One of the most important chapters among those offered throughout the CSWS® classes is the enjoyment of sherry. Most wine courses tend to focus on technical, physicochemical, geographical, or contextual aspects, many times downright ignoring both the specific service and the enjoyment of the wines being studied. Due to its great diversity and variety of styles, flavors, aromas, and textures, Jerez wines take the importance of proper service several stages further. All of the following: the type of occasion, the accompanying food, the serving temperature, and the glass of choice are essential for the wine to be able to project its full potential on our senses in a harmonious way.
During the CSWS® course, once all the characteristics that make sherry a category of wine greatly differentiated from other classic regions have been thoroughly reviewed, the direction is changed to present these wines as accessible, enjoyable, and food-friendly as any white or red wine made from any other famous appellation in the world. To this end, we focus on three fundamental pillars (which also try to break with the biggest clichés ever created about Jerez wine that still feed many wine lovers’ misconceptions) based on: storage, service, and pairings/applications. In today’s article, the service takes center stage, bringing all the attention to what the ideal glass for drinking sherry is.
Unfortunately for many of us, still today, mentioning an “ideal glass to drink sherry” already compels and involves use of a distinctive “sherry glass”. This starting point is largely the guiding thread of the content written below. The traditional sherry glass, the “copita”, is not even remotely the ideal glass to drink these wines which are now better than ever, also potentially complex, and fun, and so delicious.
What makes the sherry glass special? History and origins of the glass
Probably, if you type in any search engine “wine glass to drink sherry” or directly “sherry glass” you will find countless images of items that take this wine back to the early 19th century. Tiny glasses, in some cases made of cut glass, short and way too far from what we might think appropriate for a wine of a certain quality and expressiveness. Some images may even show a sort of flask as if sherry were a spirit! There is a small fraction of grape spirit added to most sherry wines.
Why is sherry traditionally associated with this type of wine glass? How many different sherry glasses are there?
As has been addressed in past articles in this blog such as: “Types of sherry bodegas and their contribution to complexity”; “Sherry Almacenistas: Sherry Crafters from the Anonymity”; “How is Sherry Aged? Aging Sherry in the Solera and Criaderas System” or “Sherry Flor – The Veil of “Flor” and What it is Used for in Sherry Production”, to understand the current situation of the profound universe of sherry, it is advisable to start from a historical perspective. Jerez is built on a very long historical base and its cultural influence, like its service, has evolved over the years.
The origin of the crystal or glass cup is diffuse, although it is estimated that the Phoenicians, those merchants from the Far Middle East who brought the grapevine to the region about 3,000 years ago, were also the first to use glass to drink wine. It is not until the 16th century, however, that the cup with a bowl and foot is created and overall accepted as the container for the optimal consumption of wine. But there is no clear creator of the wine glass, so it is difficult to draw a line of connection.
The shape of the wine glass has also evolved, adapting to fashion, customs, and traditions. Wine glasses have been getting larger over time, thanks to a greater knowledge of the behavior of the components that make up the wines. Structured, full-bodied wines that are aged for a long time are drunk in wide, tall glasses to allow the wine in question to unfold its entire aromatic range, texture, and flavor characteristics. The same goes for wines that may show opposite profiles. These days, if that is your goal, one can virtually have a differently shaped wine glass for each wine selection.
What about the glass for drinking sherry?
The sherry glass, like the ‘other’ wine glasses, has also undergone an evolution throughout history, from being consumed in clay bowls fired in the Roman pottery kilns of the region, to wood, copper, porcelain, silver, and even gold—from Christian kings of the 15th and 16th centuries—to finish with glass and crystal, these being relatively recent materials. Before the democratization of sherry, sherry was a collector’s product, a luxury wine for the most powerful and wealthy classes in the Western world. Kings, queens, nobility, and the gentry yearning for titles and social status were the only ones who could have access to a bottle of sherry. This greatly marked the way jerez was consumed at that time. Hand-cut glass bottles, hand-blown glass, goblets with filigree in precious metals, etc. Back then, the challenges in the winemaking processes, along with the long freight to reach international destinations, possibly contributed to wines with a more robust profile, not reaching the levels of refinement, depth of flavor and aromas found in current sherry. As a result, the smaller fancy-looking glasses, with a capacity slightly larger than a sip, were preferred by most 18th-century sherry consumers.
