Sherry is a type of wine that originates in the Spanish city of Jerez and its surrounding regions. Although it’s been made in other winemaking regions of the world, sherry has always been most prominently crafted in Jerez, to the extent that wines classified specifically as “sherry” must originate from Jerez under Spanish law. Any variance is specifically noted, and the resulting wine may be called, for instance, “California sherry.” The unique properties of traditional sherry are in part the result of characteristics of the soil and grapes of the Jerez district.
Geography of the Jerez Designated Origin (DO) Area
The city of Jerez is located in the southwestern corner of Spain, along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Towns in the legally designated sherry-producing area include El Puerto de Santa Maria, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Trebujena, Puerto Real and several others, all within the Cadiz province of Spain.
Three cities in the Jerez DO are further classified as the Crianza area–Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. Only wines from these three specific cities may receive the Jerez designation.
Soil of the Jerez Region
Soil is one of the key aspects of viticulture and winemaking. In the Jerez region, the vines that produce sherry grapes wouldn’t grow quite as successfully in another location.
The Jerez hill marked regions suitable for vine-growing are locally referred to as albarizas. Known for holding and maintaining rainwater, albarizas allow vines to grow excellently even during the frequently dry, hot summers often experienced in Spain. Other soil regions are sometimes used for growing Jerez wine grapes, such as the barros and arenas (clays and sands, respectively), though not as commonly as the albarizas.
Winemaking Grapes of the Jerez Region
Under Spanish law regulating sherry production, only three grape varietals can legally be used to make sherry. These are as follows:
• Moscatel, a grape used to make one of the sweet, “vino dulce natural” types of sherry wine. This grape is also used in a number of other wines.
• Palomino Fino, the grape varietal used to make nearly all non-Moscatel types of sherry, whether sweet or dry.
• Pedro Ximenez, used in the production of the sweet sherry wine that bears its name.
Both Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes are often dried in the sun before they are used in the process of fermenting, aging and finally storing and drinking sherry.