Spain | Andalucía
The Andalucía region of southwestern Spain is home to the world famous fine wines of Sherry, which takes its name from the town of Jerez and also the dessert style wines of Montilla-Moriles (DO).
These ancient lands have been planted to vineyards for nearly 3,000 years. But this part of Iberia was long under the control of the Moors and Islam and winemaking was discouraged, if not outright forbidden, here from 711 to 1492.
For many visitors to the region Andalucía can appear to be more moonscape rather than landscape; hot and arid, rugged and hard. But remarkably Andalucía’s mountains carry other possibilities. With abrupt shifts in elevation, fascinating dessert wines have been produced within areas such as Montilla-Moriles and Málaga and with temperatures easily surpassing 100°F in the summer, this is an area ideal for the production of fortified and dessert style wines.
Andalucía’s most famous wine area, Jerez (Sherry), receives more rainfall than most other parts of southern Spain. That rain is captured by the special limestone-rich soils of the area, called ‘albariza’, that bake in the summer sun into a hard crust, trapping cool moisture for the vines’ needs.
Understanding Sherry and its complexities is a bit of a minefield and can leave many bewildered by the various styles and types. But it is quite simple: Sherry is fortified wine. However, it’s fortified after the fermentation, so unlike Port, all Sherry begins its life as a dry wine.
Sherry is initially classified as one of two wines: Fino or Olosoro. A Fino is intended to be a light, crisp, delicate wine even at its usual alcohol level of 15% or more. The great Finos are aged in barrel underneath a yeast film called ‘flor’ (or ‘flower’) which protects the wine from oxygen, adding flavours and aromas as well.
Great Finos have the tangy aroma of the ‘flor’ with its distinct almond character and aromas similar to mushroom and sometimes cheese rind. The Finos aged in the bodegas of the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda take on even more of the aromas of the ocean and are given the distinct name of ‘Manzanilla’.
Finos that eventually lose their ‘flor’ will be topped up, fortified to a higher level of alcohol (around 18 percent), and allowed to age into something called amontillado. Amontillado’s contain echoes of the character of the Fino from which they grew, but pecans, honey, caramel, toffee, nuts, dried fruits, and many other aromas and flavours begin to take over.
The other great category of Sherry is Oloroso. These are usually made sweet, although a handful of them are left dry. The term Oloroso can be loosely translated into something powerfully aromatic, and the long barrel ageing required for great Oloroso certainly gives it aromas, which might include toffee, walnuts, prunes, cherries, orange rind, spices, chocolate, and myriad other delectable, dessert-like characteristics.
Sherry is also defined by its ‘solera’ process of ageing. Solera is a system of graduated blending whereby a portion of Sherry is drawn from an old barrel, which is subsequently filled from a barrel of younger Sherry. Barrels of younger and younger Sherries cascade downward so that old and new Sherries are gently and systematically blended together.