Where The Grapes Of Sherry Grows
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Sherry, a wine which requires more explanation than many of its consumers imagine, is grown in a limited nook of the Peninsula, on the southwestern corner of sunny Andalusia, which occupies a range of country of which the town of Xerez is the capital and center. The wine-producing districts extend over a space which is included within a boundary drawn from the towns of Puerto de Santa Maria, Rota, San Lucar, Tribujena, Lebrija, Arcos, and to the Puerto again. The finest vintages lie in the immediate vicinity of Xerez, which has given, therefore, its name to the general produce. The wine, how-ever, becomes inferior in proportion as the vine-yards get more distant from this central point.
Altho some authors—who, to show their learning, hunt for Greek etymologies in every word—have derived sherry from the Greek word for "dry," to have done so from the Persian Schiraz would scarcely have been more far-fetched. "Sherris sack," the term used by Falstaff, no mean authority in this matter, is the precise "seco de Xerez," the term by which the wine is known to this day in its own country; the epithet "seco," or dry—the "seck" of old English authors, and the "sec" of French ones—being used in contradistinction to the "sweet" malvoisies and muscadels, which are also made of the same grape. The wine, it is said, was first introduced into England about the time of Henry VII., whose close alliance with Ferdinand and Isabella was cemented by the marriage of his son with their daughter. It became still more popular among us under Elizabeth, when those who sailed under Essex sacked Cadiz in 1596, and brought home the fashion of good "sherris sack, from whence," as Sir John says, "comes valor."
The quality of the wine depends on the grape and the soil, which has been examined and analyzed by competent chemists. Omitting minute and uninteresting particulars, the first class and the best is termed the "Albariza"; this whitish soil is composed of clay mixed with carbonate of lime and silex. The second sort is called "Barras," and consists of sandy quartz, mixed with lime and oxide of iron. The third is the "Arenas," being, as the name indicates, little better than sand, and is by far the most widely extended, especially about San Lucar, Rota, and the back of Amos; it is the most productive, altho the wine is generally coarse, thin, and ill flavored, and seldom improves after the third year; it forms the substratum of those inferior sherries which are largely exported to the discredit of the real article. The fourth class of soil is limited in extent, and is the "Bugeo," or dark brown loamy sand which occurs on the sides of rivulets and hillocks. The wine grown on it is poor and weak; yet all the inferior produces of these different districts are sold as sherry wines, to the great detriment of those really produced near Xerez itself, which do not amount to a fifth of the quantity exported.
The varieties of the grape are far greater than those of the soil on which they are grown. Of more than a hundred different kinds, those called "Listan" and "Palomina Blanca" are the best. The increased demand for sherry, where the producing surface is limited, has led to the extirpation of many vines of an inferior kind, which have been replaced by new ones whose produce is of a larger and better quality. The "Pedro Ximenez," or delicious sweet-tasted grape which is so celebrated, came originally from Madeira, and was planted on the Rhine, from whence, about two centuries ago, one Peter Simon brought it to Malaga, since when it has extended over the south of Spain. It is of this grape that the rich and luscious sweet wine called "Pajarete" is made—a name which some have erroneously derived from "Pajaros," the birds, who are wont to pick the ripest berries; but it was so called from the wine having been originally only made at Paxarete, a small spot near Xerez; it is now prepared everywhere, and thus the grapes are dried in the sun until they almost become raisins, and the syrop quite inspissated, after that they are prest, and a little fine old wine and brandy is added. This wine is extremely costly, as it is much used in the rearing and maturation of young sherry wines.