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The production and consumption of wine has played an important role in society since ancient times. The first instances of vine cultivation date back to 6000-5000 BC. Yet, it is not until the emergence of the Ancient Egypt and the subsequent Greek and Roman empires that wine truly acquired the status and importance it has today. Egyptian hieroglyphs show how feasts and religious acts revolved around wine, not to mention the fact that many pharaohs were buried surrounded by vessels full of wine so that they could enjoy it in their next lives. Then it came the Greeks and the Romans who even worshiped a god devoted to this fermented juice, namely Dionysos and Bacchus, respectively.
These empires were responsible for great technological developments in vine-growing and wine preservation as well as for the expansion of the wine culture throughout the mediterranean Europe. Interestingly enough, they really enjoyed experimenting with a variety of ingredients such as honey, perfumes, myrrh, thyme and even sea water, so the type of wine that was consumed at that time quite differed from the one nowadays. Such was the value given to this drink that even Roman soldiers were encouraged to drink between 2 and 3 litres of wine per day as it was believed this would give them strength. In fact, it was frequently used as a remedy for a variety of diseases including kidney stones, cholera or phlegm. However, as one might expect, alcoholism was also quite a thing at that time and it is known that big names such as Socrates, Sofocles or Alexander the Great had serious drinking problems.
Later on, with the irruption of Christianism, viticulture and viniculture passed under the control of monasteries, abbeys and castles. These, who first introduced wooden barrels for the preservation of wines, were in charge of supplying churches with this drink for the masses. Thus, it is not surprising that France, Spain and Italy, with a high concentration of religious enclaves, are the most important producers of wine since the Middle Ages. Since then, cutting-edge techniques and more than 3,000 varieties have been developed and refined. Of these, we want to focus this time on Jerez-Xérès-Sherry wines, as it is one of the oldest varieties in the world which is gaining wide recognition in recent times.
The towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in Andalusia, Spain, form what is known as the Sherry Triangle. This small region in the southwest part of the Iberian Peninsula is the only one devoted to the production of the D.O.P Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, the official name given its status of protected designation of origin. The secret of its quality seems to be a combination of four key factors: the geographical location, privileged climate and rich soil of its vineyards as well as the unique aging system of these wineries. Right in the mouth of Guadalquivir river, the production of Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez grapes is greatly influenced by the west winds from the Atlantic ocean, frequent showers and high temperatures.
Once the sherry has been fermented, the base wine is fortified with a grape spirit aimed at increasing its alcohol level. Then, it is aged following a singular process known as solera. Solera consists of mixing the youngest wines, preserved in the top casks of the cellars, with the oldest ones, found in the bottom casks of the same pile. The result is a very versatile, high-quality fortified wine which perfectly pairs with a wide range of flavours, dishes and, of course, tapas.
Within the sherry family, we can find 5 main styles of different levels of dryness: fino, manzanilla, oloroso, amontillado or palo cortado; as well as two sweet styles: Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, especially popular as a dessert. As a matter of fact, it is known that Christopher Columbus brought sherry wines to the Americas and Ferdinand Magallanes was more worried about having enough supplies of sherry wine than of weapons as he prepared his voyage around the world.
At this point, sherry wine has probably piqued your interest but you might not know where to begin with. If you are a total beginner in the sherry world and you feel totally useless at choosing a good wine, then you must keep reading.
How to find a good sherry wine
It is frequently believed that only true wine connoisseurs are able to identify a good wine. However, as it is usually said, there is no accounting for taste and anybody is able to discern the good from the bad. Indeed, there is no scientific method that makes us able to measure the quality of a wine but there are some tricks that can help us find a good bottle of wine without being an expert.
Here are some tips. 1) Use mobile phone apps that can guide you on the intimidating task of picking the perfect bottle of wine for every occasion, whether it is for a special meal or as a gift. 2) Cheap does not mean poor quality. Read the label and check whether the description given meets your taste. If still in doubt, check online reviews. 3) Avoid last-call deals. That’s a bad symptom. 4) Let yourself be advised. Ask for recommendation from trusted friends or relatives which you know are into the wine world. They will be delighted to be asked and pass on their personal favourites. 5) Keep record of those wines you like. You will soon realise which styles you like the most.
Even so you can always save time and rely on wine critics. For this reason, if you are short of time and do not want to fail on your choice but wish to get initiated on the sherry world, you can just pick one of the references listed below.
10 – La Bota de Fino Amontillado nº85 – Equipo Navazos
Making use of one of the oldest fino soleras from Bodega Los Amigos de Pérez Barquero, Equipo Navazos has accomplished one of the most appreciated bottles of this in-between variety known as fino-amontillado. Indeed, it gathers the very best from both worlds, resulting in an balanced acidity and high finesse, which has granted it with a 96+ in the Parker list.
9 – Pedro Ximénez Reliquia – Bodegas Barbadillo
As its very name indicates, this relic is at the reach of a very few as it is sold at the extraordinary price of 930€ each bottle. This very old and rare sherry is a very limited series with an estimate age of 150 years. If you have yet not abandoned the idea of trying this jewel and you can afford it, then you are a very lucky person.
