Published on January 18th, 2014 | by Ruben Luyten3
D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is one of Spain’s most historic wine regions. Writers of the 1st century BC already mentioned a wine industry in this region, supposedly started by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC. However the large commercial success didn’t start until the second half of the 14th Century, mostly by exporting to the United Kingdom. In the 16th Century the English named it Sherris Sack. Sack was a general term for fortified wines from different origins like Malaga, the Canary Islands or Mallorca. Sherris, after the Arabic name for the city of Jerez, later became Sherry. Hundreds of years of commercial successes followed and England is still the favourite destination of Sherry.
D.O. stands for Denominación de Origen or Designation of Origin. It is part of a Spanish regulatory classification system primarily for wines, similar to the French appellations, but it’s also used for cheese and other food that is produced according to specific local traditions. Since 1933, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is an official D.O. – it was the first of its kind in Spain.
Why three names you ask? Well, because the wines of Jerez had been popular in Spain (as Vinos de Jerez) but just as well in France (Xérès) and England (Sherry). So even today each bottle of sherry still bears a label with the name in three languages, as Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Note that not all wines or vinegars that are produced in this area automatically belong to the D.O.: they have to be produced according to a specific set or rules defined by a regulatory office called the Consejo Regulador. Classic white or red table wines from the same region are obviously not sherry. Equally, when bodegas in other regions produce wines according to the Sherry process, they still can’t use the name Sherry. This is the case for the neighbouring D.O. Montilla-Moriles for example, where they produce wines that are very similar to sherries.
Apart from the general Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, there is also a separate D.O. Manzanilla – Sanlúcar de Barrameda that unites the slightly lighter, coastal wines of Sanlúcar, some 20 km west of Jerez. Most of their regulations are shared. There’s even a third D.O. within the Jerez region: in 1994 the producers of sherry vinegar achieved the status of a D.O. Vinagre de Jerez.
Geographic Delimitation: Sherry triangle
Defining a geographic region in which a certain product can be produced, is a key element in any D.O. – all true Sherry comes from the vineyards around Jerez de la Frontera and the nearby coastal towns of Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Together these three towns form the three points of the Sherry Triangle which contains the different pagos or parcels of vineyards. Some of the highly regarded names include Macharnudo, Carrascal, Balbaína and Añina.
The Sherry Triangle is technically called the Ageing and Maturing Zone or zona de crianza. Within this area, sherry wines can be matured in traditional bodegas. There is a slightly larger area though, referred to as the Production Zone or zona de producción, which includes some other villages like Chipiona, Chiclana and Rota. Within this wider area, vineyards are allowed to grow the grapes used to produce the base wines, but again these can only be called Sherry when the maturation takes place inside the smaller triangle. Currently around 7.000 hectares of vines are in use (this number is declining continuously), divided among around 1.800 registered growers.
Consejo Regulador: Sherry regulations
The set of rules of the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry are set out in a document known as the “Regulations”. They give us the relevant details concerning the authorized region, the authorised grape varieties and cultivation techniques, and basic aspects concerning the production and ageing of Sherry wines. The regulations also specify the composition and functions of the Consejo Regulador, the management institution of Jerez wines. The Consejo, currently led by Beltrán Domecq, not only controls the rules, but is also in charge of quality control, research and innovation, the unique numbering of each label, the certification (awarding the VOS and VORS labels among others) and coordination of the international promotion of the wines.
Though separate D.O.’s, the Jerez and Manzanilla areas are both governed by the same norms. The most recent version of the regulatory text dates from the year 1977 (by order of the Ministry of Agriculture issued on May2nd 1977) but they will probably be updated soon as a consequence of the 2012 Law Governing the Protection of Origin and Quality of Wines from Andalusia. The legal documents are found on the website of the Consejo, in case you’re interested.