What does the term "solera" refer to in Sherry and winemaking?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have a question about Sherry and the term “solera.” Is that word used to describe the physical place where the wine is aged? Or is it the name of the process the wine goes through to become Sherry? Or is it both?

—John G., East Hampton, Conn.

Dear John,

A solera system is a collection of barrels, traditionally stacked (with the bottom row containing the oldest vintage), for the purpose of fractional blending across vintages. More on that in a moment. Solera systems are not specific to Sherry—they can be used on non-vintage bubbly, Port, rum and balsamic vinegar. Most Sherries go through the solera system, but it’s just one of the parts of the Sherry-making process. Check out our ABC’s of Sherry for more on how those wines are made.

And now back to fractional blending. It’s a way to create a house style, and to keep a historic thread running through a beverage that is made year after year. I find it helpful to picture a tower of barrels from multiple vintages, with the youngest barrels on the top of the pile and the oldest at the bottom. You start by removing some wine from the oldest barrel on the bottom, but then you replace that missing portion with wine from the next oldest barrel, and that portion is then replaced with the next oldest barrel, and so on down the line so that the missing amount is always replaced by the next-oldest available wine. Because you never entirely empty the barrels, the barrel on the bottom will always have at least a small amount of the oldest vintage.

—Dr. Vinny

Winemaking Techniques Explained Fortified Wines Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Can I store wine in a wine fridge that’s turned off or doesn’t work?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains optimal wine storage conditions.

Jun 5, 2023

What’s the best way to pour wine without any drops spilling or running down the side of the bottle?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers guidance for pouring wine like a pro.

May 30, 2023

If my friends bring an expensive bottle of wine to dinner, should I pay the corkage fee?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny weighs in on a dinner etiquette question …

May 22, 2023

Is it OK to recommend a wine that I don't like?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny shares advice for a wine professional who doesn't always …

May 15, 2023

Is it appropriate to hold my wineglass while a sommelier fills it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers guidance for navigating restaurant wine service.

May 8, 2023

Can I prematurely age a wine without damaging it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice to an eager wine lover concerned about …

May 1, 2023