As you may know, I embarked on my Spanish Wine Scholar accreditation earlier this Spring through the Wine Scholar Guild (you might remember I tackled Albariño in an article not too long ago). SWS students get an entire year to study and pass the exam. I should be golden, right? Wrong. I was smooth sailing through the instructor-led webinars and kept up with the reading and self-study…until I hit the chapter on the styles of sherry.
Sherry is a beast. It has so many components and is a spider web of different winemaking principals. I couldn’t get my head around. So I made a grid! I’m a very visual and linear learner. I needed to create something that made me go ‘ooooooooh – that makes sense’. So that’s what this post is. I’m sharing my process to help clarify the styles of sherry and understand how each one is made.
First, it helps to understand the styles of sherry. There are five types of dry sherry, two types that are naturally sweet and four types of sherry that are sweetened by blending.
Next, let’s recognize that dry sherry (Vinos Generosos) is made only from the palomino grape. The other two allowed grapes (muscatel and pedro ximenez) make naturally sweet wine (Vinos Dulces Naturales) and/or are used later in the process to create sherry blends (Vinos Generosos De Licor).
I’m not going to get too much into explaining the pressing process or how each classification is determined. If you’re an SWS or WSET Diploma student, you know where to look for that kind of information. I’m just here to provide the path!
NEXT UP, BUILDING PERSONALITY
After the first classification (i.e. determining which wines will be Fino versus which are better suited to be Oloroso), they’re fortified to their determinant level and left to develop the first of the character before entering the solera system.
This ‘hurry up and wait’ zone is the sobretabla stage, which can last anywhere from three to twelve months. Afterwards, the wine undergoes a secondary classification to make sure its determined characteristics are on track. If at this stage, it’s not worthy of sherry production, it gets used to make sherry vinegar.
Here’s where I went from “what the ??” to “oooooooooh”. For instance, the only difference between Manzanillo and Fino is where it’s produced and matured.
Amontillado essentially starts out as a biologically aged Fino, but if the flor dies (intentionally or accidentally), its aging continues oxidatively after being refortified.
Palo Cortado one of the more rare styles. It’s classified for biological aging but is removed from under the flor sooner, refortified to 17% and then aged the remainder of its time oxidatively.
And the last of the dry sherries is Oloroso, which is destined for oxidative aging from the beginning due to its greater structure.
If you need a refresher on what a solera is, visit here.
I should mention a sixth sub-type of dry sherry called En Rama. Over the past decade or so, some producers have chosen to produce a more natural – lightly filtered – sherry wine. So if you see a biologically aged sherry with En Rama on the label, know that’s undergone minimal filtration. FYI, you won’t see this on an Oloroso (i.e. oxidatively aged) sherry wine.
AND NOW THIS
This party isn’t over yet.
From here, sherry producers say to themselves “why stop there? let’s give the people what they want – sugar!” It’s true. With the addition of Rectified Concentrated Grape Must (RCGM), both Manzanilla and Fino can become Dry, Pale or Pale Dry as long as the grams per litre stays under 45.
If you need a reference for sugar levels in wine, check out this article I wrote not too long ago.
You’ll notice that if the grams per litre is higher than 45 (up to 115), then it’s a Pale Cream.
Amontillado can also have up to 115 g/L but producers have the choice of creating that sweetness with RCGM or with the addition of muscatel or pedro ximinez. Remember, they were both partially fermented in the beginning to create naturally sweet wines.
And finally Oloroso has the ability to create the sweetest style of blended sherry, cream sherry. Using only the addition of PX, it can have sugar anywhere between 115 and 140 g/L.
So, that’s it. Easy, right?
Don’t worry, I know it’s not simple. But I hope this has helped you in whatever studies you’re pursuing. Please let me know if this has helped you or if you spot any way I can make these grids easier to understand.