Sherry isnít just the liquid that adds a little extra something to entrees, such as snapper soup. It is also a fortified wine with quite a bit of history.
The white grapes used to create the wine are cultivated near Jerez, Spain, which is why, when referring to the beverage in Spanish, it is often called Vino de Jerez. In fact, the name sherry is actually a derivation of the word Jerez.
In order to truly, and legally, be considered sherry, the wine must originate from what is known as the Sherry Triangle. The Sherry Triangle is an area located in Cadiz, which also falls between El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez de la Frontera, and Sanlucar de Barrameda.
There are several different classifications of sherry found on the market today.
- Fino is the palest and driest of the sherry varieties.
- Oloroso has been aged longer than amontillado or fino, creating a richer, darker wine. These sherries have the highest alcohol content.
- Amontillado is a sherry that has been exposed to oxygen after it has been aged beneath a cover of flor yeast. The result lighter than oloroso, yet darker than fino.
- Manzanilla is a fino variety created near Sanlucar de Barramedaís port.
- Sweet Sherry is a dry variety that has been sweetened with Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez wine. A common variety is cream sherry, which is made from oloroso. Medium sherry and pale cream sherry are also popular versions.
- Palo Cortado is a very rare type of sherry. Itís aging process begins much like amontilladoís, but ends up tasting like a cross between that that oloroso.
Although there were many varieties of grapes used in the past, today only three varieties are used to create sherry.
- Palomino is the most prevailing variety, with 90% of the variety grown specifically for creating sherry. The wine it creates is neutral and bland, which is just what most sherry manufacturers want in order to make the beverage their own during the winemaking process.
- Pedro Ximenez is the grape used to create sweet wines. After being harvested, this type of grape is often left for two days to dry in the sun in order to concentrate the fruitís sugars.
- Moscatel isnít quite as common as Pedro Ximenez, although its uses are similar.
The Palomino grape crop is gathered in the early part of September, and the grapes are lightly pressed in order to remove the must. This is an important step because only a first pressingís must is used during sherry production. Any product extracted from future pressings is usually used to create vinegar or lesser wines.
The must is placed in stainless steel vats where it is left to ferment until the latter part of November. The final product is a dry, white wine that contains an alcohol content ranging between 11 and 12 percent.
When the fermentation process is complete, samples are taken from the wine in order to classify the liquid, thus starting the fortification process. Each cask is marked with a particular symbol to show its potential, or which type of sherry it will be suitable to create. The sherry is then mixed and fortified in a two-stage procedure in order to avoid spoiling or shocking the sherry.
Once the sherry has been fortified, it is stored in a large cask made from North American oak. The aging process is tedious and lengthy and occurs for a minimum of 3 years. After this time, it is bottled and ready for consumption.
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