Our festive favourites – Manzanilla Sherry

During December, we’re showcasing our favourite festive wines, beers and spirits, to help inspire your preparations for the big day. First up in our line-up is sideboard stalwart Sherry, and in particular – the dry and delicious Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla Sherryas appears in our 12 Wines of Christmas, Essential and Fifteen mixed wine cases.

It’s a classic on the Christmas table, but how much do you know about Sherry? Read on to find out more about how Sherry is made, the different Sherry styles and why the sweet stuff is only half the story.

For the chance to win a Magnum of Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla En Rama Sherry, just share a link to this post on Twitter or Facebook, tagging the person you’d share it with and @boroughwines (so we can see it!).

Sherry – no mere trifle

Unfashionable and unfairly-maligned, Sherry has a bit of an image problem in the UK.  Park your preconceptions though, and you’ll find that the wines from Jerez have a lot to give – more diverse, delicious and often drier than you might expect. 

Unconvinced? Our Website Manager and self-confessed Fino fanatic David Hefford addresses some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Sherry…

Cream Sherry 

To many, the word ‘Sherry’ will conjure up images of boozy puddings and a sticky brown bottle excavated once-yearly from the drinks cabinet on Christmas afternoon. This is because, for a long time, one particular style of Sherry ruled supreme in the UK – an extra sweet version, known as the “cream” style.

Developed specifically for the British palate, Cream Sherry was first introduced in the late 1500s. By the end of the nineteenth century, one particular producer had become synonymous with the style – the eponymous Mr Harvey of Bristol.

Mass-market, sweetened styles still account for more than half of all the wine sold as Sherry in the UK today. No wonder then, that this is the style  entrenched in the mind of the Great British drinker.  It is not what your average Andalusian would recognise as Sherry though; nor does it do justice to the incredible, diverse range of flavours and styles on offer.

How Sherry is made

Sherries are all produced in Andalusia, a region of Spain near to the city of Jerez de la Frontera.

The region’s winemakers began fortifying their wines as a way to prevent spoilage in the hot Andalusian sun – adding a spirit to raise the alcohol of the wine and to act as a preservative. This created the fortified wine we know as Sherry today.

These now stabilised wines were much more likely to survive export, and were therefore shipped far and wide. It was the exportation process that inadvertently led to the development of various aging programmes, creating different types of Sherry.

The wines were most commonly exported in oak barrels and often stored in shippers’ warehouses for periods of time prior to distribution. Some of the wines would remain unsold for many years, slowly maturing and becoming ever more complex.

All of Borough Wines’ Sherries come from the oldest active Sherry shipper in the region, Delgado Zuleta.  It was founded in 1744 by Fransisco Gil de Ledesma y Sotomayor and renamed for José Maria Delgado Zuleta, who married into the family in the 18th century.

The production of sherry

Flor, Fino & Manzanilla

One process for making Sherry is to only fill five-sixths of the barrel with wine, leaving an air space above where a mixture of yeasts can grow. These yeasts are called “flor” and form protective layer on the surface of the wine, preventing oxygen from reacting with it. The liquid remains clear and lemon in colour in this oxygen-free environment.

The flor is highly active and consumes ethanol, any remaining sugars and glycerol from the wine, while churning out flavour components giving Fino its unique profile.

Manzanilla is a specific subcategory of Fino, which has been matured within the city limits of Sanlucar de Barrameda. ‘Manzanilla’ is Spanish for chamomile and it’s not hard to smell why this name was adopted for this floral style. The palate is very light in body and completely dry, the perfect foil for salty almonds and fresh green olives.

The Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla is a classic example. The wine spends between three and four years under the flor, developing many yeasty, bread like flavours alongside the green apple and lemon fruit.  

The Delgado Zuleta Entusiastico meanwhile, is extra special and perfect for Christmas.  The very first certified Organic Manzanilla, the Entusiastico has the classic profile of green apple, lemon peel and yeasty dough notes, with an intriguing  touch of salinity. Dry as a bone and highly refreshing, yet with fruit shining through. A treat!

A layer of flor on Sherry
The all important ‘flor’ layer in Fino Sherry production

Oloroso

It is the wines with the most finesse that undergo the biological process to become a Fino or a Manzanilla. The heavier, courser wines are fortified with more grape spirit in order to kill off the flor layer. These wines then undergo a process of physicochemical aging with the presence of oxygen.

These wines develop a deep mahogany colour and a heady range of aromas and flavours, often with notes of dried fruits, walnut, caramel, and toast. The wine is still dry, but with a perception of richness, which comes from the higher glycerol concentration, rather than sugar.

Amontillado

Amontillado is my particular favourite style. Starting life as a Fino, it is aged under flor (in the absence of oxygen), to develop those characteristic fresh, yeasty flavours.  Instead of being bottled immediately as a Fino however, the flor is left to die away once all the nutrients are exhausted.  After this point the wine develops along the lines of an Oloroso.

The result is a wine which exhibits flavours and aromas of both biological and oxidative aging.  The perfect aperitif for nibbling on a range of umami laden comestibles – think anchovy stuffed olives and that posh chorizo from the deli counter.  

Palo Cortado

Classically, a Palo Cortado is a Fino that is aged in the presence of oxygen like an Oloroso, because the flor dies early on in the wine’s development.

“This sounds like an Amontillado!” I hear you cry. The difference between the two wines is subtle but definite; the base wine for a Palo Cortado is a light delicate wine with finesse, as opposed to the courser heavier styles destined to be Amontillados or Olorosos.  There will be little – if any – influence of biological aging, whereas this is a key component of the Amontillado style.

Sweets for my Sweet

Back in trifle territory – sweet Sherries are made in a different manner all together. Unlike the dry styles – all made from the Palomino grape – these sticky treats are made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez. These two grape varieties are dried in the sun before wine production, concentrating the sugars and flavours.

This is the style of Sherry that British drinkers will be most familiar with. Between them however, they account for less than 5% of all the grapes grown in the Jerez region (however, as long as they have been matured here they may be designated as Sherry).

Both of Delgado Zuleta’s examples of these grapes are rich, unctous, and very sweet. They are delightful when poured over ice cream, and make a wicked match for pecan pie. Some may find them a little on the cloying side, but I have found that a dash of something acidic can lighten them up, and really release the complex flavours (much like adding a dash of water to whisky). Add a slug of Chablis and see if you agree…

For the chance to win a Magnum of Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla en Rama, simply share this article on your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, tag the friend you’d share it with and @BoroughWines (so we can see it!) before 12pm on December 10th.