AECOVI, a large cooperative in Jerez, has completed a two year study which shows that the differences, particularly in salinity, between Fino and Manzanilla are not simply due to the crianza (ageing) of the wines being in different places. They have found a close relationship between salinity and proximity of the vineyard to the sea in wines aged biologically (under Flor).
In the mid XIX century the ageing of the wines was changed from a system of anadas (or vintage wines) to the now well-known solera system, largely to suit the English importers who wanted more consistent styles. This served to reinforce the “myth” that Sherry is made in the bodega and that the differences in style of Finos and Manzanillas were due to the place of crianza, rather than the grapes themselves.
Under current regulations (the Reglamento) the “myth” is continued as regards definitions of Fino and Manzanilla. The only real difference according to the Consejo is that Manzanilla must be aged in Sanlucar. The grapes themselves can come from anywhere in the Sherry zone, although in practice most do come from the Sanlucar area. Equally, the grapes for the Finos of Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria may come from anywhere in the zone. Custom has become law and has been accepted.
|This fantastic aerial photo gives an idea of the humid atmosphere in Sanlucar (vinoybrandydelpuerto)|
The study found that the grapes grown near the sea contain more sodium and that the salinity is more concentrated in the summer months – particularly around harvest time – in areas which are exposed to prevailing westerly winds and nightly dewfall. This compares with the drier vineyards of Jerez where the winds alternate more, east and west. Aecovi studied various parcels of vineyard, 22 in Sanlucar, 4 in Jerez and one in Chipiona which link the location of the vineyard to the salinity in the grapes for the first time.
Temperatures, rainfall and solar radiation were found to be very similar in Jerez and Sanlucar, but the latter has more humidity due to the west wind – which brings more salt. Soils and leaves were analysed in all 27 parcels, showing more salt in the Sanlucar area especially towards harvest time.
As well as field studies, the investigators analysed the wines themselves – 30 bottles of Manzanilla and 24 bottles of Fino from both Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria, all available commercially, with concurrent results. The Manzanillas contained an average of 70 mg/l salt compared to an average of 40 in the Finos, thus reinforcing the Aecovi theory that wines are born in the vineyard, not the bodega, but due to the homogeneity required by export markets this has been lost.
The aim of the study is to put value back into the vineyard, says Carmen Romero, manager of Aecovi, and perhaps help save it from housing development because of its seaside position. Also up for consideration now is the notion of redefining the Denominacion de Origen Manzanilla, restricting its production to only coastal vineyards. For sure we haven’t heard the end of this one!