Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.
Sherry is made in a unique way using the solera system, which blends fractional shares of young wine from oak barrels with older, more mature wines. Sherry has no vintage date because it is blended from a variety of years. Rare, old sherries can contain wine that dates back 25 to 50 years or more, the date the solera was begun. If a bottle has a date on it, it probably refers to the date the company was founded.
Most sherries begin with the Palomino grape, which enjoys a generally mild climate in and around the triad of towns known as the "Sherry Triangle" and grows in white, limestone and clay soils that look like beach sand. The Pedro Ximenez type of sweet sherry comes from the Pedro Ximenez grape.
Sherry is a "fortified" wine, which means that distilled, neutral spirits are used to fortify the sherry. The added liquor means that the final sherry will be 16 to 20 percent alcohol (higher than table wines) and that it will have a longer shelf life than table wines.