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Manzanilla Sherry

Manzanilla sherry, a gem of the fortified wine world, is a variety of fino sherry produced exclusively in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the Cádiz province of Andalusia, Spain. This pale, dry wine is cherished for its lightness and complexity, often evoking the very essence of the sea-swept climate in which it matures. The name "Manzanilla" itself, derived from the Spanish word for 'chamomile', alludes to the wine’s subtle floral notes reminiscent of the flower.

Geography and Climate Influence

Manzanilla sherry's unique character is inextricably tied to its geographic location. Sanlúcar de Barrameda lies at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, and it is this proximity to the sea that imparts Manzanilla with its distinctive qualities. The maritime climate ensures cooler temperatures and higher humidity compared to the interior sherry-producing regions. This climatic influence is instrumental in the development of a thicker layer of "flor" – a variety of yeast that forms a protective cover over the wine as it ages in barrels, preventing oxidation and contributing to Manzanilla's fresh, vibrant profile.

The Role of 'Flor'

The flor is the heart and soul of Manzanilla Sherry. This cap of yeast not only safeguards the wine from oxygen but also feeds on the alcohol and glycerol within, engendering Manzanilla’s dryness and adding a savoury complexity. The flor thrives year-round in the humid conditions of Sanlúcar, resulting in a consistency of character and a particular crispness that is the hallmark of Manzanilla sherry.

Ageing and the Solera System

Manzanilla, like other sherries, is aged under the solera system, a process where younger wines are systematically blended with older ones over time. This multi-tiered system of barrels ensures continuity of style and quality, with the final product being a mixture of various vintages, where the oldest wine in the mix can sometimes have been part of the solera for several decades. Typically, Manzanilla sherries are aged from five to seven years, but they can be aged longer, resulting in Manzanilla Pasada, an older style with a richer, more concentrated flavour.

Tasting Notes and Food Pairings

On the palate, Manzanilla is refreshingly dry and light, with a crisp acidity. Flavour profiles typically include apple, almond, and dough, with the omnipresent chamomile notes and a tang of salinity that whispers of its coastal origins. Manzanilla is an exceedingly versatile wine when it comes to food pairings. Its sharpness cuts through the richness of seafood, making it an ideal accompaniment to shrimp, oysters, and other shellfish. It is also traditionally served with tapas, particularly olives, almonds, ham, and fried fish – simple yet elegant fare that complements the wine's complexity.

Variations of Manzanilla

Manzanilla comes in a few different styles, each offering a unique experience:

Manzanilla Fina: The most common and youthful style, displaying zesty fruit and maritime influences.

Manzanilla Pasada: Aged longer, this style has a deeper flavour with a more pronounced yeast character.

Manzanilla Amontillada: A version where the flor has begun to fade, exposing the wine to some oxidation, resulting in a richer and darker drink.

Manzanilla Olorosa: A rare style, intensely flavoured, often with the addition of concentrated grape must to introduce sweetness, creating a dessert wine variant.

Cultural Significance and Traditions

Manzanilla is deeply ingrained in the culture of Sanlúcar and is a focal point during local festivals. One such event is the "Feria de Manzanilla", a week-long celebration where the wine flows as freely as the festive spirit of the townspeople. The wine is customarily served chilled in small glasses called 'catavinos' and is intended to be consumed soon after bottling to enjoy its freshness.

Economic and Environmental Challenges

While Manzanilla enjoys a robust reputation, the region and producers face challenges. Economic pressures, climate change, and shifts in global wine consumption patterns all play a role. Producers are responding by implementing sustainable practices in both the vineyard and the bodega, ensuring that the delicate balance of nature that produces this unique wine is preserved for future generations.

Global Recognition and Future Prospects

As the world of wine becomes increasingly globalised, Manzanilla sherry has begun to garner the international recognition it deserves. Wine enthusiasts and sommeliers around the world are embracing Manzanilla for its unique flavour profile and versatility. As a result, producers are both preserving tradition and innovating to meet the palate preferences of a broader audience.

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