DPOs Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla Sanlúcar Barrameda
hails from Spain's oldest wine-producing region
The town of Jerez de la Frontera is located within the Cadiz province of Andalucia in the south west corner of Spain. Famous for producing Sherry (and Brandy), the main grape variety grown is Palomino Fino, but Pedro Ximénez - often referred to as PX - is also found in the region, too. Many of Jerez’s bodegas have existed for hundreds of years and the most popular styles coming out of the region are the drier Fino and Manzanilla sherries.
The Land, The grapes, and the vineyards
Sherry comes from an windswept moonscape along Spain's southwestern Andalusian coast. The glistering, often blinding whiteness of the limestone strikes the first-time visitor. Here the verdant vines glisten like emeralds in the glaring summer sun. The vineyards spread in a triangle area, from an inland point north of the town of Jerez de Ia Frontera to the small towns of Puerto de Santa Maria on the Bay of Cadiz and Sanlucar de Barrameda on the Atlantic shore at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. The best vineyards lie in the heart of this triangle, a region designated as Jerez “Superior by Sherry's governing body.
The most widely planted grape is named Palomino; 95 percent of Sherry is made from it. The name Palomino, however, refers not to horses but to Fernán Yanes Palomino, a thirteenth century knight to King Alfonso X. Until recently, the Palomino family was a Sherry producer. Palomino grapes please growers because they are disease resistant and vigorous. But in terms of aroma, flavor, and character, Palomino won't turn any heads. As it happens, that very neutrality is sought after.
The Seven Styles of Sherry
Sherry falls into two broad categories: the fino-type sherries, which are light, dry, and crisp, and the oloroso-type sherries, which are fuller bodied, darker in color, chesnut, and sometimes sweet Under these two banners come seven specific styles. Within these styles, however, Sherries are crafted differently from bodega to bodega. An amontillado from one bodega may be significantly sweeter than the amontillado from another and still another's amontillado may be bone-dry. One What may seem like chaotical winemaking approach is actually a reflection of the near limitless possibilities Sherry offers.
Three soil types are found in this region: albariza is the most prized. It is a stark white chalk (up to 85%), light marl (a crumbly mixture of clays, calcium, magnesium carbonates, and prehistoric sea fossils) found mostly on the hill tops. Albariza is water-absorbent, drying up in summer to make a protective crusty layer on the land itself. The albariza soil reflects sunlight up to the vines, helping to ripen the grapes. Because it can soften easily, it has to be tilled again to give a winter tilth.
The other two soils, Barros and Arenas, contain only 10% chalk. The Barro has a slightly higher composition of clay and produces coarse wine due to the weeds it grows, which is why it is considered an intermediary soil that produces medium quality wines.
Arena soils are sandy and largely weed free, but are favored only for growing sweet-wine vines. The region is hot and dry between May and October, followed by moderate but consistent rainfalls (about 550 mm annually) until early December. The winters are just what the land needs: mild enough to avoid frost but hard enough to allow the vine to rest.
'Jerez' takes its name from 'Xera', as the Greeks called the town somewhere around 400 BC. The region has seen the occupation and subsequent settlements of Phoenicians and Romans who took vine growing to another level. 'De la Frontera' refers to the shifting border during the drive by the Moors through Spain over a period of seven centuries. Interestingly, the Moors continued growing vines and perpetuated the wine-making activity, although they allegedly abstained from its consumption. They made Sheris sack and boiled down the grape-must to make arrope, used this day for sweetening.
The vines of Jerez are grown as single bushes in the Guyot style – one main branch with a shoot for next year’s growth. Nowadays, vines are commonly trained on wires, placed in rows 2 meters apart for easy access to the harvesting machinery. The vines crop heavily and those not trained on wires need props. The yield ranges between 50 and 130 hl/ha, with an average of around 76 hl/ha. The vintage takes place in the first three weeks of September, although sometimes it can continue until early October.