If we look at fortification as innovation, what do we call a method that was overshadowed and written out of history and yet has persisted and consistently made excellent wines??
To answer this question, let’s set the stage: Some version of Sherry has been made in the Southwest Andalusian region of Jerez in Spain since the arrival of the Greeks in the 9th century BCE. Up until the 1600s, wines of this region have been made without fortification, utilizing the hot and humid environment to create a layer of Flor on the wines. This layer of yeast helped to protect and stabilize the wines. The naturally occurring higher levels of alcohol proved to be a safe home for yeasts but not for bacteria that could destroy the wines.
By the 17th century, England and other northern European kingdoms had become hooked. Queen Elizabeth I even had her own pirates raid ships carrying Sherry during her war with Spain. With Sherry in high demand outside of Spain, fortification (the adding of a grape spirit to wine in order to halt or slow the process of fermentation) was a solution for shipping wine because it produced more stable wines that could handle the ocean voyage.Since the expansion of the global economy, fortification became a permanent part of the Sherry making process. By the turn of the 20th century, most wine making regions had begun to establish D.O.s or Denominacion de Origen (AOC in French/ DOC in Italian) so that wine being made in a specific region could be established and categorized to ensure the quality would not be compromised by imitators in other parts of the world. While this is a great step toward fortifying the wine making process, it also tends to cut out the prehistory of a wine. And, in the case of the wines of Jerez, only allowing the fortified style to be called Sherry.
In this month’s issue of Club Caravan, we will be telling the story of the wines of Gomez Nevado being made today in the region Cordoba right next to Jerez. They are using the Solera process mentioned in Part 1 of Sherry but instead of fortifying the wine, they’ve maintained the original method of allowing Sherry to develop a higher alcohol content through growth under Flor. We might even argue that while they cannot officially call their wine Sherry, they are making an even more honest (and historically true) version of the product than the fortified Sherry coming out of Jerez. As you taste these special bottles from Gomez Nevado that are not called Sherry, ask yourself, what do we call the method of production that’s been both lost to history yet still prevailed?
(translates to "Golden")
40% Aris, 30% Palomino, 30% Pedro Ximenez
Aged 15 Years in Solera under a natural yeast membrane (veil de flor)
After a number of years, the Flor dies, the color of the wine changes, smell & flavors get concentrated
Bottled "En-Rama" (No filtration or stabilizers)
Flavors: Nutty, Complex, Salty, Persistent Acidity
Pairing: Olives, Almonds, Tapas, Cured & Fatty Meats, Smoked Fish, Cheese
This Dorado is similar in style to a traditional Amontillado from Jerez. This wine spends several years aging under the veil of yeast. When the flor dies the wine is exposed to oxygen and continues to age in this oxidative style. This is what brings the wine the wonderful golden color you see. This is a wine that is both nutty, fruity, dry and complex.
( translates to: doomed/exposed/semi-sweet/quaffable/off-dry)
Aris grapes harvested very late in September
Grapes pressed, then juice fermented in clay Tinaja for 4-6 months
Partially fermented juice added to wood casks containing small amounts of the 5-year old Dorado, which stops the fermentation
The wine rests for at least 7 years
Oxidative aging process occurs (No veil of Flor yeast)
Evaporation leads to elevated ABV
PAIRING: Pumpkin Pie, Spanish Migas (recipe included)
To make this wine the Aris grapes are harvested very late to allow for the most sugar development within the grape. The grapes are then pressed and left to ferment in clay Tinaja for 4-6 months. Before the fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred to wooden casks containing small amounts of Gomez Nevado's 5-year old Dorado wine, which then stops fermentation of the newly added wine. In the barrel now, the wine rests for at least 7 years. Oxidative aging occurs leading to a rich and deep color. Also, as the wine evaporates, the alcohol level increases. There is no fortification to this wine and the 17% abv is entirely natural. The Abocado is a semi-sweet wine.
ABOUT: Gomez Nevado
Located in the Andalusia region in southern Spain, Gomez Nevado comes from the village of Villaviciosa de Cordoba. The vines are grown as traditional free-standing bush vines. Goats graze throughout the vineyard which are surrounded by up to 800 meter high mountains.
Gomez Nevado production methods go back a few hundred years and they are making wines in the Sherry style. This means the wines are aged under a veil of yeast known as Flor. Their wines also employ oxidative aging. Nevado is the first certified organic producer in all of Spain (Pretty impressive, right? Even more interesting is that the certification wasn't until 1980 !) While the wines they produce are similar in style to the wines of Jerez, technically they cannot be called Sherry, and that's for a couple reasons:
- First, their region of Cordoba and the village of Villaviciosa in Andalusia is outside of the bounds of the region of Jerez.
- Secondly, the wines of Gomez Nevado, while matching current Sherry styles, are not fortified. And to be labeled as Sherry the wines must be fortified (this is the addition of spirit alcohol to the wine in order to raise the alcohol level and stop further fermentation)
The region of Jerez had its boundaries defined and classified in 1935. Before this, wines from this region and beyond have all been made in very similar styles. It is here where we find the Fino style, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez wines. Those names also all became classified along with the region of Jerez. Prior to this classification, the wines of these areas of Andalusia, made in very similar styles, were all employing the use of Flor which was naturally occurring due to the environmental conditions of the place.
Nonetheless, after being excluded from the classification of Jerez, the wines of Cordoba and Gomez Nevado (and only a handful of other producers) kept on being made in their same traditional way. These wines are more historically accurate and authentic to the wines of Jerez than the actual wines of Jerez today. It is interesting to note that very recently in 2022, the regulation board in Jerez decided to allow the non-fortified wines of Jerez to now be classified as traditional Sherry as long as minimum alcohol levels are met. This is an exciting return to traditional practices that had almost disappeared. Hopefully, with wines like these from Gomez Nevado, and now wines of the region of Jerez, more of the world will be able to see the stunning complexity of these wines and why they are unique in the world of wine.
What makes Gomez Nevado’s wine so special and such an experience to be honored is its rarity. Sherry is already a wine that is made with limited production because its popularity has greatly waned throughout recent history due to confusion between Spanish and English sherry styles which are drastically different, For this reason, and along with a changing international palate, the production of Sherry and Sherry-like wines has continually been on the decline. A producer like Gomez Nevado, that has continued the tradition of sherry winemaking that precedes Sherry, has an even more limited supply. It is producers like this that help us understand what history tastes like.
We will continue the story of Sherry in Part 3: Flor in July. Through the first two chapters of this epic saga, we have gained an understanding of the evolution of Sherry production and how fortification changed the game. Part 3 will dive deeper into the most unique element of Sherry-it’s time spent under Flor. Stay tuned!
Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history. All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring. We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop