Today we’re going to explore Sherry production. Why is it so important to do this? Because Sherry is so different from other wines.
In the first article in this series, I took you on a centuries-long journey to a region in southern Spain, Jerez de la Frontera, the true home of Sherry. This rocky, chalky limestone region is old, ruggedly beautiful and romantic, with ancient churches, horse breeding, agriculture and some of the oldest wine barrels around.
Sherry Production: Solera System
One of the first things you may notice about Sherry labels is that there is no vintage. That is due to the somewhat unique processing called the “solera system” that all Sherry undergoes. (I say somewhat unique in that some Madeiras and balsamic vinegars also undergo similar methods of aging.)
In the solera process, juices from several years’ harvests are meticulously and scientifically combined, aged, and re-combined repeatedly to produce the final tappings sold as Sherry. Believe me when I tell you it’s complicated. There’s even a mathematical formula for the process!
Kind of like original San Francisco sourdough, you can almost say that a wee bit of the oldest Sherry is in every cask.
Sherry Production: The Flor Layer of Yeast
The two predominant types of Sherry are Fino and Oloroso. Fino is very dry, light bodied and has 15 to 16 percent alcohol content. Oloroso is also dry but much richer in flavor and body and closer to 18 percent alcohol content.
With Fino Sherry, another unique component of Sherry production comes into play. According to Stacy Slinkard, “While the wines remain in their casks they are permitted contact with air in the top portion of the cask. A layer of yeast, called ‘flor’ forms a coating on the surface of the Sherry, keeping the wine from over oxidizing – these wines will become Finos as their lower alcohol content is what allows the yeast to grow in the first place. Olorosos on the other hand, do not support the growth of flor due to their higher alcohol content. Olorosos are permitted to oxidize intentionally, producing a darker, and richer wine, with more body than a Fino.”
Next time: Sherry types and food pairings!