Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Manzanilla: The Neglected Sherry (Part 1)

Manzanilla sherry is "as delicate and as temperamental as a woman;"
--Julian Jeffs

Spaniards may embrace this sentiment, especially considering how many manzanillas possess feminine names, such as La Pastora, La Victoria, La Goya, La Gitana, La Guita, Solea, and Eva. It is also very clear that Spaniards love manzanilla and over half the sherry they drink is that style. It is also the only type of sherry whose consumption has either grown or remained the same within recent years.

As an example of their love for manzanilla, consider the Sevilla Feria, the famed Spring Festival of Seville, the capital of Andalucia. At this event, attendees drink approximately 600,000 bottles of manzanilla over the course of only six days. How many other wine festivals do you know where that much wine is consumed in such a short time?

Yet outside of Spain, demand for manzanilla is extremely low, with sweeter sherries often being preferred. In 2009, Great Britain, the largest importer of Spanish sherry, only imported 2.07% of manzanilla. Holland, the second highest sherry importer, imported the most manzanilla, though it was only 4.92%, still quite a low figure. As for the United States, they only imported 1.72% of manzanilla. Hopefully that can change as manzanilla is a delicious and versatile sherry, one which deserves a far greater appreciation.

Manzanilla is a type of sherry unique to a single city in the sherry region, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and even has its own Denominación de Origen, called Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanila is sometimes known as el mas fino de los finos (the finest of the fine) and vino de la alegria (the wine of joy). It is drier and paler than fino sherry, with a taste often thought to be salty, reminiscent of the briny sea.

Sanlucar is an ancient city, located on the left bank of the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. Across the river from Sanlucar is the Coto de Doñana, a large natural park and wildlife refuge. In the early days, Sanlucar produced malmsey and eventually began to produce some sherry style wines and a red wine called vino carlon. But until the beginning of the 19th century, the wines of Sanlucar were generally not considered sherries.

The style of manzanilla was probably created around 1800 but the name did not become common until around 1814. Even as late as 1846, manzanilla was still not considered to be a sherry. Initially, it was mostly drank by locals or used for blending though there was a surge of love for manzanilla in England during Victorian times. Manzanilla still would not be bottled extensively until the beginning of the 1900s.

There are a few different theories as to the origin of the term “manzanilla.” First, some believe it derives from the word “manzana” which means “apple,” as this type of sherry is thought to taste like apples. But the diminutive form is “manzanita” not “manzanilla” so some don’t feel the theory is valid. Second, it may derive from the word “manzanilla” which also means “camomille,” again because the sherry is thought to have a flavor like camomille. But some people dispute that there is such a flavor link, and dispute that origin. Third, the name might be derived from Manzanilla, the name of a small village located between Seville and Huelva. Supporters of this origin feel that the wines from this village tasted similar to those in Sanlucar, but others disagree. In the end, there is still much uncertainty as to the term’s origin.

Manzanilla, like most sherry, is made from the Palomina grape, also sometimes known as listan, tempranilla, palomino blanca, and orgazuela. Interestingly, the grapes for manzanilla can come from any vineyard within the sherry region, but the wine can only be aged in Sanlúcar. If there wine were aged elsewhere, it would not legally qualify as manzanilla, and very likely would not taste like one either.

Manzanilla is produced using some of the same basic methods as a fino, but there are significant differences as well, from the vineyard to the storage of the wine. First, the grapes are picked earlier, at least a week, when the grapes are not fully ripe, and thus contain less sugar but more acid. This year, the sherry harvest, in a few spots, began a couple weeks ago. Second, their vineyards are usually pruned less.

Third, instead of moving the wine in the solera every six months, it is moved more frequently, every one to three months. In addition, during the aging process, manzanilla is moved through more barrels, called scales, than other sherries. Most sherry goes through three to nine scales, but manzanilla never goes through less than nine and sometimes as many as sixteen. Manzanillas are also aged a minimum of five years. Fourth, the sea breezes are supposed to add a salty tang to manzanilla. Many of the bodegas in Sanlúcar have been designed to get the most benefit from this breezes.

Fifth, the flor for manzanilla is different from that of other sherries. Flor, a type of yeast, forms atop sherry as it ages in a barrel. The flor protects the sherry from oxygen and also consumes any residual or unfermented sugars. In Jerez, the flor is most active only in spring and autumn but in Sanlúcar, where manzanilla ages, it is active year round. The effect is that manzanilla becomes lighter and less oxidized. Sanlúcar cooler temperatures and higher humidity also lead to a higher yield of flor, and the flor even looks different. Plus, in Jerez, you’ll find four different fungi in the flor but in Sanlucar, only one, cheriensis, predominates.

The Neglected Sherry: Part 2

1 comment:

Emilia said...

Thanks for this post, I want to take some useful information about sherry wine club.