With its unique production and aging system, sherry has an authentic, singular character that is the result of a privileged geographical setting and the diverse cultures that have inhabited Andalusia over the centuries.
Vendimia Festival, JerezReal Academia de Gastronomía
A Wine Named After a Town
Sherry (or "Jerez" in Spanish) is produced in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera—from which it takes its name—located in the province of Cádiz, in southern Spain.
What Makes Sherry Unique?
The unique aging process, the flor (a film of yeast that forms on its surface), the solera aging system, and the saline environment of the area all contribute to the unique character of the wines produced in the Marco de Jerez region.
Veil of FlorReal Academia de Gastronomía
A Veil of Flor: The Magic Behind Sherry
Flor is a naturally occurring film of yeast that transforms year-old wine into sherry after an aging period of at least three years.
All sherries begin their aging with this natural biological process. This includes those that are later aged by oxidation; these are known as olorosos and amontillados.
Los Arcos complex, Lustau wineriesReal Academia de Gastronomía
The flor protects the wine from oxidation by preventing the liquid from coming into direct contact with the air inside the casks. This process is called "biological aging."
However, in the production of other sherries—amontillados, olorosos, and palo cortados—the layer of flor is broken to allow the wines to come into contact with the air, a process known as "oxidative aging."
"Sacristia" sherry wineReal Academia de Gastronomía
Criaderas and Solera: A Unique Storage System
This is the traditional aging system that is used for sherry. The butts—the casks in which the wine is stored—are stacked up high in rows, one on top of another, and connected to each other.
Those on the top row (the first criadera) contain the youngest wine; those in the middle row (the second criadera), the oldest wine; and those on the bottom (the solera), the vintage wine, which is a mixture of other wines.
Sherry wine "criaderas"Real Academia de Gastronomía
Wine ready for consumption is taken from the solera (bottom row). The casks are refilled with wine from the top row and the casks on the top row with new wine.
This makes the solera a complex mixture as a result of the number of vintages that it contains, since it is not possible to know which year the wine dates from, although it does have an average age of 20 or 30 years.
"Venenciador" in JerezReal Academia de Gastronomía
The Jerez Triangle
This is the name given to the geographical area formed by the places in which this type of wine is produced: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Other places, however, are also involved in its production.
The Triangle's proximity to the mouth of the river Guadalquivir results in high humidity levels, and therefore a unique climatic environment for the aging of the sherry.
Sherry vineyardsReal Academia de Gastronomía
A Very Special Terroir
The hills in the Marco de Jerez region are covered in limestone which, during hot spells, turns into an even whiter, chalkier soil (known as "albariza"), making them uniquely spectacular.
The finest "albariza" soil, with its higher proportion of limestone and siliceous elements, is the best terroir to grow the grapes used to produce the best-quality sherries.
Sherry wines in Barbadillo wineriesReal Academia de Gastronomía
Denominations of Origin of the Marco de Jerez
Wines produced in the Jerez region following set traditional processes and complying with specific conditions are legally protected by these two denominations of origin: "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" and "Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda."
Types of Sherry
There is not one single sherry, but several different types which are divided into "generosos" (or dry sherries), naturally sweet sherries, special categories, and dry liqueur wines, with each of these categories themselves comprising several different sherries.
Manzanilla, sherry wineReal Academia de Gastronomía
"Generosos" or dry sherries
This category covers the vast majority of sherries produced. They are the oldest and best-known: manzanilla, fino, oloroso, amontillado, and palo cortado. They are all made using palomino grapes.
Manzanilla: This wine is associated with Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It is aged exclusively in wineries located in this very humid coastal town, resulting in a slightly salty taste. It is usually light yellow in color and, due to its slight acidity, it produces a pleasant sensation of freshness on the palate, as well as a persistent and slightly bitter aftertaste.
Sherry wines varietyReal Academia de Gastronomía
Fino: Straw yellow or pale gold in color, it is dry and delicate on the palate, with pungent aromas.
Oloroso: Dark in color—the darker the color, the longer the aging process—as its name (which means "fragrant") suggests, it has complex, potent aromas of dry nuts, balsamic notes, and fine woods.
Amontillado: Its color varies from topaz to amber. Its aroma is subtle and delicate, with notes of hazelnut, aromatic herbs, and black tobacco.