8 – Amontillado Tradición Vors 30 Years Sherry N.V. – Bodegas Tradición
Cured meats and cheeses, snacks and desserts are said to be the perfect pairings for this amontillado according to wine lovers and experts. With “only” 22 years of existence, Bodegas Tradición have been able to place themselves as one of the best producers of sherry wines in the world.
7 – La Bota 61 de Amontillado N.V. – Equipo Navazos
This top-quality amontillado is the result of years of work and experimentation of Equipo Navazos in the vine-growing and wine-making fields. Indeed, the prestigious Parker guide has granted it with 96/100 points making it one of the best wines in the world. The incredible long finish is probably its most remarkable trait.
6 – Palo Cortado Tradición VORS 30 Years Sherry N.V. – Bodegas Tradición
Although expensive, this palo deserves a spot on your wish-list. With more than 30 years, Palo Cortado Tradición VORS 30 Years Sherry is delicate on the nose while powerful on the palate. It is best paired with mild cheeses such as Cheddar or Gruyere, nuts and seafood.
5 – Este Pedro Ximénez N.V. – Bodegas Ximénez-Spínola
Regarded by many as the best Pedro Ximénez in the world, this superb enological jewel is always found in the top positions of wine rankings. Although wine critics recommend to enjoy it on its own, it has also proven to be the perfect pairing for dark chocolate, foie gras and blue cheeses.
4 – Sibarita Oloroso VORS – Bodega Pedro Domecq
This fragrant and powerful wine has attracted great interest among wine lovers and there is a good reason for it. They make use of solera casks which date back to 1792. Truly, one of a kind. As its name suggests it is the favourite of true hedonists or sybarites.
3 – Palo Cortado “Torre del Oro” – Waitrose & Lustau
For as little as £11.99 the bottle it is not surprising that Waitrose Palo Cortado “Torre del Oro” was the winner of “IWC Great Value Champion Fortified 2019” award. Waitrose partnered with bodega Lustau to produce this superb sherry of nutty and yeasty notes.
2 – Harveys Oloroso Medium VORS – Bodegas Fundador
According to the International Wine & Spirit Competition, Harveys Very Old Oloroso Blend Medium VORS produced by Bodegas Fundador is the best sherry wine of 2019. It is highly recognised for its character but well-balanced flavour which leaves no one indifferent.
1 – Tío Pepe Cuatro Palmas Amontillado – González-Byass
Tío Pepe Cuatro Palmas has been awarded with the “Champions of Champions Trophy 2019” recognising it as not only the best sherry but also the best wine in the world. The jury of the prestigious International Wine Challenge agreed that this 53 year-old-wine helds a perfect balance of dryness, acidity and robustness. Its producers, González-Byass, pride themselves of being the first ones to elevate a sherry to the highest world ranking of winemaking.
For more information of any of the above mentioned wines, do not hesitate to check the official webpages of its wineries. There you will find detailed informstion of these sherries, how they are produced as well as recommendations on how are they best preserved, consumed and paired.
The benefits of wine
These are just ten of the many reasons to dive into the wine and, most particularly, sherry world. In this respect, it is also interesting to note the many benefits of regular, yet moderate, consumption of wine as reported by the community of health experts and researchers. Before moving on, let’s first clarify what is understood as moderate, responsible drinking of alcoholic beverages. According to different health agencies, the consumption of wine should be limited to a maximum of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Of course, this only applies to healthy adults and anyone suffering from liver and kidney diseases, drug dependency issues, taking medication or recovering from accidents or illnesses, is strongly discouraged from taking up or continuing alcohol drinking.
This being said, research suggests that this millenary beverage may be a good ally when it comes to protecting against certain cancers, strengthening heart health, boosting the immune system, improving mental health and living longer. Indeed, wine is full of antioxidants which have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of suffering diseases such as Alzheimer, Parkinson or prostate, colon and breast cancers. Also associated with the high concentration of different antioxidants is the prevention against high blood pressure and high cholesterol. What is more, some emerging evidence indicates that wine may help in promoting healthy gut bacteria, which in turn contributes to better digestions and weight control. Along with these, recent studies suggest that an occasional cup of wine can reduce the chances of suffering from dementia or depression. Interestingly enough, these positive effects of this millenary beverage are mostly attributed to red wine.
Last but not least, we should also be aware of the potential risks of wine abuse. Excessive drinking can turn the above mentioned benefits into the opposite effects. Needless to say, this is not a general rule to everybody and some people should not drink alcohol at all. It is highly important that any changes in your diet are be carefully supervised and approved by a doctor.
If you liked this article, please do not forget to share it and leave some comments below. This author will be more than glad to read your contributions and recommendations as far as wine and sherry wines are concerned. This is a great opportunity to expand our knowledge of viniculture and gain some new insights of this fascinating beverage.