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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

The World's Finest Wine
Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The Phoenicians introduced winemaking to Spain in 1100BC and Jerez has been the centre of this tradition ever since. In 200 BC the Romans continued the tradition when they invaded Iberia and took control of the peninsula. However it wasn’t until the Moors conquered the region in AD 711, that distillation was introduced. It was this method that led to the birth of brandy and fortified wines.
Jerez and the word “Sherry” are both derived from the town’s original Moorish name, Sherish.  In 1264 Alfonso X of Castile drove out the Moors and took control of Jerez and the region. From this point on Sherry was to become a major asset for the region and exports throughout Europe increased. Towards the end of the 16 Century Sherry was considered in Europe, the “World’s finest wine”. Christopher Columbus took Sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan prepared his voyage of circumnavigation around the world he spent more money on Sherry than on weapons!
However it is fair to say that it was the British that made Sherry become what it is today. Sherry has been a very popular wine in Britain ever since the 16 Century. While the Spanish were preparing their Armada to invade England in 1587, Francis Drake sacked Jerez, which was one of the most important Spanish seaports at the time. After destroying the Spanish fleet he seized 2900 barrels of Sherry that were on shore waiting to be loaded to the Spanish ships. These barrels were the first official or better said, unofficial “import” of Sherry into Britain and helped popularise Sherry throughout the British Isles. Sherry then became a major wine export to the UK and the English saw this and took advantage of it. Many English companies were set up in Jerez and consequently they founded some of the most popular brands that still exist to this very day.
What exactly is Sherry? Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Southern Spain in the region of Andalusia. There are various styles of Sherry. The dry varieties are made mainly from the Palomino Grape, ranging from very “light” versions which are similar to table wine such as “Manzanilla” and “Fino” to darker styles such as “Amontillado” or  “Oloroso” which are left to oxidise as they age in barrels. The sweeter dessert wines are made from Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez grapes and are on occasions blended with Palomino based Sherries.
Now in Europe Sherry has a protected designation of origin status and under Spanish law must come from the famous “Sherry Triangle”. This triangle is marked by the three points; Jerez de la Frontera, San Lucar de Barrameda and and El Puerto de Santa Maria. It was the first Spanish designation of origin to be recognised and in 1933 it was officially names D.O Jerez-Xeres-Sherry.
Once the wine has fermented it is fortified with grape spirit to increase its alcohol content. Wines classified as suitable for aging as Fino and Manzanilla are fortified until they reach a total alcohol content of 15.5 per cent by volume. As they age in barrels, they develop a layer of “flor”—a yeast-like growth that helps protect the wine from excessive oxidation. Those wines that are classified to undergo aging as Oloroso are fortified to reach an alcohol content of at least 17 per cent. They do not develop “flor” and so oxidise slightly as they age, giving them a darker colour. The fortification takes place after fermentation so most Sherries are initially dry. The sweetness is added later. This is different to Port, which is fortified half way through its fermentation so that not all the sugar is turned into alcohol. 
Wines from different years are aged and blended using what is known as a “Solera” system before bottling. Because of this bottles of Sherry will not normally carry a vintage year as wines from different vintages are blended together. What is a true art form is regarded by many a “neglected wine treasure”. 500 litre casks of North American Oak are used to age the wine. They are filled five-sixths full, leaving “the space of two fists” empty at the top so the flora can develop.
The Solera system is a when new wine is put into barrels at the beginning of a series of three to nine barrels. Periodically, a portion of the wine in a barrel is moved into the next barrel down, using tools called the canoa (canoe) and rociador (sprinkler) to move the wine gently and avoid damaging the layer of “flor” in each barrel. At the end of the series only a portion of the final barrel is bottled and sold. Depending on the type of wine, the portion moved may be between five and thirty per cent of each barrel. This process is called "running the scales" because each barrel in the series is called a scale. So the number of barrels in the series determines the age of the youngest wine going into the bottle, and every bottle also contains some much older wine. Sherry is aged in the Solera for a minimum of 3 years. 
Once bottled, Sherry does not benefit from further aging and may be consumed immediately, though the Sherries that have been aged through oxidation may be stored for years without losing their flavour. Bottles should be stored upright to minimize the wine's exposed surface area. As with other wines, Sherry should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Fino and Manzanilla are the most fragile types of Sherry and should usually be drunk soon after opening. In Spain, Finos are often sold in half bottles, with any remaining wine being thrown out if it is not drunk the same day it is opened. Amontillados and Olorosos will keep for longer, while sweeter versions such as Pedro Ximenez, and blended cream Sherries, are able to last several weeks or even months after opening, since the sugar content acts as a preservative. 
The birth of Sherry gave light to another product, Vinegar.  Sherry Vinegar has been around since Sherry was first produced in and around Jerez. In the Sherry cellars, wines that had undergone acetic fermentation and turned to vinegar used to be considered failures, however since the 1950s winemakers started to view Sherry vinegar as a product in its own right and now even encourage it. They also began to carefully age their vinegars in the same way as their wines and Brandies.
Barrels containing vinegar are always quickly removed from the wine cellar; this is to prevent future wine also turning to vinegar. Any barrels, which have contained vinegar, cannot usually be used to store wine again due to the risk of acetic fermentation. In the past, the vinegar was given away to staff and family of the owner or sold on the street. Some barrels were stored separately and often forgotten about. These vinegars, many over 50 years old, are now being re-discovered and have proved to be a real discovery.
Sherry vinegar was originally "discovered" by French chefs. In 2008 France was the largest market for sherry vinegar.
Vinaigrette made from Sherry vinegar is particularly flavourful compared to vinaigrette made from standard wine vinegar and suits many types of food.
In Jerez de la Frontera a traditional dish is "Riñones al Jerez": lambs kidneys with a sauce made from Sherry wine and Sherry vinegar.
The best Sherry vinegars have a deep, complex flavour and enhance the flavours in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles and dressings.
Sherry Vinegar is also ideal for making the perfect Gazpacho or Salmorejo. The production and quality of Sherry vinegar is monitored and controlled by the “Consejo Regulador” the regulating board and Sherry vinegar has its own designation of origin, which is protected by Spanish and EU law. The only other vinegars with similar protected designation of origin are "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" from Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy and "Condado de Huelva" in Spain.



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