In accordance with the regulations of the Denomination of Origin "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" there are three groups or families of Sherry wines: the "Dry Sherry Wines" (Generoso Vinos), the "Naturally Sweet Wines" (Vinos Dulces Naturales) and the "Sweet Sherry Wines" (Generoso de licor vinos).
Dry Sherry wines are produced by complete fermentation and thus have a minimal content of residual sugar from the grape juice. Within this group of dry wines we distinguish four different types depending on whether they were aged in what we call “biological ageing” or “oxidative ageing” or a combination of both.
To select the type of ageing, the wines are fortified with wine-based alcohol to different levels: to 15% if the growth of flor is desired or to 17% in the case of oxidative ageing.
Fino wine is a dry Sherry which owes its characteristics to being aged entirely biologically; that is to say the wine has aged in the interior of the butts always protected by a film of yeast, the “veil of flor” which has prevented it from oxidising. Its colour is a very pale straw yellow and its aromas and flavours are due above all to these yeasts which make up the veil of flor and which are constantly interacting with the wine. The wines are fresh and crisp on the nose with almond notes very characteristic of the yeast with a very dry flavour and low acidity. Their alcohol content is usually about 15%.
Amontillado is a wine which initially follows the same production process as Fino, but after completing its biological ageing it continues to age, this time without the veil of flor and is thus exposed to oxidation which gives it its organoleptic characteristics. Golden to mahogany in colour, gently crisp on the nose with notes of hazelnut, it is more structured and alcoholic than Fino on the palate, dry with notes of spice and wood, and with great persistence. Its strength is usually between 17% and 20%.
Palo Cortado is also a wine aged oxidatively but unlike Oloroso it is made from young wines which were initially classified for their finesse and suitable for the production of Fino or Manzanilla, that is to say for biological ageing, for which they were initially fortified to 15%. Later on in the first stages of the ageing process it is decided to change the destiny of the wine by refortifying it to 17%, thus eliminating the possibility of any further development under a veil of flor. Hence the name Palo Cortado. These wines are similar to Olorosos but with a lighter structure and great elegance but otherwise share most of the same organoleptic characteristics. Their alcoholic strength usually lies between 18% and 20%
Oloroso is at the other extreme of the generoso wines because its ageing is of an exclusively oxidative nature. With the passage of time its colour – originally similar to that of Fino - deepens towards intense amber, and the older it gets, the darker it gets. It offers a great wealth of aromas including nuts, tobacco, spices, even animal notes (leather) and exotic woods. They are powerful wines on the palate with more alcohol and texture thanks to the concentration of dry extract in the wine during ageing. The content of both alcohol and glycerine increase over time giving the wine a smoothness on the palate and a certain unctuousness as well as great length. The alcohol level of Oloroso is usually around 18% - 20%.
Manzanilla is a wine aged biologically in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and protected by a specific Denomination of Origin: “Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda”. From a technical point of view, Manzanilla could be described as identical to Fino in respect of both its production and its organoleptic characteristics. Nevertheless, the particular microclimatic conditions of Sanlúcar and the influence of these on the flor give the wine subtly different characteristics to Fino: a generally lighter structure, floral notes on the nose and an elegant bitterness on the palate at the finish.
These are wines made by stopping the fermentation which prevents most of the natural grape sugar being transformed into alcohol. Not only are the sweetest grape varieties used like the Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, but the process also often includes the concentration of this sugar by the evaporation of some of the water contained in the grape, such that the must can reach 22° Beumé which makes it very difficult for the yeasts to ferment. This practice is known as “asoleo” or sunning the grapes.
After pressing the grapes, the incipient fermentation of the must is stopped by the addition of wine-based alcohol which results in wines with extremely high sugar content; above 220 grams per litre, and on occasion over 400. The alcohol content of these wines consists fundamentally of the wine alcohol added to stop the fermentation and is usually about 15% to 18%.
These wines are nearly always made from single grape varieties and their characteristics are closely connected to the aromas of the selected grape with which they share their name.
Moscatel is a wine made from grapes of the same name in the coastal areas of the Sherry production zone. Reference is often made to “Moscatel de pasas” (pasas are raisins) when the process of asoleo has been carried out, or “Moscatel Oro” or “Dorado” when it has not. The differences are notable with colour going from golden to intense mahogany and very different textures depending on the sugar content (over 220 g/l). However all these wines offer the floral, herbaceous and citric aromas characteristic of the grape, enhanced more or less by oxidative ageing. On the palate they are very sweet but always fresh thanks to an agreeable acidity.
Pedro Ximénez, unlike Moscatel, is always made from sunned grapes, thus producing a concentration of sugars which is never below 250 g/l and often reaches more than 400. The resulting wine is extraordinarily dark, from chestnut to jet black with iodine coloured reflections and almost always completely opaque; it has a texture which makes the wine stick to the glass and gives a smooth velvet sensation to the palate. Its aromas, initially those of honey and dried fruit (raisins, figs, dates…), evolve as it ages towards tertiary notes of extraordinary richness: toasted notes (coffee), liquorice, and develops ever deeper colour and complexity
The third of the groups of Sherry wines is that produced by the “cabeceo” or blending of the wines described above. Logically the possibilities are endless, given the number of wines available and possible variations in proportions. The regulations of the Denomination of Origin simply establish a few very broad limits so it is difficult to give precise descriptions of each one as each bodega has its own criteria when making up their “cabeceos” for their commercial brands.
This group includes Pale Cream, Medium and Cream. In general these are wines connected in some way to the most British tradition in Sherry as the blends have historically in response to the requirements of overseas customers. They even made some themselves in their own country (mainly England) using “pure” wines imported from Jerez. Nowadays, naturally, all the blends are made in the bodegas of the Sherry area once all the component wines have completed their respective ageing.