VORS truly…. an introduction to sherry age classifications
Apart from a few sherries aged as vintages, known as Añada sherries, the vast majority are aged in the solera and criadera system which blends older wine with younger wine to preserve quality and characteristics year after year. This means that the sherry in our glass can only be given an average age. But average ages vary considerably, with some wines being moved through the solera and criadera system much more slowly than others. In some cases the youngest wine used to top up the system is actually taken from the solera of another sherry, so it’s done its fair share of ageing before it even joins the party.
To give us consumers a clue about which sherries are the oldies, the Consejo Regulador introduced a system of age classification which now has four age indications within it:
- VORS – Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (helpfully, for those of us not so hot on our Latin, also known as Very Old Rare Sherry) indicates a minimum average age of 30 years, although many are even older than that
- VOS – Vinum Optimum Signatum (or Very Old Sherry) indicates a minimum average age of 20 years
- 15 year old – which is self-explanatory but don’t forget it refers to average age
- 12 year old – as above
Bodegas cannot simply write VORS or 12 years old on the label. They must get approval from the Consejo Regulador, which involves some pretty stringent testing. The sherry must be tasted by a panel of tasters to check that it has the right characteristics for its age and that it is of a high enough quality to receive approval. The bodega records are scrutinised, as they show how often and how much sherry is taken from the solera annually and this allows the Consejo Regulador to calculate if the sherry could feasibly be of the correct average age. The wine is then subjected to a series of lab tests, including carbon 14 dating. I can remember a time when that was reserved for dating dinosaur bones – how times have changed! If the sherry passes all these tests, the bodega is given permission to label it with the relevant age classification.
Not every bodega chooses to go through the age classification process. It’s costly, especially for VOS and VORS sherries where the tests must be repeated every time the wine is extracted from the barrel for bottling. Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla’s Antique range is a good example of excellent old sherries that do not carry an age classification. However, with that notable exception, if you’re looking for something old and exceptional look out for the VORS and VOS labels.
With thanks to @HenryBarnes64 from Twitter for inspiring this article.
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