Marco de Jerez Not Quite Sherry Masterclass 2020

Marco de Jerez is a gorgeous region of rolling hills inland from the Atlantic coast and north from the bay of Cádiz. Of the nine wine-making villages of the region, it’s centred on, and is named for the main town, Jerez de la Frontera. The most famous local wine, ‘sherry’ also takes its name from Jerez. This is where our journey begins as we take a trip down the rabbit hole of the palomino-fino continuum. We will try to keep it as brief and succinct as we can.

The traditional notion of sherry, as originally set out by the Consejo Regulador, is a fortified wine made from white grapes, aged at least somewhat oxidatively in large casks, and comes from a a large region inland from Cadiz. This can include, somewhat confusingly, sweet/semi-sweet (PX), amber to fully oxidized and pale, clear style sherries fortified with grape spirit. This notion is now been fundamentally challenged and rebuked by a small number of producers and growers who see much more potential from the region, the soils and the palomino grape.

At its core, this movement deals with the notion that term ‘sherry’ (only sometimes used to describe palomino-based wines) sets up a false divide between ‘wine’ and ‘sherry’. That, in fact, these palomino-based wines can sit anywhere along a continuum of wines that encompasses flor-aged styles, still wines with no aged characteristics and up to and including traditional fortified and oxidative styles (fino). That this spectrum shift, up to and including ‘fino’ styles should simply describe extra weight, texture and complexities rather then been hemmed in by traditional notions (and laws) of what wines from the region should adhere to.

Why the shift? Non-Sherry table wines are excluded from protection and promotion under the Sherry DO. Instead, these are defined as country wine from Cádiz, a town outside the actual region.
While they posses all the hallmarks of great ‘terroir’ driven wines they are relegated to the lowest quality status of the country where vineyards and viticulture is all-but-irrelevant. What these renegade producers reject is the commonly held idea that what matters in sherry is what happens in the winery while nothing could be further from the truth.

Sound a little complicated? Well it is. So, we have a little brief below that covers the main points of the so-called Palomino-fino continuum in its current form. There is a long way to go and just how far, we have yet to see. Scott Wasley of Spanish Acquisition will take you through the finer points and intimate details. He has been deeply involved in this fascinating project for the last few years and has been instrumental in support for the changes. So much so he has helped to change some of the DO laws currently impeding these cutting edge producers. Time will tell where we finish but the early results so far are promising and extremely exciting.

The Palomino – Fino continuum

Stop 1: Palomino as such
Our primary class are Palominos more or less straight up, without significant overlays from age, ullage and Flor.

Stop 2: Palominos de flor
Simply, a young Palomino wine which has a little ageing, perhaps 6 months under velo de flor, usually with a very small ullage, which restricts yeast influence.

Stop 3: Palominos de flor asoleado
Here, soleo (the traditional practise of sun drying the grapes for a few hours) enhances the alcoholic degree of the wines – it can take straight up Palominos from somewhere in the 10.5-13.5% natural abv into the 13-15.5% range – yes, they would legally be a fino!

Stop 4: Palomino Finos de alcohol natural
A Palomino de Flor will become a natural alcohol Fino if, with help from the soleo they become 15% alcohol wines and are aged under velo de flor for at least 2 years.

Stop 5: Palomino Finos fortificados
Or, we can take our young Palomino, and whack in some of another wine region’s grapes, in the form of distillate, leave it under flor for a couple of years or more, and presto, that’s fino too!

Stop 6: Palominos con Palmas
Here we find Finos that have been heavily influenced by life on ullage, with reduced levels of protection from flor (which lacks adequate nutrition by now).