Sherry – making a comeback

Traditional dry or flor sherry

By Ian Hickinbotham
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Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

Australian Plonky by Ian Hickinbotham


Sherry has made a come-back, but not 'sweet sherry', the Australian oddity that dominated our market almost completely 60 years ago.

Rather the current fashion is the traditional dry sherry type known as flor sherry, or fino flor sherry, the word 'fino' meaning 'fine' and 'flor' being Spanish for 'flower'. However, Australia has a dilemma: we cannot call it sherry anymore soon, as the Spanish have been granted the sole right to the name.

Maybe this decision is fair enough. The word 'sherry' is really 'jerez' anglicised and that word is not only Spanish but is the name of a particular city of a region of Spain.

But, sadly, it is just not known that Australians contributed greatly to reducing the old 'hit and miss' ways of making flor sherry. Even more remarkable – it was Australian oenology students who introduced some scientific method into the making of the wine style in an exciting period just after the war.

The origin of dry flor sherry was an accident, rather like the discovery of penicillin, but it happened so long ago the assertion is really just logical. A barrel of dry white wine was forgotten and after a few weeks became quite ullaged. A particular yeast developed in the wine, but it was a surface growing yeast. Importantly, its presence somewhat protected the wine from the usual fate in such circumstances – conversion to vinegar by ever-present bacteria – yet the bung of the barrel must have been loose, as that yeast type needs a small continuous supply of air to multiply in the first case. The yeast type imparts a special bouquet and distinctive taste into the wine.

It was also relevant that this event occurred in Spain, where the weather is warm enough to ensure the original dry white wine was relatively high in alcohol. This would have happened because the grapes would have been very ripe (by normal standards) and that grape sugar was converted to alcohol and gas by nature’s wonderful scheme – fermentation – which we usually define as the 'primary fermentation'.

It may seem all too simple now, but the Australian research defined the preciseness of the alcohol percentage to ensure that the yeast activated, but was too strong for the vinegar producing bacteria to develop. The actual figure varied according to the actual yeasts and though they occur naturally our initial surface yeast was imported from Spain. It is recorded that an Australian wine man 'stole' the yeast by carrying it on his handkerchief while visiting the Jerez region of Spain.


Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related review below).


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March 09th, 2011
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