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Andalusia, in the south of Spain, is surely the quintessential Spanish wine region. Here we find all the color and passion of this ancient country, the streets ringing with flamenco music, and wines being enjoyed with gusto at every pavement cafe. The viticultural history of Andalusia is so old, that nobody really knows when it began - it could have been started by the ancient Greeks, or by the earlier Phoenicians who certainly used the peninsula as a trading post. Whoever got it started certainly did a good job, however, as by the time the Romans moved in, the wine industry was already well established, and it has barely faltered since.
Today, the most famous wines made in Andalusia are surely the Sherries, those beautiful, aromatic fortified wines, which come out of the city of Jerez and which are made from the characterful native Palomino grape. Sherry is not the be all and end all of Andalusian produce, however - the region is also highly appreciated for the sweet dessert wines of Malaga and Montilla Moriles, as well as the beautifully refined dry red and white wines from the region’s other DO (Denomination de Origen), Condado de Huelva which are quickly gaining popularity outside of Spain.
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.