In September this year, I was delighted to be invited by González Byass, to join them in Jerez for an in depth educational Sherry journey culminating in becoming a Sherry Master. Wilting in the heat, our international group of fifteen sommeliers, Masters of Wine, journalists and wine educators represented six countries, we were the Sherry Master trainees of 2017 – a Sherry boot camp if you will!
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes, the vineyards are located close to the the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. The winemaking styles for the different types of Sherry are diverse and unique. Made mainly from the Palomino grape, the wines range from bone dry through nutty and intense to luscious and sweet (the sweet wines are made from Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes).
Our program was led by González Byass Master Blender Antonino Flores. Born and bred in the winery and named Fortified Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine Challenge in 2016, we were in very safe hands. Antonino is accomplished and highly skilled in his art, but above all he is a passionate communicator on Sherry and has dedicated his life to growing, making and becoming a true expert on the remarkable wines of his region.
On that first night the weather remained warm, and we relaxed into the pace of Andalusia. Acclimatizing to the heat, we sat outside under the trees and our international group bonded over a glass of Sherry. We experimented with local tapas matched to the wines and enjoyed the authentic entertainment at an earthy flamenco bar.
The low rainfall climate in the Jerez region is influenced by two contrasting factors, the Atlantic Ocean and the close proximity of Africa. The Atlantic Poniente wind is cooling, humid and maritime. The Levante wind from Africa is hot and dry. This juxtaposition within the climate in the region, combined with the soil offers the unique growing conditions for the Palomino grapes and Sherry wine.
The morning after we arrived we breakfasted in the vineyards. This was also the perfect setting for an intensive first session on the albariza soil and the Palomino grape. The soil (which is also in Champagne) has a high proportion of chalk and limestone. The best Palomino grapes for Sherry making are grown on this soil type.
Our session in the vineyard was followed up by a tasting with our coach, Master Blender Antonino Flores. This was an incredible wine tasting journey from the driest Sherry style Fino, through the more nutty and rich Oloroso, Amontillado and the intriguing Palo Cortado styles.
Each style is determined by the type of ageing the wine undergoes in the cellar. The Fino style is kept dry and fresh covered by the “flor” yeast which grows over the surface of the wine. This flor not only protects the wine from oxidation, but imparts unique aromas and flavours of green apple, bread, almonds and sea salt.
The other wine styles are influenced by the solera system of fractional blending system. This system of barrels is retained over many years by the removal of a percentage of the wine each year for bottling and the addition of a proportion of the new vintage. Nuanced, complex, concentrated and intense are the resulting wines.
There is no doubt in my mind that Sherry is easily the most versatile of wine styles. Delicious on its own, there is a style to pair with every course of a meal from starters through to dessert. Becoming a Sherry Master under the tutelage of Antonino Flores was a once in a lifetime opportunity, however thankfully the wines can be enjoyed anytime by anyone so here are a couple of my favourites.
Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino
€15.95- Available at O’Briens Wine
Pale, dry and stylish, made from the Palomino grape flavours of bread, almonds, green apple and sea salt – enjoy chilled with shellfish, pasta and fish.
Gonzalez Byass Amontillado Del Duque
€20.45 half bottle – Available at O’Briens Wine
Dark amber in colour, aromas on raisins, nuts, honey followed by an intense sea salt infused bone dry palate – enjoy slightly chilled with game, tapas and cheese.
Lynne Coyle MW is one of less than 355 Masters of Wine worldwide who have undertaken and passed the gruelling Master of Wine examinations.
Starting her career in the hotel and restaurant industry, she is still a passionate foodie as well as being a member of the Champagne Academy and is Wine Director for O’Briens Wine.
Lynne has consulted for wineries in Chile, Spain and Italy, judges at international wine competitions and regularly hosts tastings and talks on wine.