The sherry is “The world’s most neglected wine treasure” – Jancis Robinson, wine writer. Although still regarded by many as old-fashioned and suitable only for cooking or as a Christmas gift for an ageing aunt, the delights of sherry from Jerez - Andalucia have recently been trumpeted by a number of respected wine experts.
The sherry is “The world’s most neglected wine treasure” – Jancis Robinson, wine writer.
Although still regarded by many as old-fashioned and suitable only for cooking or as a Christmas gift for an ageing aunt, the delights of sherry have recently been trumpeted by a number of respected wine experts. Not that Andalucians need to be reminded. On its home ground sherry is the white wine of choice, but beyond Spanish borders it has tended to be categorised alongside cheap imitations from a variety of different producers such as Cyprus or South Africa, and the range, quality, and versatility of Spanish sherries has been generally underappreciated. The fact is that this is a world class fortified wine with a dozen or more different types that can satisfy the most discerning need for aperitif, table wine, or postprandial treat.
It seems that wine – Sherry has been produced in the Jerez area area since the Phoenicians brought vines there around 1100 BC according to Strabon, a Greek geographer, writing some thousand years later. Production and consumption of wine managed to survive the Arab occupation even though in 966 the Caliph Alhaken II decreed that the vines of Jerez should be uprooted in compliance with the Koran’s condemnation of alcohol. It was cleverly, if somewhat mendaciously, argued by the local people that the vines produced only raisins and sultanas to feed the Caliph’s holy warriors and thus about two thirds of the vineyards were saved.
The popularity of the wine with the British and their later involvement in its production began in the reign of Henry I (1100 – 1135) when English wool was traded with the Jerezians for their wine. It was at this time that the name “sherry” was applied by the English, the term owing more to the Arab name “Sherish” for the city of its origin rather than the Spanish derivative.
Up until the 15th Century the newly-fermented wine was boiled to increase the level of alcohol; this enabled the wine to be shipped without spoiling although it did mean that water had to be added before it was fit for consumption. However, the wide-ranging voyages of Spanish explorers revealed the need for a better means of stabilising the wine, and so by fortifying it with brandy the wine we now know as sherry was born.
In the British Isles demand for sherry rocketed in the early 17th Century and to ensure continuity of supply an attack on Cadiz was led in 1625 by Lord Wimbledon. It failed. Maintaining supply through more conventional means was achieved through investment in the Jerez area by a number of English, Irish, and Scots many of whose names still appear on sherry bottle labels.
Spain produces around 20 million gallons of sherry per year. By law it must be produced in the province of Cadiz in Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, or Puerto de Santa Maria. There are 14 discrete types which ranging from driest to sweetest are:
- Pale Cream
- Fino Amontillado
- Manzanilla Pasada
- Palo Cortado
- Dry Oloroso
- Old Oloroso
- Pedro Ximenez
- Old Pedro Ximenez
- Amontillado Medium
- Oloroso Abocado
The many literary references to sherry include mentions by Shakespeare in plays such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, and “Richard III”, and the short story by Edgar Allan Poe entitled “The Cask of Amontillado”. But the quote that most tellingly reveals the love affair with sherry long enjoyed by the English comes from the discoverer of Penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming: “If Penicillin can cure those that are ill, Spanish sherry can bring the dead back to life”.