Last month I had the opportunity to mark off another goal on my wine-driven “bucket list” with a trip to southern Spain. I have always been bewildered by the near perfect performance by Mother Nature that creates sherry. So, walking into Osborne Bodega in Jerez, Spain, was everything I had imagined, including the cobwebs and dark corridors.
Jerez is considered the heart and soul of Spain’s historic sherry region. Xeris was the Arabic name for the city of Jerez, but as the English struggled with pronunciation, it simply became sherry. Today, the names sherry and Jerez are synonymous with the wines from the region.
Sherry is made from palomino fino, a hearty grape grown in more than 95 percent of the region’s vineyards. Unlike most grapes, palomino finos are usually not made into table wine because of their neutral taste and low acidity. It is these traits, though, that make it perfect for the magical transformation into sherry.
It’s a clever performance by Mother Nature, perfecting the humidity from the Atlantic Ocean and encouraging yeast known as flor to grow on the surface of the new wines. Below the flor, only fino sherries mature, resulting in a pale, fresh, dry wine with a slight yeasty taste. Others will be selected to mature into olorosos, which are at least 2 percent higher in alcohol, which inhibits the growth of the flor fungus and leaves the wine to mature solely by oxidation.
The wines are then fed into the famous solera system. This blending and maturation system is how the unvarying taste of sherry is the same year after year. Picture long rows of wine casks stacked one on top of the other. When the cellar master is ready to bottle, one-third is removed from the lowest cask, then from the cask above he will draw out the same quantity to replace what was drawn from the cask below. This process continues until he reaches the top row of cask and a new wine will be added to start the progression over.
Even with the unique winemaking technique needed to make sherry, its long history and extensive range of flavors and styles, it still has not been given the recognition it deserves. Considering the effort and cost that go into producing sherry, it’s generally a good price, with even the best selling for $20 to $65 per bottle.
Explore this historic wine yourself.
- NV Osborne Fino Sherry, Spain (about $15 retail)
- NV Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Spain (about $27 retail)