Sherry is a group of Spanish wines produced mainly in the Gaditanian (Cadiz Province) cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María y Sanlúcar de Barrameda, but also includes Chiclana de la Frontera, Chipiona, Puerto Real, Rota, Trebujena, and Lebrija (the latter is actually in Seville province). This area is known as the ‘Marco de Jerez’
Cádiz has a history stretching back at least 3,000 years, as has wine production in the Jerez area. Cádiz was founded by the Phoenicians and archaeologists and historians agree that they also brought the skills to grow grapes and produce wine. Wine from the area has been distributed and sold all over the Mediterranean and reached cities of influence, such as Rome.
Under the Arabs from 711, and despite prohibition of the production of alcohol, Jerez continued to be an important wine producer. The wine being used principally for medicinal purposes.
During the re-conquest of Spain in the 12th and 13th centuries Jerez wines enjoyed a notable resurgence. Jerez became part of a frontier and acquired it’s ‘Christian’ name, ‘Xerez de la Frontera’ under the Nasrid dynasty of Granada. The wines known as ‘Sherish’ (sherries), after the Arab name of the city, were then sold to and in England and many other European and Mediterranean countries.
New markets appeared with the discovery and opening up of America. This led to the transformation of small businesses into large companies. This was followed by major investments by entrepreneurs and businessmen who saw enormous potential. Production was wrested from the strict control of a few groups, up-dated and improved. The quest for better quality led to the hugely important system of aging wines in racked oak barrels – ‘criaderas y solera’.
The 19th century was also important for the wine industry of Cádiz province. Various businessmen, mainly Basques and others from Northern Spain saw the industry’s potential and travelled to Cádiz to invest in what they realised was a high quality, gourmet product in great demand.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Jerez, in common with wine producers all over Europe, was hit by the phylloxera epidemic. This insect, inadvertently brought from America, destroyed vines and devastated the wine making industry for years. Fortunately, the recovery in Jerez was relatively rapid compared to the rest of Europe. Later years brought progress, growth and wealth to Jerez. The greatest obstacle to arise was the appearance of inferior Jerez substitutes. This led to the creation of the regulatory body of the ‘Denominación de Origen Jerez’ to protect the name and quality of Jerez wines.
Making Jerez wines
Jerez wines are produced using the ‘criaderas y solera’ system. The traditional image of a Jerez ‘bodega’ is of long rows of oak barrels, stacked in three or four layers. The system consists of mixing wines of differing vintages. The wines ready for bottling and consumption are taken from the bottom level on the floor of the cellar, the ‘solera’. This is replaced with younger wines from the level above. In a similar manner these wines are replaced with even younger vintages from the another, higher, level or ‘criadera’. This decanting brings an interesting interchange with the wines that have been maturing in the oak barrels at different levels. The young wines pass on vigour to the older vintages, which already carry special tones acquired over years of maturing.
Denominación de Origen “Jerez-Xérèz-Sherry”
Wines produced in Jerez using traditional methods approved by the regulatory body enjoy the legal protection of the brand name or trademark ‘Denominaciones de Origen “Jerez-Xérèz-Sherry” y Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda”’. This regulatory body is the oldest in Spain and consists of equal numbers of wine makers and wine growers, ensuring that important details and matters are understood by all.
The council of the regulatory body has three main functions: quality control and ensuring that the wines produced in the member bodegas meet it’s strict requirements; the protection of the trademark against inferior imitations; the promoting of the product and the trademark, including explaining the history and superior quality of the product.
Wines from Jerez
The wide range of Jerez wines are traditionally classified according to their alcohol content and dryness or sweetness and cater for all palates. From the driest to the sweetest, Jerez wines are suitable for any occasion and the perfect accompaniment for any dish.