In the far South of Spain, you’ll find the region of Andalusia. And somewhere in the Oxford University Museum, you may be able to find an old map that was drawn up showing Andalusia as the land of Sherry!
I had the great pleasure of visiting a Sherry Bodega in Jerez de la Frontera, Tio Pepe.
If you have visited Spain or are a fan of the Sherry drink then you will know this name. Or the winery conglomerate who now is the surname of Tio Pepe, Gonzalas Bypass. Now, I entered into a whole new of wine that I have never touched before – so this was very exciting for me!
The tour took us through the entire property and it was fascinating.
During the aging process in the wine is exposed to air during the entire aging process – which is totally backward from what I have learned during my education in pursuit of higher knowledge of wine. So seeing how the yeast has formed on the top of wine during the fermentation process.
I learned about the Solera styled sherry, a totally fascinating process. This particular style of wine I learned about but I only knew of it in Port. I didn’t know that it was applied in Sherry as well.
Sherry has a unique and rather complex system of maturation using a large number of casks and fractional blending. This system is called solera and it is used in the production of all types of sherry, dry or sweet. It is also commonly used for other wines, Spanish brandy, sherry vinegar, Madeira and Port wines and occasionally other drinks like whiskey or beer. While the base idea is always fractional blending, we’ll now focus on how it is applied in sherry.
I borrowed this from SherryNotes to ensure I got the exact explination correct and not a loosely translated version.
“A saca (bottling of the old wine) and rocío (replenishing the casks) will usually take place several times a year, but the actual number may vary and specific figures are rarely disclosed. In Jerez, a Fino solera will be refreshed two to four times a year. In Sanlúcar de Barrameda, due to the higher activity of the flor, a Manzanilla solera can easily have six or more sacas a year. In general, no more than one-third of a barrel will be transferred, but normally between 10 and 20% of the 500-600 liter capacity of the butts will be taken out and refreshed. A bit less in Manzanilla soleras.
This process used to be manual labor, filling a jarra or jar with a hose and pouring it into a cask on the next level. Nowadays this is automated by using what is called the octopus, a pump with several arms that allows a strict amount of wine being taken out of several barrels at the same time. Mind that wine from a certain scale is generally blended in a tank before being pumped to the next level, resulting in a more consistent character. Some producers like Bodegas Tradición are still working in the old way, without automation.
A wine bottled from a solera that was started ten years ago will have wine that is ten years old blended with wine that is nine, eight, seven… up to the wine of the latest harvest. By law, sherry must reach an average age of two years before it can be sold, but in reality, most are much older than that. When bottled, the age of all sherries must be assessed by a group of tasters from the Consejo Regulador, the governing body of the Jerez D.O., who will reject any wine if it deems to be too immature. They are also the ones who grant the VOS and VORS labels by assessing the flavor profile.”
Walking through these old rooms with casks that are twice as old as I am, if not more! You could smell the moisture in the air, you could see the light layers of moss or cellar mold, the air was cold – and the bright golden color from the sand (the same sand that is used in the bullrings).
My every sense was stimulated during my tour. It was absolutely amazing, the history of the family, the process, the science, everything!
The tasting of sherry hadn’t even started yet and my whole world had already been rocked.
Now it was time for the sweet, or not so sweet nectar of Sherry. I didn’t know what to expect when I got started with my tasting, so I tried to stay open-minded. Though, I must say – I was not a fan of the first sherry I tasted. The Palomino Fino, this style of sherry is one of the original styles of sherry that Tio Pepe created. On the nose, the closest thing I could compare this sherry to is diesel fuel.
The second Sherry was Oloroso, a little sweeter on the tongue from the Palomino but still very potent on the nose.
Third is Croft – This wonderful taste of Sherry was one that I didn’t expect. With the lighter sherry, I started with I didn’t think that the “white” sherries was going to be one I liked, much to my surprise this was one of my favorites! I left with 2 bottles! It wasn’t too sweet or too strong, on the nose was semi-sweet with light notes of pear.
Last was the Solera styled Sherry. Perfecto! We left with 3 bottles of Solera! It was like the fullest red wine I have ever tasted.
I have bearly scratched the surface of my knowledge sherry but I am excited to be in a region where I can learn so much more about this fascinating style of wine.
Alaskan Wino Signing Out…