Manzanilla is essentially the same type of wine with absolutely similar traits as Fino sherry.
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Or read further explanations about this topic down below…
The Production of Fino Sherry Vs. manzanilla
Both Manzanilla and Fino are white wines made predominantly from the typical grape of the Sherry region in Adalucia, Spain, the Palomino Fino grape variety. Once fermented to dryness, these light and acidic white wines (between 11 and 12.5% alcohol at this stage) are fortified by adding alcohol to reach a 15% abv mark.
The fortified Finos or Manzanillas are then put into oak barrels (or Butts as they are called in Sherry) as part of a Solera system for ageing. Because the barrels aren’t entirely filled, a layer of yeasts called flor develops at the surface of the wines.
This layer of flor prevents an excessive oxidation of the wines and develop the typical delicate aromatic profile of these products: notes of green apple, fennel, curry, and walnut.
It is to be noted that both for Fino and Manzanilla, only the purest and lightest white wines of the harvest are oriented towards the production of Sherry under flor. Fuller-bodied wines, or pressings are directed towards producing oxidative style like Oloroso.
The only difference really Fino and Manzanilla, is that Manzanilla must be produced and matured within the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, closer to the sea than Jerez, although there is only about 8km (5 miles) between the two towns.
Manzanilla is therefore, simply-put, its own little appellation of origin, within the Sherry production area.
Cooler conditions for the maturation of Manzanilla
Because of their coastal location, the Bodegas making Manzanilla (in Sanlúcar) benefit from cooler temperatures and higher humidity than those situated more inland around Jerez de la Frontera (the heart of the production of Sherry). They also experience lesser temperature variations, the sea and its breezes acting as a buffer protecting from excessive heat in summer, and cold nights of winter.
This more stable conditions allow the layer of flor to grow thicker at the surface of the wine, protecting it better. As a result, it is believed that the maturation of Manzanilla is slightly slower and less impacting on the flavors of the wine, resulting in slightly a slightly finer expression.
Often, Manzanilla is therefore attributed notes that remind of the coastal situation of its production, like sea spray, salt or even iodine.
Coastal Vineyards Vs Inland Vineyards
The main factor differentiating Manzanilla and Fino is the winemaking process and the conditions of maturation as detailed above, more than the origin of the grapes.
There are slight differences that are admitted and considered locally, between the vineyards in a coastal location influenced by the cool sea breezes, versus the inland vineyards hit harder by the sun of Andalusian summer.
But producers of Sherry will generally also source grapes from coastal vineyards and use those preferably for the production of Fino. The grapes used for Fino, are therefore not necessarily very different from those of Manzanilla.
That said, the Bodegas located in Sanlúcar de Barrameda will more generally source grapes from very local coastal growers, so perhaps end up with a slightly more ‘coastal blend’ than most Bodegas of Sherry.
Winemaking is the key difference
In the end, the individual winemaking technique and cellar conditions of each Bodega is the main factor imparting a style to both a Fino and a Manzanilla.
Producer of Manzanilla will always go for a lighter and purer style because it is what’s expected of them, and they have both the cool cellar conditions and coastal vineyard sourcing to excel in this style.
But bodegas of Jerez making Fino can also go for coastal vineyards and a pure saline expression with some of their Fino.
This is why, in the end, the difference often comes down to each individual brand and individual cuvée.
This is also why it is difficult to make the difference between Fino and Manzanilla, especially in a blond tasting. Because there isn’t an absolute difference in the wines’ final expression to our senses.