History of Sherry - Development of Modern Sherry

Development of Modern Sherry

However the Sherry in Falstaff's day was not as strong as it is today because it had not yet become a fortified wine. The natural strength of the wine rarely topped 16% ABV and the wines were closer in character to the modern day wine still being made in Montilla. At this point, the makers of Sherry were still experimenting with the various grapes available including Torrontes, Malmsey and some minor but growing plantings of the modern day Sherry grapes of Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Muscatel. Towards the turn of the 17th century, Sherry makers were starting to discover that the white chalk albariza soil of the area produced some of the freshest wine and there was some understanding of the strange but powerful effect of the yeast flor. They began calling these wines Fino or "fine wine" because of the delicate light style that was produced.

The War of the Spanish Succession and later Napoleonic Wars allowed politics to once again influence the fortune of Sherry and its producers. Sales to England and Holland were dramatically reduced as hostilities increased. European tastes also started to change as the emergence of the more accessible port wine hit the world's wine market-being particularly encouraged by the favorable Methuen Treaty. This left many Sherry merchants with excess stock that could do little more than sit and age in oak barrels. Unlike during the boom market when Sherry makers were selling their stocks as fast as they could produce it, these aging stocks began to slightly oxidize and develop more concentrated and nutty flavors.

As a few orders of Sherry would trickle in, the Sherry merchants would bottle a small quantity and then top up the rest of the barrel with wine from some of their newer inventory. This began to develop into a system of "fractional blending" which was soon to become the modern concept of solera. This system was not unique to Sherry or even to Spain: it had been practiced for centuries in the Rhineland. However nowhere else in the world had such a system had such a dramatic effect on the wine. Through this process of aging, the wine developed distinct characters at various age points. The introduction of new wine into the barrel also stimulated the flor yeast in the wine which then imparted new flavors and fragrances. Through the use of fractional blending, the merchants realized they could also maintain a more consistent profile in their wines across the years.

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