October 3, 2018

On my journey to try to master all things vinous I have come to love the category of Fortified Wines be they Madeira, Port, Vin Doux Naturels, Liquer Muscats or Sherry.  The history behind each style’s production methods and their evolution is as fascinating as those very different styles are to taste and enjoy.

Sherry is currently very fashionable; dedicated bars are popping up in London, New York, Hong Kong.   You will also find sherry on many a restaurant menus  The latest trend is to pair it, by the glass, with food to enjoy not only as an aperitif as your Granny may have sipped her Bristol Cream (or was that just my Granny??).

Sherry is produced in Jerez, Spain mainly from Palomino grapes.  All wines are fermented dry before being fortified by adding alcohol in the form of grape spirit.  Two basic types of Sherry are produced; Fino and Oloroso, several styles exist within each type. Fino Sherries are fine and elegant and are produced from the best free-run juice, then fermented at low temperatures often in stainless steel.  Fortification for Fino is up to 15% abv but no more than 16% otherwise it will destroy the important film-forming yeasts that help create the “flor” which floats on the surface of the wine. This film gradually thickens over time to protect against oxidation. Fino sherries bottled at the end of April at the point when the flor should be at its thickest are the freshest examples.  Both Fino and Oloroso Sherries mature in their own Soleras, systems of fractional blending providing consistency of style and a smoothing out of differences in vintages.   Barrels are refreshed 2-3 times a year with younger wine. The yeasts produce acetaldehydes which contribute to the characteristic aroma of Fino Sherry; almond, yeast, iodine and peat.

Oloroso Sherries are fortified up to 18% abv and develop without the protection of flor allowing more contact with air. The sherries therefore gradually turn brown and become concentrated with age.  The frequent re-filling of the solera with younger wine prevents total oxidation. The style is still dry but full, concentrated, fragrant and nutty.  Sweet Olorosos exist such as Gonzalez Byass Cristina Olorosa Abocado which has been blended with around 15% of a sweet wine made from sundried Pedro Ximenez grapes.  This addition gives the final product around 40g/l residual sugar (medium sweet). I have tasted this with my students, it has a velvety texture tasting of figs and raisins; we decided it would go nicely with paté or strong hard cheese but was fab with the sticky toffee puddings I served.  Cheers, Granny.

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