Located in southwestern Spain, Andalucía has been planted to vineyards for millennia. Historically, this war-torn part of Iberia has been under Moorish and Islamic rule, which at times have forbidden winemaking and anything related to alcohol. Over half the region is planted to Jerez (sherry) varieties of Palomino, Pedro Jimenez and Moscatel, grown on the rugged and limestone-rich desert terrain (the chalky white soil is called albariza), though the mountains offer the opportunity for more variety in winemaking style. Though there are some very good white table wines made here, the region is better known for its dessert-style wines.
Note that sherry can only be produced in one place, the area lying between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and San Lucar de Barrameda in the province of Cádiz, an area that holds more than 10,000 hectares of vineyards.
Like Port, sherry is a “fortified” wine, meaning that extra alcohol is added to bring its alcohol content up to around 16 percent volume.
After the grapes are harvested in early September, they are crushed to make a still white wine that is aged for about two years before being put through the criadera and solera system. In this process, the sherries of different years are blended to ensure that the finished product is of consistent quality.
Few things can beat sherry as a pre-meal aperitif. Ever since Sir Francis Drake ransacked the port of Cádiz in 1587 and made off with 3,000 barrels of sherry, the British have been addicted to the sweet nectar, and have become its main international customers. Interestingly they favour the so called “cream” sherry, to which sugar or grape juice is added as a sweetener, while Spaniards prefer the bone-dry, crystal-clear fino.
TYPES OF SHERRY
Fino: clear and perfectly dry, with an earthy aroma of almonds, fino is served chilled as an appetizer wine, often accompanied by nuts or tapas such as jamón serrano (cured ham). Fino sherry is best drunk shortly after bottling.
Manzanilla: this is the fino sherry made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It is even drier and paler than other finos, and within Spain it outsells other dry sherries.
Oloroso: rich amber coloured sherry, with an aroma of hazelnuts, it is a great appetizer, especially with cured ham. It is also one of the few wines which can stand up to difficult-to-match foods as eggs, artichokes and asparagus.
Amontillados: named after the wine-making town of Montilla (Córdoba), this sherry is often described as being mid-way between a fino and an oloroso, with a mix of the qualities from both.
Palo Cortado: In Jerez, they say this is a wine that you can’t make – it just happens. It starts out as a fino, but the flor yeast fails to develop. A rare treat, it has an aroma reminiscent of an amontillado, while its colour is closer to oloroso.
Pedro Ximenez, or PX: This naturally sweet wine is named after the grape variety, which is widely grown in other Andalusian wine regions. At worst, it can be overly sweet and cloying, but when made with care, it results in an elegant and velvety wine, going great with dessert or on its own.
Cream Sherry: This is a big favourite among drinkers outside Spain, especially in Great Britain, Holland and Germany. It results when you take oloroso sherry and sweeten it, usually by blending with Pedro Ximenez, a naturally sweet wine. It makes an interesting dessert wine, and also a good companion for pâtés.
Brandy de Jerez: Jerez produces 90 percent of the brandy in Spain. It is made by aging wine spirits in casks which have previously been used to age sherry. The spirits are not made from grapes grown in Jerez, but come from other regions, especially Extremadura, La Mancha and neighbouring Huelva. It is sweeter and more caramelised than French brandy, syrupy if of the basic variety, warm and mouth-filling at its best.
*source: adaptation from andalucia.com