Winemaking / Ageing
The town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda is dotted with numerous wineries that age this treasure-trove of wines within their walls.
The Bodega Terroir
The travelling spirit of Manzanilla and its close relatives, Sherry Wines, is the reason they became fortified wines. Fortification was the way to ensure these wines would remain stable on their long seafaring journeys.
Later, fortifying (the addition of wine alcohol) would go from being a necessity to simply a common practice adopted by wineries, allowing cellar masters to control the kind of wine they wanted to make.
Manzanilla is fortified by adding just enough wine alcohol to raise its alcohol content to 15ª ABV. This is done to preserve the velo de flor throughout the entire ageing process—since we know that the yeast in the velo de flor needs alcohol to survive.
However, anything above 15ª ABV becomes too powerful an antiseptic and would ultimately decimate the yeast colony. That’s why anytime the alcohol content rises above this range, the velo de flor disappears and oxidative ageing begins, producing Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo Cortado wines.
The Criaderas y Solera Ageing System
Manzanilla ages in American Oak casks following a traditional system known as criaderas (or clases in Sanlúcar) y solera, one of the great contributions the Sherry Region has given to the world of winemaking. This dynamic system, unique to the region, means that wines of different ages are blended in such a way that the younger Manzanillas add youth and vigour to the older wines. This also allows the velo de flor to survive for longer periods of time.
The Wine Cask
The best vessel for ageing Manzanilla is the American Oak wine cask or bota. The older and longer it’s been used, the better. In Sanlúcar, many botas have been in use for over a century, having remained in the same place since the very day the bodega was established.
The cask used for ageing Manzanilla is never filled to capacity. A space roughly known as dos puños (two fists) is left for air to enter. This allows the yeast to colonise the surface of the wine. Getting the right proportion of space/volume is key for the yeast to have optimum impact on the wine.
The wooden wine casks are arranged in rows, stacked on top of each other is long aisles known as andanas, separated by age at each level, called a criadera.
Did you know?
The bodegas of Sanlúcar have a number of unique features that set them apart from other bodegas in the Sherry Region. Some of these differences are so significant that by simply seeing a picture, you can tell if the bodega is from Sanlúcar and not from Jerez or El Puerto.
If you observe how the rows of casks are arranged in andanas (the way the casks are stacked on top of each other in long aisles for ageing Manzanilla) you will notice that the row placed nearest the floor, the solera, doesn’t rest upon wooden planks, as in the rest of the Sherry Region, but rather upon large stone slabs known as bajetes.