Poor Sherry. This wonderful Spanish fortified wine just doesn’t get the respect and love it deserves. Why is that? In this four-part series, we’ll explore the history of Sherry, how it is made, the different types, food pairings, and why it isn’t very popular. Today’s focus: Sherry’s history.
What Is Sherry?
Sherry is a fortified wine produced in southwest Spain’s “Sherry Triangle.” This triangle, in the Andalucia region of Spain, near the mouth of the Straits of Gibraltar, consists of the three sunny towns of Puerto de Santa María, Jerez, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The primary grapes used to make Sherry are Palomino and Pedro Ximénez.
Like French Champagne, which can only be grown in France’s Champagne region, true Sherry can only be grown in this special area of Spain.
The soil in the Sherry Triangle is chalky and limey, which contributes greatly to Sherry’s flavor and body.
Exploring the History of Sherry
The name Sherry comes from Jerez (sometimes also called Xeres), an Arabic name that came out of the Moorish conquest and 500-year dominance of Spain. But Sherry was cultivated long before the Moors took over. It is likely that grapevines were brought to this area — like several other areas in Europe — from Phoenicians many centuries before. The Moors continued producing Sherry, in spite of the fact that the Caliph of Cordóba wanted to discontinue it. Luckily he was persuaded to keep most of the vines for their raisins (as soldiers’ food), and when Alfonso X of Castile took the city, Sherry’s continued cultivation was assured.
This wine was so valued, it is said that Magellan spent more on Sherry stocks for his boats than weaponry.
In 1587, Sir Francis Drake sacked the city of Cadíz (Jerez is in the Cadíz Province), and to his great fortune found nearly 3,000 barrels of Sherry just sitting there, on the docks, ready to be loaded into Armada ships. Well, imagine into whose ships those barrels actually got loaded! Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Sherry thus found its way into the hearts of British Islanders.
Next time: Sherry production!