Sherry: New regulations to revolutionise category

Yet there is a more major category change that Saldaña is keen to comment on – that some wines won’t have to be fortified to be called fino or manzanilla. For a category that is synonymous with fortification, it is a huge step, but one that has been brought about by climate change. 

“One of the changes is that you’re not obliged to add alcohol if your wine already has the minimum alcoholic content which is required, 15%. Traditionally we fortify a wine that is naturally 12% or 13% but there are a number of producers who are obtaining wines which are at 15% but were being forced to fortify. This is a major change that needs to be approved at European level – it probably won’t be until the end of this year.” 


It’s true that the changes are being met positively by producers. Gonzalez Byass, which alongside its own Superior and VORS ranges is the owner of one of sherry’s biggest brands, Tío Pepe, sees the step change as a chance to modernise the category. “It shows the regulatory board is trying to modernise the region and allowing more producers means there are more people to spread the word about sherry,” says brand manager Helen Yates. “The fact that more grape varieties will be allowed is great in the long term, as this opens up more opportunities when it comes to new products.” 

She’s quick to point out though that it is going to take – even more – time for us to see any of the varietal changes actually impacting the liquid offering coming out of Spain. “Producers will need time to plant new grape varieties. It will take quite some years before we see wines with these grape varieties as they have to be recovered, replanted, then they have to grow, and then wines have to be produced.” 

Interestingly, brands are already innovating in some of the areas that are due to come into effect. One of the oldest brands in sherry, La Gitana – a manzanilla produced by the Hildago family – is about to release a manzanilla that hasn’t been fortified, La Gitana Unfortified 2017, the first time that has ever happened in the sherry region. 

“In order to reach at least 15% alcohol, we had to use an ancient technique called ‘asoleo’,” explains eighth-generation family member and co-owner Fermin Hildago. “It means that once we cut the bunches, we have to leave them on the soil for a couple of days and turn them around twice a day in order to raise them slightly. By doing that, we reduce the amount of water in the grape juice and the sugar content increases.” 

Saldaña thinks the changes will be more impactful on the overall accessibility of sherry outside of Spain when it comes to education, language and terms, and a more overarching focus and ease of category understanding. “I don’t think there will be major changes in terms of liquid but what we will have is more information to be given to consumers on labels and more options in terms of the diversity of sherry. We will see producers referring more to the vineyards, to the varieties.”