While I am sure that most everybody has heard of Jerez/Xeres/Sherry, I doubt everyone knows what it exactly is. I don’t blame you if you have never had it. It’s a fancy and complicated drink that probably costs an arm and a leg outside of Spain.
Simply put, its an alcoholic drink made from grapes -not exactly wine- that is often confused for brandy, port, or cognac. It’s not those things, it is Jerez/ Xeres/Sherry
Why does it have three names?
Jerez is what it is called in Spain (because it’s all made in the city of Jerez de la Frontera).
Xeres and Sherry are what French and English speakers have chosen to call it, because Jerez is difficult(to them) to pronounce.
To make things easier on myself, I’ll just call it Jerez from here on out.
What is it?
Jerez is basically just fortified wine, but what does that mean?
Fortified wine is wine that has had alcohol added to it to preserve it.
People have been making wine since ancient times, but fortified wine came about much later during medieval times. This technology was invented by the Moors, and brought to Spain during the reconquista. The Moors invented the still for scientific purposes, but when the Spanish got a hold of the technology they used to to make alcohol for drinking. People started figuring out that if you add (more) alcohol to wine, you can preserve it for longer. Wine that didn’t spoil as quickly was good for shipping, and taking with you when you went off to discover new lands.
For explorers, jerez was as important as guns. Columbus spent as much money on jerez as he did on cannons and gunpowder.
The extra alcohol added gives it a slightly higher ABV usually 15%-22%.
Why not just call it “Fortified Wine?”
Yes, Jerez is just a fancy name for fortified wine, but it has official “designation of origin” status.
This means that anything that is going to be labeled “Jerez”, must actually come from Jerez.
It’s the exact same story with champagne. Champagne is just sparking wine, but it can only be called champagne when it comes from the region in France known as “Champagne.”
If a wine producer wanted to make a wine and call it Jerez, but they didn’t produce their product in Jerez, they would be breaking the law.
What is it made from?
All jerez is made from white grapes, but the two most common breeds are Palomino, which are used for the driest wines, and Pedro Ximenez, which are used for the sweetest wines. These grapes can also be mixed to get a semi dry wine.
Are there different types?
There are something like 9 different kinds of jerez depending on the sweetness, grapes used, etc. The most common (as far as we can tell by what’s available in our grocery stores) are as follows (from driest to sweetest)…
- Manzanilla – Driest. The wine is still white at this stage, and tastes more or less like a normal white wine.
- Fino – Super dry. Very similar to Manzanilla but less golden in hue and is more almond-y and sharp.
- Amontialldo – Less Dry. The wine has a light red hue to it, and is starting to taste like what you think of as sherry/jerez.
- Olorosso – Stronger flavor, medium dry. It has the strongest “grape” flavor of the dry wines, and also has the highest alcohol content (17-22%).
- Palo Cortado – an accident. This is when they’re trying to make something else (fino) and too much air gets to it. It’s a bastard of palomino grapes but more sweetness.
- Cream – Semi Sweet. This is a mix of Palomino (used in the tree wines above) and the Pedro Ximenez grapes. It is super sweet, but not as sweet as…
- Pedro Ximenez – Pure sweetness. It’s thick and syrupy. While you could just sip on it after dinner, it would also be great as a topping for vanilla ice cream. It tastes almost like how a freshly opened box of raisins smells.
Here’s a cheat sheet we made. The white grapes are for Palmonio while the orange-r colored grapes represent the Pedro Ximenez grapes.
They really all do have distinctive flavors and colors. We would know, we’ve tasted all of them and bought over a gallon of the stuff. Here is cream on the left (the darker liquid), and Amontillado on the right.
How is it Made?
It sure is complicated. But here is the basic gist.
The first few steps are different depending on which wine you are making. The Palomino (used for the dry wines) are pressed immediately after harvesting. Traditionally this would involve a bunch of country folk mashing the grapes with their bare feet, but I’m sure it’s all done by machine now.
For the sweet wines, the grapes are first laid out in the sun to dry, basically until they are raisins. This makes the juice sweeter.
The first pressing gets the best juice, which is used to make fino and amontialldo. The second press is used for oloroso, the third press is used to make things like vinegar and brandy.
The pressed juice is filtered and moved into barrels to begin fermenting. Once fermentation has begun, the wine will develop a layer of yeast that seals out the air. Which is how you get that accident Palo Cortado, bubbles of air interrupted the normal process.
When the wine has fermented enough, it is then fortified. This means they add brandy until they hit a specific alcoholic content. For fino, the percent of alcohol added is low enough not to kill off the yeast. For all other varieties, more alcohol is added. Without the yeast to keep the air out, the wine “oxidizes” and turns a nice shade of red.
It is then aged for a minimum of 3 years, but some distillers insist on 5 years. Some premium Jerez is even aged for 12 to 30 years. When it’s taken out of the barrel it stops developing flavor, so don’t pay any attention to the date it was bottled.
Then there is the “solero” system, where wine is removed from the oldest barrels, and replaced with wine from the younger barrels. They do this to ensure that the taste of the wine remains consistent.
Here is an example of the solero system. You can kind of see how the wine is distributed with the arrows.
Cocktails made with Sherry!
I know reading can be hard, but you made it! You’re rewarded with cocktails.
The Spanish Spritz
- 1 part Ginger Syrup
- 2 parts Amontialldo or Olorosso
- 2 parts Sparking Wine
- Lime (optional)
Serve it on ice! We made this with ginger ale, amontillado, and some lime juice. A similar drink that is super common around certain festivals is Rebujito.
- some sherry (like fino or manzanilla or whatever)
- a neutral lemon lime soda (like sprite or whatever).
The Gold Rush
- 3 Parts Fino or Amontillado
- 1 Part Pineapple Juice
- 1 Part Peach or Apricot Liquor
- Honey syrup (we just used actual honey)
- Some lime juice
- A lime wedge and a cinnamon stick for garnish.
Jerez was the conquistador drink of choice, and everything else is tropical. We drank this while we watched the Road to El Dorado, which i thought made sense. And if you’re looking for a good time I suggest movie/drinks themed to movies.
The Buccaneers Breakfast
- Cream (the Jerez kind)
- Cream (the milk kind)
- Brown Sugar
Basically spike a creamy coffee with Jerez and add some brown sugar.
El Maestro – “The Teacher”
- 1 Part Anejo Rum
- 1 Part Cream Jerez
- 2 Parts Ginger Ale
- Add Some Lime Juice
Its basically a Cuban Mule, but with Jerez.
Now, let’s say you find yourself with a bottle of Jerez, and literally nothing else to drink.
Don’t worry, it goes great solo on ice.
Don’t even have ice?
Just sip it neat!