Sherry Shakes It Up - New Production Rules Ring in New Era

A Typical Sherry Bodega in Jerez, Spain

© shutterstock

A Typical Sherry Bodega in Jerez, Spain

A Typical Sherry Bodega in Jerez, Spain

© shutterstock

Old World wine regions have long been criticised for their rigid structures, archaic rules and adherence to regulations that are often at odds with the modern market. D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry should definitely not be counted amongst that number.

Sherry has shaken itself up, for only the 6th time in its remarkable 86-year history. In an overwhelming display of cohesion, 19 vs. one votes within the regulatory body sealed a series of changes within the DO, or denominación de origin, its appellation framework. These are far ranging and impactful, from changing the zones of production and ageing to more clearly defining the sale of bulk wine. Here is a quick look at exactly what´s changed:

Farewell, Sherry Triangle

Easily the most dramatic of these changes is to adapt a single zone of production and ageing. Traditionally, the Sherry zone of production was spread across nine municipalities, but the ageing process could only ever take place within the so-called “Sherry Triangle” of the cities of El Puerto de Santa María, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Frontera. This has now been merged into a single zone of both production and ageing, ending one of the most symbolic foundations of Sherry wine.

Unfortified Wines Join the Fray

A big first step for the DO is to permit unfortified wines to share the appellation status with the more traditional fortified wines. Unfortified wines from Jerez have captured the attention of palates around the world over recent years, and this is an important move to align them with the region more closely. As it stands, the wines must still reach 15% ABV and age for a minimum of two years, though future discussions will consider including younger, lighter wines as well.

Fresh, tangy Fino Sherry

Fresh, tangy Fino Sherry

© shutterstock

Manzanilla vs. Fino

There has long been a slight oddity in the rules of the DO. Wines made under biological conditions in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda qualify, uniquely, for the term Manzanilla, yet they were also previously permitted to be termed Fino de Sanlúcar with no real distinction between the two. This has now been addressed and there will be a ten-year period of grace to move Fino wines away to another location to continue ageing, should they wish to keep bottling it as a Fino Sherry.

New Order

Sherry is unlikely to arrive at our tables in anything less than a glass bottle, though locally it has long been a tradition to purchase it in bulk from a local bodega, arriving with your own empty bottle and having it filled directly from the barrel, often with little to no information about the wine being available.

New regulations will come into place to define this supply chain more strictly. Two- and five-litre PET containers have been authorised for use in hotels and for wine stores, whilst bag-in-box formats have been reserved exclusively for wines from Chiclana.

New Life

As part of a new focus, there will be a vineyard commission established with a number of objectives. Firstly, it aims to re-establish the realities and cost of vineyard management in Jerez, to ensure both quality and profitability for the growers.

There is also an aim to authorise indigenous grapes to be used in quality wine production, many of which have long flirted with extinction; keep an eye out for Mantúo Castellano, Mantúo de Pilas, Vejeriego, Perruno, Cañocazo and Beba.

Whilst many of these changes are small and specific in their own right, they add up to a real change in the way that Sherry seems to be moving. More importantly, it puts old, tired discussions to bed and allows the DO to move forward, to adapt to future challenges and to open further discussions around how Sherry should be seen on the world stage.

With one of the world’s greatest wines and a regulatory body that is very much on the same page, there is a lot to be optimistic about for the future of Sherry.

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