New Regulations For Sherry Open Possibilities

photo by Henry Fournier via Unsplash

photo by Henry Fournier via Unsplash

Sherry made the old way might be the new way

An amendment has reportedly been passed by the European Commission that would allow non-fortified wines into the sherry category. This change would permit Fino and Manzanilla wines to be fermented to at least 15% ABV, and Amontillado, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado to 17% ABV, which will also now be classified as sherry and sold within the classification of the DO. 

Sherry is a mysterious elixir to most drinkers outside of Europe and the beverage/hospitality industry. Yes, the word is familiar, increasingly so as a selling point for whiskeys finished in its casks or various cocktails, but what exactly makes sherry sherry and what does this amendment mean for the industry?

Sherry history

In the past, sherry, Spain’s oldest Denomination of Origin (DO) first recognized in 1933, was defined as a fortified wine made in the Spanish province of Cádiz and aged in a Solera system. All sherries had to mature in the area between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María—the three points of the Sherry Triangle—and be fortified through the addition of neutral spirit, usually grape based. This added spirit would stabilize the wine and stop fermentation. The tradition of fortification began as sherry exportation to far off lands—particularly the U.K. and the New World—increased, and winemakers needed a way to ensure their product would survive the journey.

This development came to define sherry in many ways. Jerez was once called “Xera” by the Phoenicians (the word “sherry” is an anglicisation of Xeres), who are said to have brought the first vines to the area in 1100 BC. As European cultures developed, wines produced there were quickly taken elsewhere, and soon the sherry region housed a nation of traders. For the wine to travel, it had to be supplemented with grape spirit, which would stabilize the product and allow for long journeys across the continent. This tradition has continued to modern day production. As a fortified wine, sherry starts with juice made from white grapes grown in the Sherry Triangle in the province of Cádiz.

What the amendment means for sherry production

Fortification is the norm now for most sherry producers, but proponents of this amendment argue that they are trying to return sherry production to more traditional vinification styles. In the past, winemakers achieved higher sugar levels by leaving grapes to dehydrate partially in a technique called asoleo, or sun-drying, or by harvesting later. Winemakers using these methods can still reach the same biological stability and level of alcohol as wines that are fortified, but fortifying wines can do so at a lower cost. Some argue that making sherry the old way can result in wine that is more expressive of soil and variety, and even can allow for natural sherries without acidification or sulfur added.

After this amendment has made it through and legally been added to the DO, few of the current producers will be immediately affected, but members of the more boutique sherry community are excited about the freedom it will give producers in the future. Some cities already have a market for sherries made in a more artisanal way, and experts believe that this may renew interest in the category. This new wave of sherries is reflective of a trend that has taken over wine production all over the world, one that eschews additives and focuses on the natural byproducts instead. Although a catchall denomination (vino de mesa) exists for wines that don’t fit into the current regulations, expanding the definition will help bring new drinkers into the fold and hopefully bring sherry consumption back into fashion.