Sanlúcar’s Elegant Manzanilla

Jacques Guillard/Scope

If any fortified wine is lighter than fino sherry, it's fino's close sibling, manzanilla. What's the difference between the two? First, the type and extent of flor yeast that grows in the barrel during the aging process; then the way the wine is handled while aging. Oh, and manzanilla can be made only in the seafront town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, and not even everywhere there. "A distance of as little as 300 meters from one bodega to another can make a difference," noted Jorge Marenco Diez, of Antonio Barbadillo, which produces more than half the manzanilla in the world. (Its main brand is Solear.)

What's important to the character of the wine—which is usually sharp and almost saline, but very flavorful—is the proximity of the bodegas to the marshy Coto Doñana and the Guadalquivir River basin. Jerez, some fifteen miles inland, bakes in the broiling sun in July and August and shivers in the midwinter chill. There, the flor necessary for manzanilla's flavor would quickly die inside the casks. But Sanlucar, tempered by the ocean breezes and constant humidity, is the perfect breeding ground.