A brief look at sherry
By Dionysus Translated by Ann Lee
Photos provided by Consejo Regulador of the
Denomination of Origin "Jerez-Xeres Sherry
When most people think about Spanish food and drink, they think of tapas, paella and sangria. Often overlooked is the sweet offering in a small, tulip-shaped glass that is sherry. With an ancient history, plenty of character and just a little brandy, this Spanish wine is now taking Asia by storm.
Sherry has its roots in Phoenician wine-making techniques that are over 3,000 years old. Though the production of this particular wine spans the last 2,000 years, its beginnings, history and present revolve around the area near Jerez, Spain. Much like the fact that true champagne only comes from the northeastern region of France with the same name, only bottles created in Jerez can be called sherry.
The process for making this fortified wine, like any wine, is a complicated and delicate work of art. After the grapes are harvested and pressed, the juice is left to ferment. Because sherry is fortified with brandy, the winemakers' own taste buds play an important role in the final product. A post-fermentation test gives the winemaker an idea of the sherry's potential, and he or she decides what the future of the each cask will be.
Warm, round oak barrels stacked in neat rows are a usual sight at vineyards that produce the drink. Some barrels have sat for three years, some for hundreds. Sherry is made with a "solera" technique, in which the product of many barrels--which include wine from different age groups--is systematically blended together over several years.
Perhaps the most distinguished characteristic of the wine is that its flavor varies from quite dry to the very sweet sherry, made from Pedro Ximenez grapes. The color also varies from light gold to dark amber to deep brown. Because it is fortified with pure, distilled liquor, it has a higher alcohol content than the usual bottled wines (refer to the chart on the right, or check out website http://www.sherry.tw for more information about sherry wines.)