The solera system originated in Spain as a way for sherry producers to maintain consistency in their bottlings regardless of yearly variances in weather or harvests. Whereas blending is sometimes looked down upon in much of the wine and spirits world as a technique used to mask imperfections, when the solera system comes into play—and certainly in sherry production—blending is elevated to a complex art form.
In the solera system, wines (or spirits, beers and vinegars) of varying ages are stored in barrels and fractions of the contents of the oldest barrels are combined with pulls from newer barrels to create the house blend. In the case of sherry, the oldest barrel of wine—called the solera—can be 50 years old or more. There are typically a multitude of maturity levels to be found within a solera system, and as wine is removed from the oldest barrel, it is replaced with wine from the second-oldest barrel, and so on. It is, essentially, a trickle-down method of maintaining style and quality, as well as a way to imbue younger wines with depth and character and older wines with freshness and fruit.
Want a taste of what this process can do beyond the traditional sherry, port and Madeira? Here are a few examples to try: