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 🙂

Where

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.

Varietals

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 – Fino, 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!