My wine course is winding up and we are studying Sherry this week- not my favorite.  I wrote a post about the differences in biological versus oxidative maturation and then I tasted one of each, the notes are below.

Sherry is matured and basically ‘blended’ in a cascading system that uses large oak barrels known as Butts to supply steadily older wines to the bottom rung of the cascade, known as the Solera.  In the Solera System, at least three levels and up to 14 can be used to introduce fresh wine that is being held at the ready in a Sobretabla.  Once the winemaker has drained off some of the ready-to-blend-and-bottle wines from the Solera, he taps off wine from the next level up, called the 1st Criadera to refill what he removed.  The same process happens to this Criadera when the 2nd level Criadera is used to refill it, etc.  The winemaker will never empty a Criadera or the Solera, only taking enough to keep the process going, replenishing the 600 gallon Butts up to about 500 gallons maximum, allowing for extra contact with oxygen which is vital for this aging process.

There are many styles of Sherry, ranging from dry to sweet, made in different manners- oxidatively, biologically or a combination of the two.

Oxidative aging uses the ample volume of air in the partially filled Butts to allow the wine to contact oxygen.  Potentially this can happen over long periods of time as it passes through the various levels of the Solera System.  If it is made from the Palomino grape the resultant wine will show as brown in color and be full bodied with tertiary aromas and flavors of toffee, leather, spice and walnut.  Other styles include Pedro Jimenez (PX), which uses raisined, sweet grapes for the base wine, resulting in a much sweeter product.  Cream Sherry is a blend of Oloroso and the sweet PX.

Biologically aged wines start off at a lower initial alcohol fortification that allows a yeast cap called Flor to develop on the top of the wine which does several things.  Flor prevents oxygen from reaching the wine and adds certain flavors like citrus, almonds and herbs while showing a pale lemon in the glass.  Not made for extended aging, they are served chilled with tapas and should be drunk soon.

Combining some biological aging with oxidative aging gives you Amontillado, which is the first sherry I poured.  I was taken aback by what appeared to be quite a dark and aged wine that had bright flavors of Christmas pudding with brandy butter. Raisins, cooked cherries, walnuts and bitter almond. The palate was not at all what I expected- thin, very little depth of flavor but a touch of acid.  Green un-ripe almonds, bitter citrus and yeast are what I ended up with on the palate. The finish was a touch better with some refreshing bitter lemon notes. This is not my style by any stretch, but I am here to expand my palate, even if I don’t like something!

Mil Pesetas Fino Sherry, Spain 15%ABV. Biologically aged

  • Appearance- Medium lemon, watery legs
  • Nose- medium(+) intensity nose of lemon, blossom, biscuit, bread and cheese. Youthful.
  • Palate- Dry, medium acidity, low alcohol, medium (-) body, medium (+) flavor intensity of lemon peel, bread, bread dough and blossom. Medium (+) finish.
  • Conclusion- Good quality wine to drink now: not suitable for aging or further aging.

Mil Pesetas Oloroso Sherry, Spain 19.5% ABV. Oxidatively aged

  • Appearance- Pale amber with thin legs.
  • Nose- Medium (-) intensity nose of walnut, caramel, toffee, coffee (?) and cooked lemon (?).  Fully developed.
  • Palate- Dry, low acidity, high alcohol, medium (+) body, medium intensity flavors of toffee, caramel, walnut and cooked lemon.  Medium (+) finish.
  • Quality level- very good quality wine that can be drunk now; not suitable for aging or further aging.