On our way north, we stopped at Jerez. We knew very little about the city, other than the fact that it has a great motor racing circuit that’s used by MotoGP. Apparently Jerez (pronounced more like, “Herreth“) is pretty much the home of sherry. We were even greeted at the campsite with a glass of sherry! No, I didn’t know what sherry was either. There are many sherry bodegas around the city centre. We went to the González Byass sherry house, which is most famous for Tío Pepe sherry (which sponsored the motorcycle racing at one point).
Sherry is a fortified wine. To be sherry, it has to be made within the designated region around Jerez. The majority of sherry uses the Palomino grape. My understanding is the fermentation process to wine is fairly standard. However, some of the wine then goes to a still. Certain fractions of alcohol from the still are used to make brandy and others are added back to fortify the wine to make it sherry.
If the wine is fortified to less than 17%, then some yeast can form in the barrels, which forms a protective crust on the top which prevents oxidisation when it’s maturing. This produces lighter Fino sherries. However, if it’s fortified a little more, the yeast can’t form and the sherry oxidises while it matures, which makes it darker to make Oloroso sherries. And there are variations in between.
The maturing process for pretty much all sherries uses the solera system, which uses stacked barrels for a staging process for maturing. Each year, a proportion of matured sherry is pulled from the bottom layer for bottling. This bottle layer of barrels is topped up by drawing a proportion from the layer of barrels above. That layer is topped up from the layer above. Etc. Until you reach the top layer which is topped up with freshly fortified wine. This blending means there’s not really an ‘age’ to the sherry like you’d get with other wines, but it also means there is more consistency from one year to the next.
As an additional complexity, some sherries are sweetened using sun dried grape juice. These make ‘cream’ sherries that are popular in the UK. Joolz picked up a bottle that was an incredible 400g per litre (that’s roughly four times as much sugar as cola!).
The factory tour was actually quite fun. And the smell of maturing sherry was fantastic. As you’d expect, with businesses with products that take as long to create as these, you end up with quite of lot of history and the occasional oddity… such as the tradition of leaving bread crumbs and a glass of sherry out for the mice that inhabit the bodegas.
After the factory tour, we went for a meander (hic!) around the town. There is a nice Moorish Alcázar, but unfortunately our tour took longer than we anticipated and it closes early on Saturdays… next time. We just settled for dos cafe con leche and some tasty pastries.
Onwards to Sevilla!