On being happy and Sherry

You know what time it is. Wine Wednesday! It’s also one week, minus one day from my WSET 3 exam and although I’m more prepared than I was last week, I am nowhere at the knowledge level I should be at this point. I won’t be at the top of the class, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I am the weakest in my small class, which was likely the case in WSET 2 as well. It’s not about being better than others, it’s about being better than I was yesterday. There will always be someone who knows more, retains information faster, or has more time to commit than me. All that matters is I get through this with flying colours, not just straddle between passing and failing.

When I get discouraged, I have to remind myself this. I’ve used fitness analogies before because it’s another passion of mine. It’s like running the last leg of a race. I’m speeding up now to get to the finish line. Tenacity is imperative to reach your goals in whatever you do in life. I’m not the fittest or the strongest person I know, but I am fit and in the best shape of my life¬†and I’m happy with that.

workout shirt

I love this shirt! You can get this and more cute gear from Herro Hachi. Click on the image to get to their site, but make sure you come back here.

Though, when I pass the WSET 3 exam, I won’t be merely happy, I’ll be ecstatic! Keep going and good things happen.

While doing the mock exam, the short answers portion got the best of me. I basically bombed them. I need to go through each chapter and summarize where, what varieties, how to make it, and styles. My teacher, Dr. Lee, says that most students don’t do well on port, sherry, or sparkling wine. Equipped with that info, these were what we concentrated on yesterday in class and these are my topics in the next couple blog posts.

Let’s start with the fortified wine, Sherry. Warning: Grab a glass of wine and sit back because this post will be longer than my usual and could be quite boring to read as it’s basically me studying. I don’t mind if you leave now, but be sure to give the post a like anyway. At least leave a comment to let me know you’ve been here ūüôā


It’s a fortified wine produced in the south western part of Spain, referred to as the Sherry Triangle as the geographical locations of the towns where Sherry is made form a triangle: Sanlucar de Barrameda on the coast, Jerez de la Frontera located southeast of Sanlucar, and Puerto de Santa Maria which is the furthest south.

The climate is Mediterranean. In Jerez there are three soil types: albariza, barros, and arenas. Albariza is the best with a high chalk content. To maximize water retention in the albariza soil, they dig rectangular pits after harvest, creating undulations between the row of vines. This reduces water run-off. The region is heavily affected by the poniente (cool and humid) and levante (hot and dry) winds.


Main grapes are Palomino, Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Muscat of Alexandria. Palomino is low in acidity and lack varietal aromas, which is desirable for Sherry because its qualities come from ageing and oxidation. Grows best in albariza. PX is sweet and also has little varietal aromas. Muscat makes sweet wines too and grows best in the arenas soil.

How Sherry is Made

There are dry and sweet Sherries. Palomino is used for dry Sherries and the other two are used for sweet Sherries.

Sweet Sherries are made with PX and Muscat grapes that have been raisoned in the sun. The juice of these dried out grapes is so concentrated that yeast has a hard time fermenting the sugars, thereby not converting much to alcohol. The must is fortified to 17% abv.

For dry Sherries, the Palomino grapes are fermented in large stainless steel tanks that range in temperature from 20 to 25 degrees Celcius. Yeast converts sugar into alcohol over a 3 month period and produces wine that is 11 to 12% abv. The lees are then racked and the wine is left in large unsealed tanks for the flor to form. Flor is a layer of different strains of yeast and it needs alcohol not stronger than 15.5% abv, cool to moderate temperatures and humidity to survive. 

When the flor forms, that’s when the winemaker decides whether the fermented juice is appropriate as Fino or Oloroso. If there’s little or no flor, then it’ll become Oloroso and fortified to 17% abv to kill the flor (yeast dies at 16% abv). Finos are fortified to 15% abv.

The next part of the winemaking process is putting the wine in the sobretabla — the first stage of what is called the Solera system. The fortified wines are held in the sobretabla for a few months and at this time, Fino is assessed again to see whether it can continue to be so. If the flor hasn’t developed properly, it can be fortified to 17% and becomes an Oloroso or sent to be created into vinegar.

It must be aged in 600 litre oak barrels called butts, which are well seasoned so there is no oak influence in the flavour of Sherry. Winemakers want air transfer for Sherry so they not only use oak barrels to achieve this, but also only fill them up five-sixths of the way. The barrels are housed in large industrial buildings nowadays that are temperature controlled for the ideal conditions as described above, which are cool to moderate temperatures with humidity.

Sherry must be matured for at least 3 years in the Solera system, which is made up of goups of butts at different levels of the maturation. Each level is called a criadera and there can be three to 14 of these. Wine is moved around from each butt of a criadera into the butts of the next. The final stage is the Solera where the Sherry is drawn from and bottled.

Styles of Sherry

Dry РFino, Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado 

Fino –¬†¬†pale lemon with aromas of almonds, herbs, dough and a tangy or salty flavour. Not intended for ageing.

Oloroso –¬†¬†are deep brown with aromas of toffee, leather, spice and walnut. Can develop savoury characteristics with age and a little sweetness from PX.

Amontillado –¬†¬†will have characteristics of both Finos and Olorosos as it’s been made with mature Fino that has been fortified to 17% (Finos are 15% abv). With age, the Fino characteristics fade and can taste similar to a very old Oloroso. The alcohol, like Oloroso, can reach 22% abv as well with age.

