Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Celebrating International Sherry Week with Manzanilla and Fino Sherries

This week Sherry wines are celebrated worldwide, inspired by this wonderful event, I decided to write a post about two of my favorite dry sherries: Manzanilla and Fino. I love Manzanillas and Finos, particularly with fish like Mahi Mahi, Cod or Flounder, and of course with Sushi and Poke. Their delicious dryness and salty tang make them a perfect match for tapas, too (Serrano Ham, Olives, Manchego Cheese, Almonds, Tortilla!). However, they are an “acquired taste”, a category that you either love or hate. Of course I do love them! But if you are new to Sherry, allow me to give you some info.  

So what makes Sherry so special? For starters Sherry can only come from Spain, from the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, so if you see a sherry made in California… it will never be the same thing. The appellation has the shape of a triangle, see map below, and in each corner we will find a city, where Sherry can be aged: Jerez de La Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María. 

Sherry is basically a fortified wine, meaning a wine that producers have added extra alcohol, with most sherries showcasing between 15,5º to 20º. In the case of Sherry, the alcohol is added after fermentation is completed, so at the beginning Sherry will start its life as a dry wine to which producers will add the spirit, color and flavors to create different styles that may go from dry, medium or sweet.

Sherry is made from three Spanish grape varieties: Palomino Fino, which is the most important, Pedro Ximénez also known as PX and Muscat. Palomino occupies 90% of all vineyards, PX and Muscat the rest, and even though varietal wines are made from the last two, PX and Muscat are mostly used to add color and sweetness to Sherry. All three varieties grow in different types of soils: the most important is the Albariza soil, which has good drainage and is chalky and crumbly, it creates a crust that helps prevent evaporation, something very important considering the warm climate of the region but very much influenced by the oceans and the Levante, a dry wind from the south. PX and Muscat grow in sand (arenas) and muddy soils (barros).  Because of the warm weather of the D.O., harvest starts early, usually in the middle of August.  The PX will be left in the sun to dry/ raisin these grapes, the must obtained will be extremely sweet and dark, creating the sweetest style of all Sherries, that most Spanish have with ice cream!, believe me and do try this!

The best vineyards are located in an area called Jerez superior. Now, once producers ferment the Palomino Fino grapes, obtaining a very dry white, they add some spirit to it, and then they need to decide the type of aging that Sherry will see or style they will create. There are two important categories: Sherries that are aged with Flor: like Finos and Manzanillas and those aged without Flor: Olorosos, where wine will be fully exposed to oxygen, I will talk about the last category in another post.

But what is Flor? Flor is a very fine veil of yeast that will grow on top of the wine, preventing its contact with air and therefore its oxidation. Flor will give the wine its wonderful pungent aromas and typical flavors of citrus, olives & almonds. In order for Flor to grow, producers will put the wine in botas or (American oak barrels) and will fill only ¾ of them, leaving a gap on top, see picture below.  

Flor requires certain conditions to live,  and this is why Sherry can’t be replicated in other places in the world. In order to be alive it needs the addition of new wine, feeding also on alcohol and oxygen. By adding new wine via fractional blending, we can find Finos that may have an average age of 5-8 vintages. 

Another important characteristic of Sherry is that they are not vintage dated but instead are blend of old and new wines, very similar to NV Champagne.  

Now, in the case of the Manzanillas, which are the palest, lightest and driest, they are made from the thickest Flor of all, the Flor that grows in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Here Flor is active all year around, mostly because of the humidity and sea breeze influences of this town. Flor will protect the wine and at the same time impregnate it of yeasty flavors. 

Now, how does the fractional blending take place? By putting wines in a Solera system, or in different rows of oak casks. The young wines will be at the top and the old ones at the bottom (near the floor). Solera comes from the word Suelo (floor in Spanish). Every year when it’s time to bottle, producers will only pull 25 to 30% of their stock from the Solera (stack of casks closer to the floor) and replace the wine taken with younger wines from the criaderas above, running the scales. 
See below picture that will help you understand the process better.

Now, stylistically Manzanillas and Finos will have between 15,5-17º Alcohol, so you will feel the extra alcohol in your palate, they will be always dry with medium bodies and crisp acidity. Remember that though Finos are Manzanillas don’t have a vintage date, it’s better to consume the freshest wines possible, if you ever in Andalusia, you are guaranteed to do just that, since people in the south of Spain consume Sherry copitas on a daily basis. Always drink them chilled with tapas or in my case fish. 

My favorite recommended producers of Manzanilla and Fino are: Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, Lustau, Williams and Humbert, La Guita, Osborne, Barbadillo.

For more information about Sherry week,click here.
Until next one! 
Cheers, Silvina.

All pictures provided by the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Thank You for allowing me to use these!