What You Didn't Know About Sherry via Gretchen Thomas of Barcelona

Gretchen Thomas
Gretchen Thomas is the Wine & Spirits Director for the Barcelona/Bartaco Restaurant Group.

I firmly believe the single most important product that Spain has to offer to the world is Sherry. Well, soccer fans may disagree, but I stand by my opinion. If Sherry wines were a world famous rock band, I have been the equivalent of a road groupie for the past 6 years…always a fan, love to partake, but having never penetrated to the source of the art (i.e. I’d never been Jerez!). Not until last year anyways. After more than twenty wine excursions to Spain in the past 7 years, I finally made my way to the deep south of Spain and visited Jerez, aka Sherry territory.

The history of wine-making in this region is astounding, going back to the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. Over the centuries, the current styles of Sherry wines were developed (pretty much all by accident, how many delicious products pop into existence) and finally reached their versions as we still know them today in the latter part of the 1700’s. Here’s the kicker – this means that the Sherry wines we drink today are the same styles of wines that have been produced in this region for over 300 years. All to preserve a historic style of wine, something that is practically wiped out in all other wine regions on Earth.

To describe in detail the way Sherry wines are made would require me to write a novel of information…just know this. Everything you may know about how modern conventional wines are made today, Sherry is practically the opposite. Instead of new barrels, they use barrels that are 80 years old (and counting!). Instead of just a few months in barrel, they age for multiple years. Instead of keeping the wines free of bacteria and oxidation, both are intentionally encouraged. The list goes on. But this is how wine was made before technological “improvements” changed winemaking in the 20th century.

So, does all this mean every person is going to love drinking Sherry on their first sip? Not necessarily. Sherry falls in the category of “acquired taste,” as it contains complexities and aromas that are rarely found in any other wine. And due to the reputation of one style of Sherry in the US, the cream Sherry, most Americans believe that Sherries are all sweet, on the contrary the vast majority of them are quite dry.

Here’s how I like to break it down for Sherry virgins; Do you enjoy bone dry white wines or the occasional dirty martini? Try a Fino or Manzanilla. Are you an avid Scotch drinker? Try an Amontillado. Love bourbons or cognacs? You will love Oloroso. And no glass of Sherry is complete without some tapas, particularly the more traditional kinds that also hail from the south of Spain (there is a huge connection) such as sliced Jamon Serrano, boquerones, olives, and Spanish cheeses.