We are taking a trip to the Jerez region of Spain, the home of Sherry wines, which is located in the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. The Sherry wines are protected with Denomination of Origin Jerez-Xèrés-Sherry and Manzanilla – Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
This was a technical trip that we made to Andalucía with my professors and classmates from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. We started from Madrid and headed to Córdoba. We had a five hour bus drive until there and made a lunch stop in a restaurant on the way. In this restaurant, I learned the first interesting fact about Jerez: If you ask for a glass of table wine in Jerez, they would bring you Fino. It’s a useful thing to know since it has at least fifteen degrees of alcohol. After drinking a glass of Fino, the rest of the bus drive passed asleep.
Our first stop was Bodegas Alvear, situated in Sierra de Montilla y Moriles in Córdoba, founded in 1729.
This is a perfect opportunity to see the traditional production of Sherry wines, as they kept the amphorae which they use for fermentation. They explained to us how the temperature control was made in the past: They fill the amphora to one third of the capacity. When the fermentation reaches its peak and the grape temperature increases; they add the second third of the capacity, so it was cooling down and starting the fermentation process from the beginning.
Nowadays, to be able to answer the consumer demand nationally and internationally, they ferment in higher capacity stainless steel tanks.
Sobretablas or Criaderas y Soleras
As the wines start their aging process, the classifications are made to decide their final type. An organoleptic assessment is done, and the wines separated into two main types; Fino or Oloroso. Pale and light wines go into the Fino type and are fortified with addition of pure grape spirit until fifteen degrees of alcohol, while heavier and darker wines are fortified until seventeen degrees of alcohol and go into the Oloroso side.
After this classification, biological aging starts for Fino type wines. The film forming yeasts are naturally present in the wine and in the barrels that are reused for the aging process. These yeasts are so strong that they can survive in fifteen degrees of alcohol. As they continue living, they form a film called flor, and the wines age under the flor. This type of aging is called sobretablas. After sobretablas, a second classification is made. The wines who kept the flor film intact, continue to be Fino. If the flor is disrupted and oxidative aging starts, the wine is designated as Palo Cortado. Finally, if at the end of aging there is less vigorous film forming, the wine is fortified up to 17% degree alcohol and continues as Amontillado.
On the other hand, the Oloroso wines cannot perform biological aging. They have higher alcohol degree that flor yeast cannot survive, so they lose their flor which protects the wine from oxidation. They continue with oxidative aging. This type of aging is performed with a system called criaderas y soleras. It’s a dynamic method of aging wines, based on fractional blending of different vintages and guarantees a consistent quality and homogeneity year after year.
After seeing all these production methods on site, we passed to tasting room to learn more about the final product.
All types of Sherry
When someone thinks about “Sherry wines” it’s probably a dark colored sweet wine comes to mind. However, there is a huge diversity in types and colors of the sherry wines. Dry Sherry types are Fino, Manzanilla, Palo Cortado, Amontillado and Oloroso. Natural sweet wines are Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel (made with soleo method, drying grapes under the sun), finally the liquor wines are Pale Cream, Medium and Cream.
One Night in Sevilla
Sevilla is an amazing city which deserves a visit for its own, but we had only an evening to spend there. The breathtaking atmosphere in the city is remarkable at night. Its unique architecture is enough to capture attention from the narrowest street to the biggest square.
A short walk in the city center made me feel that I am passing through the doors to history. Seville Cathedral is all lit at night, and it’s so big that we could see a part of it from every street we passed.
Although it was a Monday night, all the people were outside until late at night, hanging around, enjoying wines and drinks at bars with friends. After a night in Sevilla, it showed us how to be a lively historical city that doesn’t sleep at night. Beautiful combination.
Soils of Jerez
The type of the soil in Jerez is what gives the specialty to the wines. The main types of the soils are “Albarizas, Barros y Arenas”. Albariza is a white soil, (alba means white) formed from sedimentation of marine diatoms, very chalky and highly porous that helps to retain moisture. Barros is mainly clay and arenas are sand. Speaking of the climate of the region, it has very dry and warm summers with remarkably high temperatures, while the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean helps to maintain the humidity and moderate the temperatures.
The region is divided into small production zones, called pago which have more homogenous soil and microclimate. There are up to three hundred different pagos within the Jerez region, classified according to their location and other factors as type of the soil, altitude etc.