Palo Cortado – rare and some of the finest Sherries. Tastes like an Amantillado (the finesse) and Oloroso (the weight).

Sweet (Dulces Naturales) – PX and Muscat

PX – deep brown, very sweet with dried fruit, coffee, and liquorice aromas.

Muscat – similar to PX, but has a dried citrus peel character.

Blended Sherries (Vinos Generosos de Licor) – Pale Cream, Medium Sherries, Cream Sherries.

Pale Cream – Fino sweetened with Rectified Concentrated Grape Must.

Medium Sherries – Amantillado base blended with PX or Muscat. Sometimes it’s not an Amantillado base, but simply a blend of Oloroso and Fino.

Cream Sherries – Oloroso base with PX or Muscat.

Manzanilla¬†made in Sanlucar de Barrameda which is cooler and more humid. It’s very tangy. The Fino style is called Manzanilla fina; the Amantillado style is Manzanilla pasada.

Age Indicated –¬†only Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX.

VORS – Very Old Rare Sherry (15 years)

VOS – Very Old Sherry (12 years)

Vintage Sherries – called anada, they’re not aged in a solera system. Anada sherries are aged in the original butt.

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh! That was exhausting. Thanks for reading!

Spanish Wine Age Categories

It seems as though when I’m ready to write a post, I’m super sleepy. Here I am on a Saturday night, not yet 11 pm and exhaustion wants to take over. But as they say, there’s no rest for the wicked, so let’s get down to business.

I am currently having a glass of this wine shown below.

wine from Yecla DO in Spain

Very good value wine: $10.49 at the BC Liquor Store. I thought it would be in the $15 range when I tried it blind.

I recalled something about the age being indicated on the label for Spanish wines, but as you can see for yourself, I wasn’t crazy when I didn’t find that on this bottle. Although, based on the current year (2013) and the vintage year shown on the label (2012) we can conclude this is a Joven¬†wine.

Joven wine or young wine has spent very little time in oak, if any even, before it was bottled in the year following the vintage. It’s meant to be consumed right away.

Why would you want to know how long a wine has aged in oak? Because oak affects the structure of the wine. According to the WSET 3 book, oak is “primarily used to add tannins.”¬†Tannins are a contributing factor to how well a wine ages in the bottle, plus tannins are sometimes desired, especially when eating a rib eye. Also, extracted from the oak are aromas such as toast, vanilla, and smokiness. The longer a wine is aged in oak, the stronger its influence.

The other age categories defined by Spanish law are:

Crianza Spanish wine

This wine was aged for at least 24 months and 6 of these months were in small oak barrels.

Crianza – Red wine is aged for at least 2 years and 6 months of this time are spent in small oak barrels. White and roses are aged for at least 1.5 years, and no oak ageing required.

Reserva – Wines from selected vats or vintages. Red wine is aged for 3 years minimum and one of these years must be aged in oak. White and roses are aged at least 1.5 years, of which 6 months are in small oak barrels.

Gran Reserva – You’ll only see this on a label if the vintage was an outstanding year. Red wine has to be aged for at least 5 years and 1.5 of these years in small oak barrels. White and rose wines are aged for at least 4 years, of which 6 months are in small oak barrels.

Ok, now that I’m done writing, I’m no longer sleepy. What’s up with that? Well, the remaining wine in the bottle is calling my name. Cheers!

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Drinking Spanish

What do you know about Spanish wine? Did you know it has over 400 varieties? If you’re like the average wine drinker, then you probably don’t know much. And if you’re not drinking Spanish wine, then you’re missing out on some tasty stuff that packs a big punch at a good price.

As noted in my last post, people buy things they’re familiar with and aside from maybe Grenancha (Grenache) and¬†Cava, many people don’t recognize Spanish wines. Their wines are mainly blends of indigenous Spanish grapes and the results? Rich.

Admittedly, I don’t consume much wine from Spain and as a novice in the wine world, I don’t know where to start. I have to say, Spain doesn’t do a very good job in marketing their wines over here in Canada and that’s too bad. I’m here to tell you though, definitely grab a bottle next time you’re at the liquor store or wine shop.

I had a very tasty Spanish wine last night during my first WSET 3 class with BC Wine School¬†(eeek, I know! My first class!).¬†When the teacher revealed the price of the bottle, I thought, damn, I should be in the Spanish aisle more. I’m all about getting the most bang for my buck.

Rioja Spanish red wine

Delish, this bottle is only $14.99 at the BC Liquor Store.

Here are my notes: earthy, blackberry, and bell peppers with medium intensity on the nose. On the palate, I thought it was dry full body, high acidity, medium plus tannins, medium plus alcohol, spices with a medium plus finish.

Doesn’t it sound tasty? I thought it was going to be at least $20.

Oh, so who are the stars in marketing right now? Australia was for years. You always thought, you could never go wrong with Australian wine and the price was right. Then, step in Argentina and Chile. They¬†have had a good reputation in recent years with providing value. You get quality wine for a lower cost, when say, compared to ones from Canada. Like what happened with Australia, people are realizing it and demand is rising. They’re spending major marketing dollars. In fact, I’m headed to a Wines of Argentina event tonight and apparently, Chile seems to always be here in Vancouver, BC promoting their wines, too.

What do you know about Spanish wines? Have you had a bottle that was pretty delish at a good price? Please share with me in the comments below.