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Posted: Friday, July 03 2009. 12:10

Feature : The Sherry Revival

Sherry has been considered a ladies’ drink in India, with the sweet Harvey’s Bristol Cream being quite popular. This may change with better availability, awareness and the newly opened Hotel Aman in Delhi serving eight types by- the- glass, with the dry Finos leading the pack, says Subhash Arora who has visited the sherry country several times.

‘Sherry is a unique white fortified wine, yet different than the white wine in several ways. It has a history of 3000 years, the culture continuing through our region during the Arabs and Greeks rule, and has been shaped by history. We began to fortify wines in the 18th century to increase the alcoholic strength in order to avoid the wine turning acetic during travels,’ said Ms. Carmen Aumesquet, the Promotions Manager of the Consejo Regulador (Regulatory body) and a Sherry Educator.

Carmen was one of the judges at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles held at Valencia a few weeks ago and was conducting a guided tasting of a variety of Sherries for the select jurists at Hotel Hilton where they were staying. The samples included several exquisite 20-year old Very Old Sherries (VOS) and even 30-year and older Very Old Rare Sherries (VORS) from famous sherry houses like Lustau, Williams & Humbert, Osborne and Victoria Regina.

The diverse style of Sherries with a wider colour spectrum from pale to dark is possible due not only to the selection of grapes which are all white- Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximanez (PX), but the amount of biological and oxidative ageing it goes through. There are only 3 towns in the province of Cadiz in Andalucía, southern Spain- Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda, where sherry can be produced according to EU laws.

Diversity in Sherries

Diversity is undoubtedly one of the identifying characteristics of sherry: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Olorosso, Palo Cortado, Cream (pale, medium and simply cream), Pedro Ximenez (known in its short form-PX) and Moscatel are different types of Sherries that you will often hear about. 

Not only do these Sherries have different, wide spectrum of colours, they also exhibit an extraordinary variety of bouquets, tastes and textures. Contrary to what many people believe in India, they can be extremely dry and pale like Fino and Manzanilla on one end and cloyingly sweet and dark with Moscatel and PX which can be almost black with 400-500 gms sugar/liter-not recommended for diabetes patients.

Generally, the Sherry family is classified in 3 categories: Dry, natural sweet (with PX or Moscatel) and blended style where dry sherry is mixed with sweet sherries like in Cream, Medium, pale Cream and Golden.

The difference in colours depends on the ageing process.

The type of ageing

Starting point of sherries is vinification of grapes-like any other white wine. The wine so produced is dry with 10-12% of alcohol. The climate in the sherry producing regions is such that when this wine is stored in wooden barrels, millions of natural yeast particles start to rest on the surface, gradually covering it up totally with a sheet that prevents oxygen to get through. Known as flor, this covering will not only eat up some of the elements of the base wine, like glycerin but also add some others.

Wines which are subjected exclusively to biological ageing are protected from direct contact with the air by a natural film of yeast that forms upon the surface of the liquid in the barrel. It has initial pale colour and light, ethereal structure, with a series of aromas and particular flavours from the yeast from which the film is formed.

On the other hand, wines subjected to an oxidative ageing process in direct contact with the air get darker progressively, incorporating more complex aromas and tastes which linger on the palate thanks to a structure which becomes gradually more and more intense.

It is the decision of the winemaker known as bodeguero, to fortify the wine with grape brandy to bring the net alcoholic content up to the minimum required level of 15% by volume or to over 17%. This determines whether the film of yeast that is formed on the surface will survive or not. Subsequently he can decide the type of ageing the wine will undergo and the flavour and aromatic characteristics it will attain with time.

Type of fermentation

Another fundamental difference is the way in which the grapes are vinified.

The vast majority of grapes-normally Palomino varietal, which is normally used for the production of sherry, are fermented completely to form dry wines, with practically no residual sugar. This wine, known as the base wine is the origin of all fino and Manzanilla Sherries.

The vinification process when Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grape varieties are used is however different and has it own characteristics. In this case the enologist wants to create a wine containing the maximum amount of sugar possible. They achieve a much higher degree of ripeness than that of the Palomino varietal. They are spread out on mats and kept under the sun for several days till they dry out-the process is known as passito in Italy. The Spanish word "pasa", meaning raisin, is also relevant here.

The fermentation of these dried grapes proceeds very slowly, because of the extremely high concentration of sugars. This fermentation is then detained by the bodeguero by adding brandy in such a way that only a small part of sugar is transformed into alcohol.

Wines obtained in this way are frequently used to fortify dry wines obtained by complete fermentation, producing wines with different degrees of final sweetness. This process is known as blending.

It is, therefore, the type of fermentation: complete or partial, which makes it possible to obtain totally dry wines or extremely sweet ones (sweet natural wines). Blending these two different types of wine will in turn produce wines with different levels of sweetness 

Sherry may be defined simplistically as a typical fortified white wine from south of Spain but it is a special wine that defies the simple definition or description.  Julian Jeffs, the British author of "Sherry" and a well-known authority on Sherry, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during the last edition of Vinoble, the unique bi-annual sherry and sweet wine show in Jerez gave me a lot of brilliant tips about sherry. He says,’ nature has been more than generous with the wine-producers in Jerez, but this generosity comes at a price. Sherry is a very perverse wine, given that until it has finished ageing nobody can say for sure how it is going to develop, and this can be exasperating. There are countless different sherry wines and no two butts ever produce two Sherries which are exactly the same,’

Exasperating or not, Sherries can give you a unique experience, once your palate graduates into appreciating different styles. The Aman Delhi truly gives you an opportunity to do so. So try a Fino as an aperitif or with the tapas. Ask for Kavita Faiella, the cellar master to help you decide which one to choose from the eight sherry-by-the-glass offers.

Subhash Arora 

Comments:

 

Posted By : Ike Gadhok

July 29, 2009 08:38

Dear Subash, Since 2007 I have been reading most of your impressive articles about wine consumption and wine business in India. Best Regards, Ike

Posted By : Subhash Arora

July 13, 2009 12:00

Thanks Yegas. We had some trouble with the server-but try sending the comments next time adn see if it works-let me know if it does not. I will have the comments posted. Cheers

Posted By : Yegas Naidoo

July 13, 2009 10:09

A well documented article that made interesting reading. Pity you did not highlight also the very unique family driven Solera Almacenista Sherries that are sadly still under-rated. Lustau have some great value products of this type. Yegas

   
       

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