In the vineyards of the region, there is a method that is used often to maximize the use of the In the vineyards of the region, there is a method that is used often to maximize the use of the rainfall that is called aserpiado. They create continuous barriers in the vineyard to capture the rainfall, like small lakes.
Photos taken in Viña la Canariera, of Bodegas Tio Pepe.
Bodegas Tio Pepe, Gonzales & Byass
Firstly, we visited one of the production sites of Gonzales & Byass, where they keep their barrels. This was one of the biggest cellars that I’ve seen with a lot of barrels stacked on top of each other. Forklifts are used to manage these long stacks of barrels.
After that, we went to the facility of Tio Pepe, where they have their traditional wineries. First point we arrive at is the Real Bodega de la Concha, which was designed by Gustavo Eiffel in 1869, in honor of the visit of Queen Isabella II of Spain in 1862. Currently, there are two hundred fourteen oak barrels filled with Amontillado La Concha and on the barrels there are the flags of each hundred fifteen countries to which Gonzales & Byass exports wine.
To take a ride around the vineyards and cellars, we took a cute little red train to take. That was very fun.
We visited a cellar called La Bodega Los Reyes, where they keep barrels which were signed by the members of royal families who visited the winery.
We also visited the other cellars that they have in the facility and we ended up in the tasting room.
We finished this visit in their shop, and this lovely street under vines covered all the way.
Bodegas Luis Perez
There are three authorized varieties to produce Sherry wines, Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, all of them are white varieties. As we visited the vineyards of Bodegas Luis Perez, we saw the vines of these varieties. The grapes were already harvested.
Bodegas Luis Perez is situated in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz, and they mostly produce red wines.
They have a very interesting 100% Petit Verdot, and two blends, one Merlot based and the other Syrah based. Moreover, they have a wine called Garum Submarino made with the local red variety Tintilla de Rota. Tintilla de Rota was historically produced in the Jerez region, but it was almost extinct. Thanks to this project, they were able to save this grape variety and find its personality and best impression, in where it actually belongs, in albariza soil. What makes it even more special is the aging method. After bottling they put it in amphorae and age it under the sea twelve meters deep with 14 degrees Celsius temperature, during twelve months. It was an amazing wine with this interesting story which translated into intense aromas and showed the characteristic acidity of the Tintilla.
Brandy de Jerez
The very next day, we went to The Consejo Regulador of Jerez Brandy, to know more about the production of Brandy, and we started our morning with a Brandy tasting.
Our tasting started with different spirits that were not aged, first a spirit made from beet molasses, second a distilled wine containing 90 % alcohol and third a “holanda” of wine which contains less than 70% alcohol. This tasting was informative to understand the production of brandy. Brandy is produced by distillation of wine produced from Airén and Palomino grapes. Three liters of wine after distillation gives one liter of ‘spirit of wine’ and it’s aged in American oak barrels which were used for Sherry wine aging at least for three years. Depending on the type of Sherry wine (Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado, Pedro Ximénez etc.) that was aged in the barrel previously, the brandy will differentiate from each other. The aging period varies depending on the category: For Brandy de Jerez Solera minimum six months, for Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva minimum a year and for Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva minimum three years of aging is required.
Difference between Fino and Manzanilla
Before going to our last destination, Sanlucar de Barrameda, let’s talk about the difference between Fino and Manzanilla. They are both produced with the same method that I’ve explained previously, but the difference is Fino is produced in Jerez and Manzanilla is produced in Sanlucar de Barrameda. The rumour is that only the people who are from these towns or very trained sommeliers on the topic can distinguish them upon a blind tasting. They are the only ones able to catch the touch of saltiness on the palate while tasting Manzanilla, thanks to its closeness to the sea.
It’s the place to feel the air of Manzanilla; the Poniente, a warm and dry wind that comes towards you with all its warmth, when you are staring at the breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea. We are visiting the cellars of Bodegas Barbadillo, situated in the heart of Sanlucar de Barrameda, which started to produce Manzanilla in 1821.
A final important remark in this winery, that you can see a very typical winery design, it creates the special winery microclimate that makes it possible to obtain a perfect atmosphere for the aging.
As in the case of the previous cellars, this cellar also has high ceilings, almost like a Cathedral, this eases the circulation of air inside. The air enters from the windows which face to Poniente.
A visit to Jerez and smelling the air of Andalucía simply makes you feel the soul of the wines made in this land. Jerez wines are very special to represent the region as a whole, its soil, climate, history, architecture and traditions.
All images © 2017 by Wines of Nesli. All rights reserved.