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Connoisseur’s Guide to Bodegas Gonzalez Byass-Sherry

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Written by Aksel Ritenis

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“Sherry is not a drink it’s a way of life! Sherry is all about the fun, the talk the nonsense and all the food that goes with it. It’s a brisk little fortifying punctuation mark to life that the Spanish seem to enjoy any time of day without the slightest notion of guilt. To understand the drink, you have to eat the food that has co-evolved with it in its homeland, foods such as Tapas, seafood and other exciting morsels from the Spanish kitchen!”

Of course, when one talks of Sherry the first thing to recognize is that there are numerous categories or styles of Sherry. A chilled Fino eaten with salty fish is a very different wine to the Pedro Ximenez with its voluptuous rich sweetness that one samples at the end of a meal.

Generally speaking wines are grouped into three general categories depending on the characteristics of the musts and the winemaking and ageing processes that each undergoes:

Dry Sherry Wines– Palomino grape musts ferment completely giving a dry wine. The style varies depending on its ageing and level of fortification.

Fino – ages under the yeasts of flor and remains pale in colour. Tio Pepe, Elegante Fino

Manzanilla – ages under the yeasts of flor. Must be aged in the town of Sanlucar.

Amontillado – starts its ageing process with flor, but yeasts fade out with the passing of time leaving the wine in contact with air for the rest of its ageing.

Oloroso– its higher alcohol content doesn’t allow flor yeasts to develop therefore the wine ages in constant contact with air.

Palo Cortado – a special style of wine which combines the aromas of an Amontillado wine with the body of an Oloroso.

Sweet Natural Sherry Wines– grapes are partially dried after harvest, producing a sweet wine which is only partially fermented.

Pedro Ximenez– it is made from sun-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes.

Moscatel – it is made from sun-dried Moscatel grapes.

Pale Cream – made from the blending of Fino and sweetened Palomino musts. After the blending, the wine ages for some time to obtain consistency.

Abocado or Medium – blend of Oloroso or Amontillado wines with sweet Pedro Ximenez wine. After the blending, the wine ages for some time to obtain consistency.

Oloroso Dulce or Cream– obtained from the blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez wines. After the blending, the wine ages for some time to obtain consistency.

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History

When you talk about Sherry, it is difficult to ignore the story of possibly the most famous Sherry House in the world Gonzalez Byass.

Even in Australia it is difficult to find a bar or restaurant that doesn’t stock the famous brand!

The history of this famous brand starts with humble beginnings. When Manuel Maria Gonzalez rented a small winery in Jerez, in 1835 and began to commercialise wine under his name, when he was only 23. In 1835 he sold 10 barrels of wine and in 1836 – 62 barrels, and in 1839, only 4 years later, 406 barrels. Then In 1844 the first barrels of TIO PEPE were exported to England and were named in honour of D. José Angel, the founder’s uncle.

The Byass family was the exclusive distributor of Gonzalez wines in the UK and became a shareholder in the company in 1855. The Gonzalez Byass name dates from 1863. Still today the Gonzalez Byass remains in the hands of the Gonzalez family and is now in its 5th generation. Between 1855 and 1865 the exports of the Company were the equivalent of 2% of all Spanish exports.

Vineyards

With 1994 acres (807 hectares) of owned vineyards and 988 acres (400 hectares) on long term contracts, Gonzalez Byass controls 10% of the total vineyards of the Denomination of Origin. The vineyards can be found in Jerez Superior, among the plots of Albariza soil, soil which produces the best quality wines. The altitude of the vineyards is 20-70 m above sea level. 90% of the vineyard is planted with Palomino Fino and 10% with Pedro Ximenez.

The Palomino grapes, of an average age of 20 years, are hand- harvested to ensure they arrive at the pressing plant in optimum condition and that no colour is lost.

The Pedro Ximenez grapes, planted some 5 years ago, go through the “Soleo” process, in which, once picked, are laid down in the sun for some days to increase their sugar level.

Pruning takes place between December and January, following the typical Jerez system, Vara y Pulgar. It consists of cutting the two branches which make up every vine to leave in alternate years a single vara or stick with 8 buds, from which the bunches of grapes develop, and a pulgar or a thumb with just one bud which will be next year’s vara. All vines are grafted onto American rootstocks, the grafting takes place in August.