Eggplant with Honey and a Palo Cortado (Sherry) GlassReal Academia de Gastronomía
Palo Cortado: A very complex wine that combines the aromatic delicacy of amontillado with the full-bodied flavor of oloroso on the palate. Chestnut or mahogany in color, its aroma is hugely varied. Legend has it that these wines "just happened," rather than being produced deliberately, and that only the most experienced cellarmen knew how to spot them
Naturally sweet sherriesReal Academia de Gastronomía
Naturally Sweet Sherries: Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel
These are made from the must of overripe or sunned grapes, generally from the Pedro Ximénez or Muscat varieties. The musts are only partially fermented, so as to preserve the original sweetness, and wine alcohol is added to them.
Both Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel are consumed mainly as accompaniments to desserts. Pedro Ximénez is also used in cooking, for making reductions.
Muscatel has a fresh sweetness, with a slightly dry and bitter finish. Pedro Ximénez has an acidity that reduces the extreme sweetness and the warmth of the alcohol, and a long, flavorsome finish.
Old sherry wine (V.O.S. and V.O.R.S.)Real Academia de Gastronomía
Wines that are over 20 years old bear the initials V.O.S, which stand for the Latin Vinum Optimum Signatum (Wine Selected as Optimal) and happen to match the English expression Very Old Sherry.
The initials V.O.R.S. are used for wines that are more than 30 years old, and stand for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (Wine Selected as Optimal and Exceptional) and which also happen to match the English phrase Very Old Rare Sherry.
Pale Cream, sherry wineReal Academia de Gastronomía
Dry Liqueur Wines
These are obtained by combining "generoso" (dry) sherries with naturally sweet sherries or, in specific cases, with concentrated must. It is a recently created unique category.
They are divided into Pale Cream (made from wine that has been biologically aged—fino or manzanilla—to which concentrated rectified must has been added); medium (any sherry containing between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter) and cream (made from dry wines that have been aged by oxidation, generally sweetened with Pedro Ximénez).
When and How to Drink Sherry
Traditionally relegated to an aperitif, especially manzanilla and fino, sherry has started to appear in gourmet restaurants and is experiencing a surge in popularity.
Fino (sherry) glassReal Academia de Gastronomía
Storing and Serving
To keep bottles of sherry at their best, they should be stored in a dark room where the temperature does not fluctuate, and kept upright. Once opened, it is best to store them with the cap tightly fastened and, in the case of finos and manzanillas, in the refrigerator.
Sherry, unlike other wines, does not improve once bottled. Once it has left the cask in which it was aged, it is ready to be consumed and will not continue to improve in the bottle.
Venencia and sherryReal Academia de Gastronomía
The maximum period over which the sherry can be kept in the bottle without losing its original characteristics will depend on the type of sherry, with vintage wines—finos and manzanillas—being more delicate. Removing them from the cask involves a significant change in their environment, since they lose the flor that protects them from oxidation.
Olorosos and Pedro Ximénez are more stable.
Sherry Wine Glass (c. 1937) by John DanaNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The Importance of the Glass
Sherry is traditionally served in a "catavino" glass. Although this is a good option for appetizers and desserts, when drinking sherry throughout a meal it is better to choose a white-wine glass made from high-quality crystal with a bowl large enough to allow the wine to breathe.
Sherry wine with 'Gazpacho'Real Academia de Gastronomía
At the Table
"From a gastronomic point of view, sherries can accompany a menu from start to finish: starting with finos and manzanillas, then moving on to an oloroso, amontillado, or palo cortado (which goes well with stews and other one-pot dishes), and finishing with a Pedro Ximénez," suggests David Robledo of Madrid's Santceloni restaurant, holder of Spain's National Award for Gastronomy for the Best Sommelier and a great sherry connoisseur.
Iberian ham & SherryReal Academia de Gastronomía
Robledo recommends manzanilla as an accompaniment to prawns, anchovies in vinegar, salt-cured tuna, and fried fish; fino as an accompaniment to sausages and Iberian ham; amontillados with smoked products, cured cheeses, vegetables, and mushrooms; olorosos with stews, game dishes, and meat casseroles; palo cortado with either of these last two; and Pedro Ximénez, a dessert in itself because of its sweetness, with dessert.
Text: María García, in collaboration with Víctor de la Serna Arenillas (member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy).
Image: Foods & Wines from Spain / Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade / González Byass Winery.
Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.
Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy
This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.