of choice for your grandmother, or spinster aunt. It is far more versatile and interesting than most people think, and is gaining in popularity. I suggest this article from Jancis Robinson for further inspiration.
The French word for 'sherry' is 'xérès', and the Italian is the same as the English.