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Xpertvinum's Dada: Terroir Wines From Jerez

The ‘terroir’ concept is a thing of substance in the world of wine. And rightly so. However, in the world of sherry, the silence can be deafening in matters of terroir. Although … in recent times, a generation of winemakers has emerged that attaches great importance to terroir. The result are unique terroir wines, made in Jerez.

Let's start at the very beginning: what actually is terroir?

Terroir is the collective name for a number of factors that determine the character and quality of the grapes planted in a specific place. Factors that end up having a big influence on the wine made from those grapes. These include:

  • The composition of the soil
  • The microclimate
  • The orientation and slope of the vineyards
  • Altitude
  • The distance from the ocean or the sea
  • Autochthonous yeasts on the grapes or in the air
  • Human intervention, including pruning methods, grape variety selection,…

It is important to realise that this is not an exhaustive definition. And that the concept is interpreted differently in every wine area. What is essential is the interaction between vines, soil and climate. The crucial distinction here is between mass-produced wines and terroir wines. Mass-produced wines are made from grapes from different and often separate plots, while in contrast, terroir wines are made out of grapes from a well-defined and clearly delineated plot. Terroir wines are often more highly valued than mass-produced wines but that is not an absolute rule.

Terroir in the Land of Sherry: the Pagos

The approximately 7,000 hectares of vineyards in the sherry region are subdivided into some forty pagos. These are clusters of vineyards, each with their own microclimate, particular soil types, etc. There are also local differences with individual pagos.

Within and without the sherry triangle the following factors are important:

  • The Albariza –the typical, thick layer of chalky ground in the area. You have different sorts, each with their own characteristics: Barajuela, Antehojuela, Tosca Cerrada. As well as a few other, less important soil types.

  • Distance from the Atlantic Ocean: it is astonishing how large the differences are over a few dozen kilometres, from maritime to continental.

  • The wind (a cooler, wetter west wind that blows off the Atlantic Ocean: the Poniente. Or a hot, dry east wind: the Levante.

  • The vineyards' altitude 


The challenges of the sherry region

Most bodegas in the sherry region no longer have their own vineyards. They buy in grapes, must or wine from cooperatives or the so-called Bodegas de Producción.  It is sometimes said that sherry is made in the bodega and not on the land. All too often the focus is on standardisation, low costs and volume. Let's be clear: amazing things are made even in the classic wineries. Only it could be so much more exciting!

Under the influence of a few pioneers, there is a new trend for terroir wines and sherries. Some of the key protagonists:

  • Ramiro Ibañez of Cota 45, a walking sherry encyclopedia with a pertinent urge to innovate.

  • Willy Pérez, son of Luis Pérez, who has returned to age-old traditions like picking in different passes ('tries') for making particular unfortified sherries and wines. In order to obtain a different wine on different occasions from the same vines.

  • The people of Forlong in Puerto de Santa Maria, who only make organic wine.

  • The Blanco brothers from Callejuela

  • The great Barbadillo with Armando Guerra (responsible for the premium wines of the house) and Montse Molina, oenologist. For example, their now legendary seasonal bottling of Solear and Rama. They also make more and more normal white and red wines ‘with a twist’.

  • Bodegas Urium, with classic sherries. Rocío and his father Alonso only buy high quality grapes, like those from the Blanquito vineyard in Pago Balbaina.

The new drive for terroir

  • Identification of those vineyards with determining roles in soil and microclimate. Maritime for Sanlúcar de Barrameda; continental for Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria. The differences between the wines are notable: from light and saline at the coast to concentrated and bold near Jerez.

  • Greater concentration through lower yields, older vines, later harvest, asoleo (drying the grapes in the Andalusian sun).

  • Wines are no longer fortified with neutral alcohol: less pure strength, greater finesse and elegance.

  • Wines and sherries are bottled with minimal filtration (en rama). 

  • Ageing under 'flor' is limited so as not to push the characteristics of the terroir into the background.

  • Fermentation and ageing take place in old sherry butts (botas) to promote minerality and salinity.

Three Types of Terroir Wines from Jerez

White wines from Palomino Fino

These white wines are aged entirely without, or with limited, flor. Fermentation and ageing in old sherry butts. The emphasis is on fantastic minerality and salinity and they are not fortified with alcohol. These types of wines are the ideal accompaniments to dishes that are neither sweet nor mellow: asparagus, oysters, seafood, ...

A few examples: El Muelle, La Escribana, Ube Paganilla, Ube Miraflores, La Hacienda, Las Mercedes, La Choza, Amigo Imaginario, Forlong Blanco, Mirabrás, …

Classic Fino or Manzanilla

The same identification with terroir. Bottling ‘en rama’, with bottle ageing to create balanced and complex sherries.

Vintage sherries from a given harvest year, called añadas. They are aged without being topped up (i.e. without solera), like Jura wines. As a result, the flor has less influence and the terroir remains distinctive. These are sherries with a much greater complexity and elegance and that can complement a wider culinary range than just the classic jamón or tapa.

A few examples: Caberrubia, La Barajuela 2013 and 2016, the almacenista area in La Callejuela, Solear en rama, Urium Fino Mons…

Classic sherries with oxidative ageing

These are known as Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Raya. Better, more concentrated and more balanced base ingredients ensure a more interesting evolution. It means that these sherries need less long to reach a nice complexity.

A few examples: Amontillado La Casilla, Oloroso El Cerro, Urium Palo Cortado Clasico, Barajuela Raya 2015 & 2016 (these are actually oxidatively aged white wines and no longer have a classification).