At Álvaro Domecq, the wine rests according to its level of maturity. The casks are lined up in three or four levels, each one making up what is called a ‘scale’. The line of casks closest to the floor (‘suelo’ in Spanish) is called the ‘solera’ and it contains the oldest wine. Each year a small proportion is extracted from the solera and bottled, and it is replaced by a same amount from the row immediately above, which is called ‘primera criadera’ (‘first nursery’ in Spanish); this scale has a younger wine. Then, the primera criadera is replaced by the same amount of wine from the segunda criadera (‘second nursery’), which in turn has an even younger wine. This process is carried out until the last criadera is reached; the wine taken from this level is replaced by a wine known as ‘sobre tablas’, which has been made from the last harvest.
This dynamic ageing system was originally developed by the bodegas in Jerez.
Obtaining the free-run juice
Once the grapes have been harvested, they are taken to the wine-pressing facilities where it is unloaded onto the conveyor belts to eliminate the stalks, leaves and unsuitable clusters. After this stage, the grapes go through gentle-crushing machines to help open the fruit and then they are pressed lightly to obtain the free-run juice, generating an output of 70 litres per 100 kg of grapes. This must is usually destined to the making of Sherry and Manzanilla. A second pressing is mainly carried out to produce vinegar, and a third to make brandy.
The must obtained from the presses is transferred immediately to vertical stainless-steel vats, where the alcoholic fermentation takes place. This process has two stages: an initial stage with a tumultuous fermentation, which is a process by which more than 90% of the grape’s sugar turns into ethanol and carbon dioxide; it is a very violent stage during the first 36 hours and it lasts between 3 and 7 days. In the second stage, a delicate, white, dry, wine is made with an alcohol content between 11 and 12% Vol. whose characteristics will determine its first classification before it undergoes the typical aerobic ageing carried out in Sherries and Manzanillas.
The first classification of Sherry wines is made at the time of filtering. This occurs after the alcoholic fermentation and when the solid particles have settled at the bottom of the vats; the wine has clarified; and a type of yeast called ‘flor’ has started to form on the surface. Part of the wines that have a clear bouquet, which are paler and lighter, will be used for a permanent ageing under the film formed by the flor yeast to become a Fino or Manzanilla. Another part of the wines, those with a fuller body, will be classified as Oloroso wines. The wines are put into American oak casks in the first stage of ageing, which in Spanish is called ‘sobre tablas’. In Fino and Manzanilla wines with an alcohol content of up to 15% Vol., the film of flor yeast isolates the wine from the air, preventing its oxidation. In those destined to Oloroso wines, the alcohol content above 17% Vol. prevents the formation of flor yeasts; therefore, the ageing process takes place in full contact with the air.