Sherry Production Part 1

Date April 5, 2009

Sherry Production will be our first discussion in our series learn about fortified wines.

I’ve already covered the different styles of Sherry, so if you would like more information on that you can read my post entitled Jerez My Sherry Wine.

Solera for Sherry Wine Sherry wine is a fortified wine that was brought to the port of Cádiz in the southwestern corner of Andalusia, Spain by the Phoenicians. The date is said to have been around 1100 BC, or there about. Because of its popularity vineyards were soon planted in a nearby triangle parcel of land called the Jerez region. It’s a dry chalky area whose albariza soil is reminiscent of the moon’s terrain. Sherry was the first European wine drunk in America and is produced with either a dry or sweet finish. The triangular region is rather large touching the points of three major cities: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María.

To refresh you, the grapes used in Sherry production are:

  • Palomino: provides the base of the grape juice to be converted
  • Pedro Ximénez: or PX, is used as the sweetening agent
  • Moscatel: or Muscat d’Alexandria provides the sherries color

Moving right into the production process of sherry we’re going to jump into Crush and Fermentation.

Back in the day Palomino grapes were crushed manually in a small trough by use of nail-studded shoes called zapatos de pisar. These spiked shoes would skewer the grapes to the point where they formed a flat press and would eventually press the juice out of the grapes.

However when the screw press came along and replaced manual crushing it actually did more damage than good by roughly handling the grapes. The end result was a terribly astringent and cloudy juice that was unfit for use.

Eventually the bladder press provided the gentle touch wine makers were seeking for their Sherry production. The bladder gently presses the grapes to extract the juice without crushing them. So you got a clean tasting, premium product that still managed to keep the manual laborers out of work.

Once this process is complete the must may have to go through acidification to give the raw Sherry juice some kick. If you don’t know what acidification is, I talk about it more thoroughly in my post Learn About White Wine Production. After the must is acidified it is given time to settle out any particulate matter. Then the must undergoes wild yeast fermentation for three days. These wild yeasts form naturally on the grapes in the vineyard and are left in contact during harvest. This is followed by Malo-lactic fermentation.

Stainless steel tanks are the typical fermentation vessels, however; some Sherry is fermented in wooden casks called butts, which have a 130-gallon capacity. Once a butt has achieved some aging it is used in the solera for further aging. Usually must that is put into the butts is not quality enough to make the grade for Fino Sherry and gets kicked down to Oloroso Sherry use instead. An explanation of these types of Sherry can be found in my post Jerez My Sherry Wine.

The advent of mechanized presses allows wine makers easier filtering of quality juice for Finos as opposed to the former process of stomping the grapes which permitted free run juice to blend with pressed juice. Barrels were simply filled and set aside to be classified at a later date. Now it is common knowledge (and if you didn’t know this already here’s a little extra to help you learn about wine) in the wine industry that free run juice is higher quality than pressed juice. This goes for Sherry production too.

We’ll continue with Sherry production in the next post when we’ll talk about classification and the actual fortifying of the Sherry.

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Related posts:

  1. Jerez My Sherry Wine?
  2. Learn About Sparkling Wine Production
  3. Learn About White Wine Production
  4. Learn About Sparkling Wine Production Part II
  5. Learn About Fortified Wines
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