The world of Spanish wines

Sherry History (Part. II)

So Sherry from Spain had become very popular in England, however, at this point it was not as strong as the modern day variety as it was not yet a fully fledged fortified wine. The strength of the wine reached a maximum of 16% alcohol content naturally. It was from this point on that wine makers decided to begin experimenting.

Development of Modern Sherry

Wine makers from the region of Cádiz began trying out the different vines available to them, such as Malmset and Torrontes as well as some of the ancestor plants of the grapes used today: Muscatel, Palomino and Pedro Ximénez. By the end of the 16th century, Sherry producers realized that the white chalky soil in the area was the best soil for producing the freshest wine and some discoveries had been made with regards to the odd yet strong effect of the yeast flor. The wines produced came to be known as Fino, or 'fine', as they were delicate and light.

Politics and war again influenced the fate of Sherry. Spain suffered both the War of the Spanish Succession and then the Napoleonic Wars. Following these, sales of Sherry to England and Holland fell as tensions between the nations increased. Port became much more popular amongst the European market. All of this meant that many Sherry producers and merchants had left over stock which they just left to age in oak barrels. As the wines sat in the barrels and began to oxidise, they developed a strong nutty flavour and became a lot more concentrated.

Orders for Sherry would dribble in, and merchants would simply bottle up a small amount from the barrel and then top up the barrel with some newer wine. This process was then developed into the 'fractional blending' system, which would later become the concept behind modern day solera. This wasn't a Spanish invention as it had been used in Rhineland for many years. However, the effect on Sherry was much more dramatic than had ever been seen before. The wine would develop different characteristics at different points, and the new wine would give the mixture new flavours and smells. The process of fractional blending became popular amongst merchants as they could keep their wines tasting consistently over the years.

Fortification Process

While the rest of the world continued to make traditional wines, the winemakers from Jerez and the Sherry triangle began experimenting further. In Jerez, they began to add brandy to the wine, which not only increased the alcohol content, but also killed off the yeast flor and changed the wine into a new style of wine. This came to be known as the oloroso, which means 'pungent'.

In Sanlúcar however, they realised that the cooling sea breezes which kept the wine cellars of the area cold gave their wine a distinct aspect too. The wines here were very light and had a fresh taste, a little bit like apples. Therefore, this wine began to be called manzanilla, or 'little apple'.

Another discovery was that by limiting the number of times the fresh wine was added to the solera, they could produce a wine which was between a fino and an oloroso. This wine was like the wines of Montilla, hence they began to be called amontillado, which means 'in the Montilla style'. Wines made from the Pedro Ximénez grape variety were very sweet and therefore were named 'cream' or 'sweet' Sherry.

Modern Day Sherry

During the 19th century, Sherry fought against La Rioja to be declared the best Spanish wine. From then on, Sherry had a tough time. Other versions of the drink started to be produced in other countries like the USA, France and Australia. Then, the phylloxera plaque hit the country which destroyed the Sherry vineyards in the region.

At the end of the 19th century, Sherry makers began to replant their vineyards and tried to reclaim their place in the world's wine market. In 1935, the Sherry region got its Designation of Origin status and began working hard to trademark the drink - something which was only achieved under the European Union. Sales declined over the course of the 20th century as the drink fell out of fashion. Today, this Spanish wine is only appreciated by connoisseurs and Spanish wine enthusiasts. However, if you ever get the opportunity to try some when you visit Cádiz, or anywhere in Spain, whether to work or to study Spanish, make sure that you do just that, as you will be trying one of the most revolutionary wines to be made in the country's history.

Read more about the early history of Sherry in Spain.

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