Note: It is in the 18th century when the English popularized crystal glasses for drinking wine, or when the glasses we know today like the “champagne” glass, started to be widely manufactured.
In the case of sherry, over time, the former luxurious (not very accessible) small glass is simplified to an inexpensive version expanding their broad use in the city’s wineries, local taverns, and tabancos, and acquiring two well-defined types: the “catavino” and the “vaso”.
– Vaso: In Sanlúcar known as “cane“. It was the container where sherry was drunk in the most popular and accessible places to the lower classes. This narrow glass, about 3 cm in diameter and relatively thick (to extend its useful life) was filled directly from the casks and barrels that were found in the back rooms or behind the bars of these establishments. This type of glass had nothing to do with the previous eccentric and ornate sherry glasses used by the few rich; its use was straightforward to drink, nothing more. Not surprisingly, it is still being used in the most popular places in the towns across the region, especially in Sanlúcar, where you can still enjoy manzanilla in a “caña”.
– Catavino: This “copita” does have a greater similarity in shape to the extravagant glass of the 18th century and it is the one adopted by wineries and foremen for their daily work. However, its shape was perfected from a technical standpoint, as it is an ideal glass for ‘tasting’ sherry. Tasting, which does not mean that it is also ideal for drinking or enjoying sherry. The catavino has evolved to become a work tool that allows the foreman and/or oenologist to identify both desired and unwanted nuances and characteristics in the wine. It is, to define it in a simpler way, a “spotter” of aromas and flavors.
Therefore, what is the most used ‘Jerez glass’ nowadays? Clearly, the 18th-century cup no longer has a place in everyday life due to its lack of practicality and capacity, and because it is already a collection or museum piece. The “winery taster” (catavino) is probably still the most widespread in the daily duties of the bodegas, although there are wineries that are incorporating new options: white wine glasses to taste or work with. At the consumer level though (in the Jerez region and Spain), the most common glass in homes is the catavino or “copita”, whose nickname comes from the glass that has been defined above.
Moreover, due to the great sense of tradition attached to the region, the use of the catavino has deeply rooted in the community, also at the hospitality level, using a similar version (smaller and narrower than the winery catavino), as the ‘official’ sherry glass. Currently, it can still be easily seen in bars and restaurants, as is the case with the caña in Sanlúcar. Unfortunately, despite its continued popularity and acceptance, this glass limits the expressiveness of any sherry wine, regardless of the style. It may be a very iconic glass, an emblem of the city and the region, but it does not do any favors to the wines, period.
Sherry Glass shape and size
Aware of the issue, several years ago, the Regulatory Council of the DDOO Jerez – Xérèz – Sherry and Manzanilla de Sanlúcar decided to work on an updated version of the classic catavino in an attempt to make it a more stylish option with the necessary traits for better wine enjoyment. Any style of sherry (fino, manzanilla, oloroso, amontillado, palo cortado, medium, pale cream, cream, moscatel, dulce or pedro ximénez) feels instantly better in this vessel. In addition to providing the glass with a more suitable silhouette, it improves the aesthetics of its predecessor, being a slender, more acceptable wine glass to current standards. This newer glass brings Jerez’s wines closer to the topic to which they belong, wine.
The proposal made by the Regulatory Council has been adopted by a multitude of wineries, including Lustau. This glass holds a larger volume than the regular catavino, allows the wine to be in contact with the air, and provides greater evaporation of volatile substances causing a higher intensity and variety of aromas.
Even though this glass is now being extensively found in higher-end restaurants and wineries, it has not yet managed to position itself as the definitive sherry glass throughout the world. Despite this, sherry is a wine that stands out for its versatility and adaptability. In the absence of a genuine sherry glass, a white wine glass (Riesling-style for example) would perfectly perform the same functions. In any case, if the glass meets these requirements beforementioned, it will then be a fantastic choice when drinking any quality sherry properly.
The culinary nature of sherry wines requires a glass with certain characteristics so that the recreation of wine with food is unforgettable. The wine glass, like the wine itself, has evolved over the years. Throughout history, wine glasses are giving way to consistent modifications that improve their previous versions, helping us to consistently get more out of our preferred wines. This is the reason why it is necessary to celebrate that the sherry glass has disappeared so that the sherry glass can be welcomed back again.
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