Õåðåñ, Jerez, Xérès, Sherry wine

Sherry wine

Grape Varieties

Olga Nikandrova and Denis Shumakov.

Palomino. Photo from Sherry.Org

Three grape varieties are used in sherry production: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel.

Palomino is a dominant variety in the Jerez Region. It has two variations: a bit more fruitful and much more widespread Palomino Fino and a bit less fruitful and more rarely found Palomino de Jerez. Due to the rarity of the latter, almost any mentioning of Palomino grape alludes to Palomino Fino.

Palomino has medium-sized, orbicular, dark green, five-lobed leaves heavily downed on the underside. Grape bunches are long, cylindroconical, of medium to high density of berries, which are medium-sized, spherical, yellowish green, fragile, juicy with colorless, sweet and flavorful (very tasty, we tried it) juice.

Palomino’s buds break in March, berries ripen by the beginning of September, average yields are around 80 hectoliters per hectare (the optimal yield for sherry production and rather natural in the established viticulture), density of juice in ripe berries is about 12° Baume (11° Baume on average). Average acidity — 3,7 g/l (such acidity is considered low). This grape variety is rather well resistant to parasites. Palomino’s important distinctive feature is its very low content of malic acid.

Palomino, by the way, is not unique to the Jerez Region — it is known under different names in France, Portugal and both Americas.

Pedro Ximenez
Photo from Sherry.Org

Pedro Ximénez (very often shortened to P.X.) is the second main sherry grape. However it is grown in much smaller volume than Palomino, although outside Spain it is very often P.X. that is associated with sherry. This happens, naturally, owing to the existence of a kind of sherry under this name and to the fact that in countries cooler than Spain sweet sherries (where P.X. is undoubtedly the king) are more popular than dry ones.

Pedro Ximénez has medium-sized to large rounded leaves with five deeply dissected lobes and pubescent shoots The berries are spherical with thin skin, the bunches are small and conical, the juice is very sweet. Density of juice in ripe berries may reach 14-15° Baume (12,8° Baume on average), after sun withering, which is done to produce sweet sherry — 22 degrees. Average acidity — about 4,5 g/l. The grape’s distinctive feature is its very thin skin which facilitates sun withering.

The Canary Islands are considered P.X.’s homeland. Nowadays Andalucía (The Jerez Region and Montilla-Moriles areas) has the biggest planting areas of Pedro Ximénez. Grape varieties with similar names (Pedro Giménez, Pedro Jiménez, Crimean Pedro Ximenez, etc.) may be encountered in other regions, where they may be used to produce sherry type wines. Or not wines — e.g. in Chile, Pedro Jiménez is used to produce a grape brandy called Pisco.

Photo from J. M. Martín

The third nominally sherry grape is Moscatel. Its “nominal sherryness” is explained by the following. Moscatel is used to produce the same-name wine included into the sherry line. The production of this wine is centered in Chiclana de la Frontera and Chiclana — that is somewhat away from the main sherry places. Moscatel (the wine) may be different, in fact there is a whole family of such wines. But only one of them (made from sun dried grapes — de pasas) is a member of the sherry family.

Moscatel (better known as Muscat of Alexandria) is a Muscat variety. Muscat of Alexandria is considered one of the oldest vines. It is believed to originate from Arabia, and very often Cleopatra is mentioned when referring to this wine, we are not going to do it here anyway. It is also often mentioned that Muscat of Alexandria is mostly cultivated as a table grape (for eating, making juices or producing raisins) and is less interesting as a vitis vinifera than some other Muscat varieties. This, however, doesn’t prevent it from being used for wine production, and in some areas of the Sherry Region being one of the basic grapes.

Moscatel has medium-sized, orbicular, medium-dissected, five-lobed leaves with funnel-shaped grooves. Grape bunches are also medium-sized, conical, branched, of medium to low density of berries (depending on the young fruit shedding). Berries are medium-sized, elliptic, opaque yellowish green or yellow, with a brownish tan. The skin is thick and strong. The flesh is juicy, crunchy, with a strong muscat aroma. Average density of juice in ripe berries — 11,7° Baume, acidity — 4,1 g/l.

Moscatel (or, as was mentioned, Muscat of Alexandria) — is a very widespread grape variety, grown in many countries including the ex-USSR territories, therefore it is classified in detail in our domestic specialized literature.

By types of sherry the grapes are distributed very simply. Palomino is used to produce Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso. Pedro Ximénez — for Pedro Ximénez sherry production. Moscatel — for Moscatel. Cream, Pale Cream, Dry, Medium and some sherry specialties (very old sherries, vintage sherries and other rarities, which are described here) may be a blend of those grapes.

Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, naturally, are not the only grapes used for wine production in the Jerez Region. For example, around the coastal town of Rota, a grape variety known as Tintilla de Rota (“the red one of Rota”) is cultivated to produce the same-name sweet wine, it is also used in some dry wine blends for local color importation.

It is worthwhile to mention that sherry production was not always so restricted regarding the grape varieties as is now. In the relatively recent past apart from the canonic grapes other varieties were used for sherry making: Albillo, Mantuo, Perruno, etc. And before the phylloxera attack in 1894, all vines in the Jerez Region were own-rooted.

After the attack of phyloxera the sherry vinification made a move to the use of American rootstock (more pest-resistant and suitable for chalky soils, with such romantic names as 333EM) and reduced the list of the grapes used. The abovementioned “other” varieties (Albillo and others) have not disappeared from the world vine map, they are still cultivated in Spain as well as in other places, but they are no longer used for sherry (in its strict Spanish sense) production.

By the way, a few words about stock and scion.

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