Jerez/Xérès/Sherry: The Wine with Historical Ties to the UK

I know, it’s quite difficult to separate a drink from a Brit, but a fortified white wine from the Tierras Gaditanas in the south west once upon a time used to be a big deal in the UK. The name is still a big deal in Spain, and the history is just as special as the drink itself.

It all starts in the city of Jerez de la Frontera in the province of Cádiz in the far south of Spain of which the wine is named after. Vineyards are prevalent and you’re practically falling over the stuff wherever you turn. The area of land between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria is where the wine can be labelled as Sherry/ Jerez/ Xérès. Manzanilla is also a typical wine produced here, especially in Sanlúcar where it also has protected status Historically it has existed for centuries, and by the 16th century, it was one of the most popular wines in the world. The British discovered it by looting a load of it from Cádiz, and later invested in vineyards and bodegas in the area, hence why some of the companies have English names.

Sherry may come in various colours, from almost clear to a very dark brown/ purple, but are all forms of white wine, somewhere between 15 and 22%. You would typically be served Sherry in small amounts and definitely isn’t something you can just gulp in one go. Some have quite a sharp dryness to it, like a stronger white wine, whereas others that Brits might be a bit more familiar with, are very sweet dessert wines. They are as follows:

Manzanilla: This word means chamomile as well, so just be careful if you order it as you might get a cup of tea instead. While it has a lot less characteristics more typical of a sherry, it’s a very popular choice as a stronger white wine.

Fino: This is the lightest end of the scale, and in my opinion, one of the easiest to drink. I would say it’s the most common sherry around, and all bars in the south would normally have it. Rebujito, is a cocktail made with this or manzanilla, and either gaseosa or Sprite/7-up, and is very typical in summer.

Amontillado: Slightly darker, stronger taste and was a personal favourite of one of my guides. This one was not as good in my opinion, but I’d still drink it, and it has a slight taste of hazelnuts. It is also a little stronger than the Fino and Manzanilla

Oloroso: Notably dark, with a hint of walnut, this is my favourite of the dry sherries. It’s not the easiest to find outside of Cádiz province, but Mercadona sells it.

Palo Cortado: Has the colour more of an Oloroso, a taste that’s similar, but an aroma more like an amontillado.

Medium: this is a fabricated blend of oloroso and Pedro Ximenez and is a dessert wine, where the grapes are sundried. This one has the lowest sugar content of these types of wines.

Pale Cream: Also a mixture of sweet and dry, usually Fino and Pedro Ximenez. Compared to other types on this list, it is a little less common than the others, and is a little sweeter than the Medium.

Cream: I actually had a bottle of this in my fridge at the time of writing, and is the sweetest of the mixed variants and one with a high alcohol content, up to 22%. Very commonly accompanied with sweet dishes, including ice cream

Moscatel: The most common sweet wine found across the whole of Spain, produced in many regions, including Jerez. This one does have different characteristics compared to other Moscatel wine found in other regions, and is not the most stand-out variety. Chipiona (20km from both Cádiz and Jerez) is the town where this is most common.

Pedro Ximenez: The most well-known type in Britain, and the sweetest of all the sherries. It has a strong smell of raisins, and is often used in cooking. While it is famous around the world, the Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez from the Córdoba Province actually has more fame locally. Malaga also produces this kind of wine alongside its Moscatel, and honestly, I didn’t notice a particular difference between any of them. Because of the high sugar content, some people find it too much (I’m not one of them), and would go for one of the blended wines instead.

While there are other varieties or names, these are the most common you will find.

A tour of one of the many bodegas in Jerez is a massive attraction, and since you see most bars packed with wine and the smell wafting through many of the streets there, shows how important it is for the local economy. A typical wine-tasting tour will set you back around 15-35€, and there are various kinds of catas to choose, from tasting the dry wines to the dessert wines, and are sometimes accompanied with the appropriate snack that pairs each one. I highly recommend you research these places and go for a tour, as you really do appreciate the wine more at the end.

Jerez might sound like a really fancy wine that you can only get at Fortnum and Masons, but here in Spain, it does not have that particular status. Most bottles are more than affordable, costing between 5-15€, in Jerez city, a glass can cost as little as 1.50€ in the city centre, but bear in mind the servings are usually smaller than a typical glass of white wine.

So if you are looking for a gastronomic experience, and enjoy your wine, Jerez should be high on your list to try the wine of the same name. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the Guadalquivir estuary is the 2022 gastronomy capital of Spain, so go there, enjoy the wine, and great food that comes with it, and if you’re not mad on wine, a Rebujito is also a fine choice. Salud!!

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