Drinks Atlas: Spain's Sherry Triangle - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Drinks Atlas: Spain’s Sherry Triangle

In Spain’s Andalusian region—at the axis between Europe and Africa, and ruled by civilizations from the Phoenicians to the Moors—there’s a pocket of land where the soils and the history produce a wine like none other on earth. A fortified wine made primarily from Palomino grapes, sherry ranges in style from crisp and dry to syrupy sweet. Within its official appellation is the more specific delineation of the Sherry Triangle, extending from Jerez de la Frontera (the city that gives sherry’s Denominación de Origen, D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, its name) northwest about 15 miles to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and then south another 10 miles to El Puerto de Santa Maria. The triangle marks sherry’s aging and production zone, but many of the appellation’s vineyards extend beyond the triangle’s bounds.

A visibly striking characteristic sets the region’s vineyards apart. “Sherry has these amazing chalky soils called albariza soils,” says Mindy Cook, beverage director at Toro Bravo in Portland, Oregon. “The only other place in the world with anything comparable is Champagne.” Most of the region was originally covered by an inland sea, which left behind marine sediments that became chalk. A mixture of chalk with limestone and clay, the stark white soil is visible even in satellite views of the earth. One of albariza’s benefits is its ability to soak up water like a sponge, delivering it to the vines during the hot, dry summers.

Inside the triangle, sherries are aged and blended. Some types of sherry, such as manzanilla and fino, are matured beneath a flor—a layer of wild yeast—while others, such as amontillado and oloroso, only receive partial aging under the flor, or none at all in order to oxidize. The aging and blending occurs within a solera system—rows of tiered barrels that allow the newer wines on top to be fractionally blended as they are gradually moved to the barrels below, creating a consistent wine year after year. “Because of the age of solera systems, a lot of the sherries we see are upwards of 30, 40, 50-plus years old,” says Cook. “There are even soleras that’ve been continuously operating since the 1800s, so you might still get a little taste of that wine. That’s why sherry is so amazing, because there’s nowhere else in the world where you get to taste wines of that age.”

Fast Facts: Historically, sherry production was broken into several stages, from base wine production to aging and bottling, performed by different bodegas (sherry houses). It wasn’t until 1996 that the almacenistas (smaller sherry producers that sold wholesale to larger bodegas) were allowed to bottle and sell sherry under their own name. This gave rise to more small, family labels, many of which have been making sherry for generations.

Under centuries of Moorish rule, Andalusia became a hub for Mediterranean trade and culture and the city of Jerez became known as Seris in Arabic, pronounced Sherish and the origination of the term sherry.

The D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry was one of Spain’s first official wine appellations, awarded in 1933. In 1964, the D.O. Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda, located within the larger region, was also made official to recognize the lighter, coastal-style wines of Sanlúcar. And in 1994, the producers of sherry vinegar successfully lobbied to obtain their own designation as the D.O. Vinagre de Jerez.

5 Bottles To Try: Bodegas César Florido, Cruz del Mar, Fino, Chipiona Founded in 1887, César Florido is the oldest bodega in the coastal town of Chipiona. Aged under flor for three years, the Cruz del Mar fino is bright and soft, with a slight brackish quality contributed by the bodega’s proximity to the ocean. $13.99/375ml, linerandelsen.com

Bodegas La Cigarerra, Manzanilla, Sanlúcar de Barrameda The unique climate of Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the Sherry Triangle’s northwestern point creates a robust flor also influenced heavily by the ocean. The manzanilla from La Cigarerra is aged through eight levels of the solera (the standard for this style is three or four), resulting in a complex, bone-dry expression. $15.99/375ml, klwines.com

Bodegas Grant, “La Garrocha,” Amontillado, El Puerto de Santa Maria Operating since 1841, the Grant family bodega is a former almacenista and only recently began estate bottling. The “La Garrocha” amontillado is aged nine years in the solera, with sweet aromas of caramel and almonds followed by a firm acidity and dry finish. $16.99, chambersstwines.com

Bodegas Hidalgo, “Wellington,” Palo Cortado V.O.S., Sanlúcar de Barrameda V.O.S. (vinum optimum signatum, or simply “very old sherry”) denotes that the bottled sherry is more than 20 years old. Only 1,000 bottles are released each year of Hidalgo’s “Wellington” palo cortado, which balances flavors of toffee with blazing acidity and notes of citrus and saline. $39.99/500ml, klwines.com

El Maestro Sierra, Oloroso 15 year, Jerez de la Frontera Founded in 1832 by a former cooper, El Maestro Sierra long operated as an almacenista. They also hold some of the oldest stock in the region, with soleras left untouched for more than 60 years. The 15-year oloroso is redolent with hazelnuts and spice, with a velvety texture and hint of sweetness. $12.50/375ml, fpwm.com

Enjoy This Article?

Sign up for our newsletter and get biweekly recipes and articles delivered to your inbox.

Send this to a friend