Sherry Production Part 2

Date April 14, 2009

cont’d from Sherry Production Part 1.

Let’s move right in to the classification of Sherry and fortification.

Once the juice has fermented, tasters come in to classify the Sherry as either Fino or Oloroso. If one or two lots cannot be determined they are marked mosto sobretablas which means undecided. These wines are left to age more until they reach their potential and then they are reevaluated.

Evaluation includes: color of the juice, clarity (being free of sediment), aroma and flavor with the palest, clearest, most aromatic and least bitter valued the highest. These wines go into the Fino Sherry category and consist of Manzanillas, Finos and Amontillados. They are fortified to somewhere between 15-15.5% alcohol in a half and half mix of grape spirits and Sherry juice.

Everything else goes into the Oloroso Sherry category. These are fortified to 18% by way of adding pure grape spirit. This will effectively kill off any spoilage bacteria. Oloroso Sherry includes Olorosos and Rayas.

If you would like more information about the Fino and Oloroso styles and what each are like read the post, Jerez My Sherry Wine.

Once the Sherry is classified it is barrel-aged in one of two forms depending on the style of Sherry, Fino or Oloroso.

Fino Sherry goes through biological aging. What happens is a white blanket of yeast forms on top of the wine and metabolizes most of the acids and ethanol while leaving a semi-permeable film that acts as an oxidation controller letting in oxygen very slowly while preserving the wine from spoilage. Finos are the least acidic styles of Sherry and have the most aldehydic (nutty) flavors of any wine.

The naturally forming film of yeast that develops is called the flor. However, in order for the flor to remain healthy and properly metabolize acids and alcohols, specific environmental factors need to be applied and adhered to such as:

  • the wines having enough acidity to maintain the health of the yeasts,
  • maintaining a certain level of humidity with enough air flow within the winery,
  • having properly aged barrels,
  • making sure ample acids are present to feed the yeast,
  • removing all residual sugar,
  • and not permitting the alcohol level to exceed 16%.

Oloroso Sherry goes through physiochemical aging. The flor is not present for this style of aging; rather the wine is allowed direct contact with oxygen while in the barrel. What this means is that it oxidizes rapidly and thus spends less time aging. The wines do not spoil due to their high alcohol content and they achieve a rich dark color with a fuller body than Fino Sherry. Also as some of the wine evaporates from being exposed, Oloroso Sherry concentrates and can reach alcohol levels of up to 24%, especially the Rayas which lose about 15% of their volume from aging in the sun for one to two years. Rayas become intensely flavorful due to their concentration.

Now, if you haven’t been able to wrap your head around Sherry production up to this point then the dynamic aging process of the solera is really going to confuse you. But that’s why I’m here, to help you learn about wine, right? So let’s learn about wine and the solera it is aged in.

The Sherry Solera

The solera is a blending system of sorts. It’s an arrangement of casks (remember, we call these butts) stacked one on top of the other in a system of tiers called scales. A solera may be comprised of some four to fourteen scales or criaderas (nurseries) and each criadera contains anywhere from one to 100 butts. So that’s a mass of butts.

Each criadera contains Sherry from a different vintage. The bottommost criadera contains the oldest vintage and is called the solera proper. Come bottling time a percentage of the solera proper is removed for bottling and that portion is replaced with an equal amount of wine from the next tier up, which as I said would be a younger vintage. This process continues up the scales of the solera to the uppermost criadera where the current vintage, the añada, is added. This process is called fractional blending.

Why go through all of this? The short answer is to maintain the consistency of a particular house’s style of Sherry from year to year. As the younger vintages make their way down the solera they assume the characters, flavors and aromas of the older vintages.

Once the wine has aged sufficiently it must be finished. This includes added a sweetening agent and/or adding color.

Let’s look at the sweetening agents.

  • Vino dulce: is made from sun dried Palomino grapes exclusively.
  • Dulce apagado: can be either unfermented must that has grape spirits added or grape spirits are added to halt fermentation and preserve sugar levels.
  • Dulce almibar: is pure sugar added directly to the must. It’s a 50/50 glucose/fructose mixture.
  • Concentrated must: also called rectified must is juice whose sugar levels have been concentrated to 33%. This causes the juice to darken so it goes through a process of decoloring by adding a deactivated charcoal.

Sweeteners are added to Fino Sherry to produce medium-styled pale cream Sherries. When added to Olorosos it makes cream, brown and pajarete style Sherries.

To achieve proper color vino de color is added to the wine. This is a Moscatel wine must that has been boiled to a third of its volume to get a darkened color.

After finishing the Sherry to its proper style it is then clarified of particulate matter, filtered further and cold stabilized. You can learn what these terms mean in my post on White Wine Production.

That’s it. Now you should run out to your local wine shop and pick up your favorite bottle of Sherry so that you can further appreciate the painstaking effort that goes into making this fortified wine. From Sherry production we move into Port production. Learn about wine, keep reading.

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Related posts:

  1. Sherry Production Part 1
  2. Jerez My Sherry Wine?
  3. Learn About White Wine Production: Part III
  4. Marsala Wine: Capitalism’s Bastard Child
  5. Learn About Sparkling Wine Production Part II
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