At the start of the Diatomist project we were reticent to select a blended Sherry for our range. We were bent on promoting the “indigenous” styles and to stay well clear of the “export” styles that had become synonymous with Sherry in the UK.

What I call “export styles” include Medium, Cream, Pale Cream – each wine is more or less defined by its sweetness. Medium contains between 5-114 grams of residual sugar per liter, Cream slightly more at 115-140 grams and Pale Cream (rarely seen today) is 45-114 grams and is made around a biological wine hence the “pale” colour of the wine.  

Medium and Cream, even the names are unenticing. The former not wishing to offend and the latter more lactose than fermented grape juice. A drink to be offered to the venerable guest and not to a visiting friend. To be served in a thimble sized glass totally limiting any sensual interaction. Seemingly a style from another age, better suited to the austere 1950s than the 21st Century.

It is curious to think of all the different liquids that the word “Sherry” has conjured up in one’s mind over the centuries. Certainly Falstaff’s “Sack” was nothing like Sherry today, nor would you assume were the wines made in the 19th Century when Sherry followed a qualitive classification by terroirs and was benchmarked with champagne at the top end of Parisian wine lists.

Today, in the UK, Medium or Cream would probably win in a public poll of the style associated with Sherry. And there is good reason for it. The huge boom of wine sales in Britain largely came about thanks to the omnipotence of these style. Relatively affordable, pleasingly sweet, eminently drinkable, and resilient enough for an open bottle to last months in the drink’s cabinet. It was a crowd-pleaser and kept your visiting in-laws happy and slightly merry. Even today the bulk Creams and Mediums are usually taken by those without much interest in wine. It is an amouse bouche for the unadventurous.

As we touched on in my previous article on Oloroso, the lion’s share of these styles is in fact Oloroso – the quintessential, oxidative Sherry style. Oloroso needs to be made with the yema (the yolk) – the first press of grape juice. Quality grape mosto (fermented grape juice) is essential to give the wine the necessary structure, fruit and balance to mature for years in bota.

If, then, 80/90% of the blend is Oloroso then you are going to want a good quality Oloroso. What tended to happen, however, was that corners were cut and Oloroso earmarked for blends were made with the 2nd or 3rd press. Worse still, any biological aged bota that was adjudged to be unusual would be passed to the Oloroso solera. Oloroso became the perceived panacea to all the waifs and strays of the bodega.

Add to this the boom years for export styles and there was a need for industrial quantities of Oloroso. Corners were cut to such an extent and became so prevalent that even today you might hear someone say that good Oloroso should be made with the 2nd or 3rd press; fallacy became fact.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, we never set out to buy a Medium. We did not know the back story, but we all knew that we had never really enjoyed the drink. When, therefore, we were offered to taste a bota in Jerez we were not particularly enthusiastic. Thankfully the capataz insisted and we presented our catafinos for him to fill the glass from his venencia. Despite our reservations, we were all blown over by the liquid he gave us. The sweetness gave a smooth texture and a pleasing fruit character, all held up with a brooding backbone of oxidative and bota flavours.

Diatomists Medium is made with premium Oloroso that makes up 90% of the blend. Oloroso gives the wine structure, fruit and bota aromas as well as a clean finish. The Oloroso is a 15-year-old wine. The sweet spot for Oloroso is between 12-15 years. The mosto is made with the yema – the first press – and aged in a solera well over 100 years old. The wine’s pedigree is quite frankly impeccable.

PX makes up the rest of the blend and can be sampled in isolation as our Diatomists PX. The combination of luscious sweetness and sun-dried fruit coupled with the dry Oloroso really is an inspired pairing. However, the two styles could not be more different and therefore it is essential they have sufficient time to integrate. Here, again, Diatomists Medium is a step above the rest having been aged a further 4 years as a blend (this is a level of detail and patience unrivaled in the region). This additional time to fuse and mellow creates a wine at ease with itself and beautifully balanced.

Contrary to popular opinion, Medium is extremely versatile and suited to many courses and occasions. I remember being served a short tumbler of Medium at the HQ of Jerez DO (El Consejo Reguladora de Jerez) years ago which also contained a slice of orange and a single, large ice cube. The concoction was delicious and quite unexpected as a pre-dinner drink. With food Mediums pair superbly with Asian fare (notoriously difficult to match with wine) as well as liver patés or terrines. After a meal too, the wine works beautifully with puddings and the cheese board, particularly blue cheeses. This Christmas we enjoyed two half bottles of Medium with a good slab of Stichelton cheese which was the highlight of the feast. The sweet and salty combination really sang.

In spite of my insistence to call these blends “export” styles, it would be negligent of me not to share the charming story of Amoroso – the local name for Medium wine. A name not recognised by the Jerez DO, Amoroso came about organically. After a hard day in the bodega, workers would often take a bottle of Oloroso home to enjoy in the evening. For those wishing to share the wine with their better halves they would add a little PX to sweeten the wine and make it more “lovable” – hence Amoroso. Unlike Creams which were designed purely for the export market, Mediums or “Amorosos” have a charming and long history amongst the lovers and wine-lovers of Jerez.

We understand the challenge Medium style Sherry asks of its consumer. We have gone through the same process as we were originally bent on excluding the style from our range. However, as is the case with much of Jerez, one needs to retain a curious mind and explorative spirit. Exceptional wines are being made in the region, if you scratch under the surface. Despite the unflattering associations and poor imports that have dominated the market, there are Mediums that can surprise and delight.