For centuries, sherry was Britain’s favourite wine.
Its evolution is closely linked with the history of the Jerez region of Spain, and our love for it developed despite wars and religious differences.
After a decline in sherry sales in the UK at the end of the last century, the rise of tapas bars has helped put it back in our glasses.
It has made a huge come-back in the past 10 years and there is a rising demand for high-quality Jerez sherries.
The history of Jerez
So many cultures have influenced the area – from the Phoenicians who brought their vines and winemaking traditions, the Greeks who sweetened wine with a syrup of unfermented grape juice, the Romans who sent the area’s wines throughout the empire, to the Moors who allowed winemaking in Jerez to trade with non-Muslim countries.
Under the Spanish, Cádiz became the starting point for voyages exploring the New World.
Then, came an important trading decision – to develop trade with England, which had lost access to wines from Bordeaux because of war with France. The first sherry – also known as ‘sack’ – was imported into England in 1340 and the trade grew and grew.
However, relationships became strained because of Henry VIII’s divorce and many English merchants fled Cádiz because of the Spanish Inquisition.
Despite impending war between the countries, Sir Francis Drake’s capture of the harbour in Cádiz in 1587, and the 2,900 barrels of sherry he took back to England with him, only increased the British taste for the wine.
How sherry became fortified
In the centuries that followed, winemakers experimented with fortifying the familiar ‘sack’.
They planted Pedro Ximinéz, Palomino, and Muscatel grapes which became the staple of modern sherries.
Problems selling wines to customers in England and the Netherlands during the War of Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars meant some merchants allowed their wines to age in oak barrels.
A more concentrated flavour began to develop and that proved so popular that the winemakers added their new wine to some stocks of the slightly oxidised version.
This blending also allowed merchants to maintain the consistency of their wines.
They also started adding brandy to their wines to fortify them and experimented with must from the Pedro Ximinéz grapes to make the wines sweeter.
How sherry’s name was protected
Today, there is a modern sherry denominación in the sherry triangle between the towns of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Jerez de la Frontera
A denominación designates the geographical area of origin for a quality food or drink product in Spain.
Sherry can only come from the Jerez area in the same way champagne can only come from one region in France.
Today sherries from Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria carry the denominación Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and aging of Manzanilla can only take place in Sanlúcar de Barrameda carrying the denominación Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barramdea. Brandies and Vinegars carry similar marques
Ingredients must also pass a quality mark and must come from that geographical area.
Never tried sherry? Why not try these three as a start of your journey :
- Elite Oloroso from Bodegas Dios Baco – a smoky, mahogany-coloured sherry which is smoky, smooth, and rich, try this with light desserts. http://siong5.sg-host.com/product/elite-oloroso/
- Classic Amontillado from Fernando de Castilla – perfect with cheese, meat, or poultry. This aromatic sherry has a nutty flavour. http://siong5.sg-host.com/product/amontillado-classic/
- Antique Fino from Fernando de Castilla – an elegant, intense, and fresh sherry. You’ll taste hazel, oak, olives, and a touch of salt. An exceptional wine which is always perfect with olives, fish, and shellfish. http://siong5.sg-host.com/product/fino-antique/