If you’re searching for a sherry which is of exceptional quality, look out for VOS or VORS written on the bottles.
These designations are given to the best quality sherries which have undergone a robust assessment to ensure they are of the highest standard.
What do VOS and VORS mean?
VOS – This is a Latin acronym which stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum. The unofficial English translation is Very Old Sherry! The literal translation is Known As The Best Wine.
To get this label a sherry must be at least 20 years old, on average.
VORS – Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum. The unofficial English translation is Very Old Rare Sherry! The literal translation is Rare Signed Best Wine.
This sherry must be 30 years or older, on average.
These designations are given for specific bottlings, rather than for the whole output of a sherry maker.
It is a mark of fine quality as less than 1% of all the sherry produced receive them.
Why is the age worked out as an average?
The reason is that hundreds of wines pass through the solera system in a two-decade period.
The solera system is one of rows of barrels for ageing where wine is drawn and mixed together over several years before bottling.
Working out the exact age of a sherry can be tricky. The equation needs to include the solera’s starting date, the starting age of the wines, how often the soleras are ‘refreshed’ (when wine is transferred between barrels), the number of rows of barrels it passes through, the amount, and the volume of all the wine bottled.
Some of the solera systems were begin hundreds of years ago, before there were accurate records.
How is the average age decided?
The regulator, the Consejo Regulador, has chosen a strict process which must be followed to obtain the VOS and VORS designations:
- Testing in the laboratory – Various tests are carried out including examining the amount of dry extract, dust, ashes, the amount of volatile acidity, and the ester level – the number of volatile compounds which create a fruity smell in wines. Carbon-14 dating can also be used, but nuclear events and rising CO2 levels can make this method unreliable.
- The total amount of wine in the solera – Any sherry-making bodega, or winery, must have 20 or 30 times the stock it is currently selling. Older wines are generally bottles once a year to ensure the average age doesn’t fall between bottlings.
- Tasting – A special tasting committee makes an assessment. This is done by one person from the Consejo and five external experts such as retired employees of bodegas and academics. The current wine is tasted alongside a reference sample from the last tasting.