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Sanlucar de Barrameda, a historic coastal town in Andalucia, is the home of refreshing, sea-scented Manzanilla Sherry. The town's humid, maritime air creates an ideal environment for the development of flor yeasts – the secret behind Manzanilla's distinctive taste and aroma.
The Manzanilla DO (Denominación de Origen), created in 1933, covers exactly the same geographical area as the Jerez DO and the Palomino Fino grapes that go into the base wine can be grown anywhere in the Jerez viticultural area. What separates the two is the all-important barrel maturation stage, which must take place in Sanlucar.
Located on the left bank of the Guadalquivir estuary, Sanlucar de Barrameda is the northernmost point of the famous "Sherry Triangle", which is completed by El Puerto de Santa Maria (24km/15 miles south, along the coast) and Jerez de la Frontera (24km/15 miles southeast and inland).
Sanlucar's particular location was critical in the development of the Manzanilla style of Sherry for two reasons. The first is the moist seaside air here, which both encourages prolific flor growth and imparts a gently saline note to the wines.
Proximity to the Atlantic means that both summer and winter are less harsh here than in Jerez de la Frontera, so the heat-sensitive flor can survive all year round. This both increases the yeasty, fresh-bread character of the wine and imparts distinctive notes of almonds and camomile ("manzanilla" in Spanish).
The flor also continuously protects the wine from oxygen, preventing it from developing into an oxidative Amontillado or Oloroso style. If the wine is left to age for so long that the flor does eventually die, the resulting wine is known as "Manzanilla Olorosa" and then a "Manzanilla Pasada".
The second reason relates to Sanlucar's strategic value as a port. Not only does the town sit at the very center of Spain's (relatively short) stretch of Atlantic coastline, it also happens to be just 72km (45 miles) downstream from Seville, Andalucia's ancient capital.
This made it an obvious base for Spain's explorers to set out on their voyages during the Age of Discovery (both Columbus and Magellan launched voyages from the town), and later as a key transatlantic trading post.
As transatlantic trading burgeoned, so Sanlucar became increasingly important. Vast quantities of wine were stored there, and over time the traders observed a subtly different style of wine emerging – the style we now know as Manzanilla.
The best place to start when you are pairing food and wine is to think about the structural elements of both the food and wines. These elements are: sweetness, acidity, bitterness, umami, chilli heat and fat.
We have listed these elements in foods and how you can add wines with similar or contrasting elements to help create harmony in your matches.
Sweet foods can overpower dry wines, white or red, making them appear acidic, neutral or bitter. In order to reduce this effect you should pair sweet foods with sweet wines.
Acidic foods, like fresh citrus, tomatoes or salads laden with vinaigrettes, will overpower the acidity in a wine making them appear flabby or less acidic than they were. In order to reduce this effect you should pair acidic foods with wines that have a higher acidity such as Champagne, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.
Acidity is a key element in creating balance in a dish or a food-and-wine match. If the foods are going to reduce the acidity in the wines then you need to add your own bit of acidity by bringing a more acidic wine to the table. It is the same principle behind adding lemon juice to seafood dishes, as seafood tends to have quite low natural acidity.
If a food is high in bitterness then it will make the wine appear bitter, or it will increase the perception of bitterness (tannins) in the wine. In order to reduce this effect you should pair bitter foods with wines that are not lean with high acid. Rather choose wines with some sweetness, fruit or viscosity.
Foods that are highly savoury, like mushrooms, will increase the bitterness or acidic perception we have in wines. In order to reduce this effect you should pair umami rich foods with wines that are fruity and do not have medium-high tannins.
Often foods that are more savoury are best matched with white wines like Chardonnay or Soave as these do not big tannins but have lots of fruity flavours.
Chilli heat is similar to umami-rich foods. They will increase the bitterness or acidic perception as well as the alcoholic burn we have in wines. In order to reduce this effect you should pair chilli heat rich foods with wines that are fruity and/or have higher sweetness levels.
Wines that are off-dry like many Gewürztraminers or Rieslings could work best with chilli foods like a curry as they will be both a bit sweet but also very fruity. If you aren't a white wine drinker then you could consider red wines that have lower tannins such as a Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir.
Foods that are high in fat will make the wines feel flabby and less fruity. In order to reduce this effect you should pair fatty foods with wines that have high acidity. This is similar to the rule of adding in acidity (in the form of citrus) to seafood to help to cut down the perception of fattiness.
These suggestions (there are no rules that apply to everyone) will help you to think about how to create pairings. It often isn't helpful to think about 'red wine and red meat' or 'white wine and fish' because it is actually the structural elements of the wine and food that need to be balanced. It is the acidity in white wines that works well by cutting through the fattiness of a piece of fish but you could get that acidity in a Pinot Noir.
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