Wine Making

There is an entire team of Wine makers, led by Javier Sanz, Technical Director of Gonzalez Byass. Jose Manuel Pinedo is the Production Manager of Jerez wines and Antonio Flores has been the Master Blender since 1980. They control the organoleptic characteristics of all the wines of the Jerez Cellars and the team checks each TIO PEPE barrel every three months. Gonzalez Byass is a pioneer in oenological and vinicultural investigation.

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Technical Aspects

The grapes are pressed by 24 Willmes presses with a capacity of 3.500 kg each and vinified in 817 stainless steel tanks with a total capacity of 36.400.000 litres. The winery has more than 85.000 American oak barrels, the majority of which are of 600 litre capacity. Total production capacity is 1, 6 million cases of wine and 800.000 cases of Brandy.

Average annual production: between 60-65 million litres, of which Fino represents 25%, Cream 22%, Medium 21% and Manzanilla 15%.

Areas of the D.O. Jerez – Xérès – Sherry

The region of the D.O. Jerez – Xérès – Sherry is marked by the Sherry Triangle: the area formed by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and Sanlucar de Barrameda. The D.O. also includes lands of the following towns: Chipiona, Trebujena, Rota, Puerto Real, Chiclana and Lebrija. Depending on their location, vineyards can be divided in Jerez Superior Area (around 80% of the planted area, formed by Albariza soils, and mostly located in the Sherry Triangle) and simply Zona (formed by clayey and sandy soils). The total area of vineyards is 10.359 Hectares of which 8.189 hectares are in Jerez Superior.

Soils

The soils in Jerez can be divided into 3 main types: Albarizas, Barros and Arenas.

Albarizais a white organic loam formed by sediment from the sea that covered the region in the Oligocene period. Rich in calcium carbonate clay and silica and highly retentive of moisture, it locks the winter’s rain and nourishes the vines during the dry months. The best musts are usually produced from these soils, especially those with a more “Fino” character which have a clear pungency on the nose. The barros are dark clay soils which have less limestone content, a dark brown colour, and are rich in decomposed organic matter. They tend to give fuller bodied musts. The arenas are a combination of sand and clay, reddish in colour and with high content of aluminate and silica. Musts from the arenas are coarser than the rest. The region is traditionally divided into “Pagos”, small areas of vineyards with a similar climate and land. Examples of these are Carrascal, Macharnudo and Burujena.

Climate

Jerez’s warm southern climate is significantly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The area enjoys an average of 3.000 hours of sunshine per year, and an average annual rainfall of 600 mm. The winds of Poniente (humid and fresh) carry humidity to the vines; the winds of Levante (warm and dry) help maturation of the grape.

Grape Varieties

The predominant variety for Sherry Production is the Palomino grape. It is well rounded, medium sized and with a delicate skin. Pedro Ximenezis used for sweet wines. This is achieved by leaving the harvested grapes in the sun so they lose their moisture by evaporation and concentrate sugars before pressing. The next most important grape variety is Moscatel or Muscat and this grape is used in the production of a sweet wine with the same name.

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Ageing requirements

The ageing of Jerez wines takes place in oak barrels, preferably American with 600 litre capacity. Jerez wines are aged following the traditional “Solera System”. Vintage wines are also allowed. It is a dynamic process which involves a methodical blending of younger wines with older, more mature wines, based on the principle that the younger wines takes on the character of the older wine if properly blended. This process guarantees a consistent quality and characteristics of the wine year after year so that it has changed little in many decades.

The wine for bottling is always withdrawn from the bottom row or the solera and never more than 1/3 by volume is taken out of the barrel.

After clarification, stabilizing, centrifuging and filtering the wine is ready for bottling.

Sherry offers consumers a wide range of sensations and possibilities, depending on its ageing, whether it has been aged under flor and the grape varieties used and also the blending of the wines.

The D.O imposes minimum ageing requirements which are as follows:

All wines: 3 years
V.O.S: 20 years
V.O.R.S: 30 years
Wines with age indication: 12-15 years

 

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Enjoying Sherry wines

“Drink fino or manzilla on its own and it seems quite out of balance. It’s too big, too dry, too yeasty – even salty. But when You sit down with a plate of deep-fried baby sole or some big fat grilled langoustines, everything comes together with a subtle satisfaction similar to getting that last square in a Rubik’s cube to fall into place. The saltiness of the sherry complements the saltiness of the fish. The yeastiness works with the roundness of the fresh flesh and the crispness leaves the palate cleansed, ready for another mouthful.”


Quotations form “Rustica – Spanish Traditions and Recipes” by Frank Camora and Richard Cornish

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

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