This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Flor (n.) Winemaking Term
Flor might be the single greatest reason I became a sherry fan many years ago. Obviously, I like the taste of sherry, and I like the way certain styles - finos and manzanillas - work with salty foods, like cured fish and olives. But honestly, I fell for the science of it. Flor is a Spanish winemaking term best known in the Jerez region (sherry) and Montilla-Moriles (sherry-style) in the southern part of the country. The flor is a film of yeast cells that have formed a fatty coating, which allows them to float on the surface of the fermenting wine, and lock arms in solidarity against oxygen. To contrast, most yeast cells gorge on grape sugar, leaving alcohol and carbon dioxide in their wake, then die and float to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. (We call those lees)
What flor does for a wine is magical. These yeasts are able to withstand higher alcohol levels than most winemaking yeasts, and because they feed off oxygen, they work as a seal between the wine and the air in the barrel where it's aging. It is the reason for the distinct characteristics in fino and manzanilla sherries: lemon, bitter almond, salinity and bone dry from attack through finish.
Earlier this week I wrote about La Zorra Teso Blanco 2013, a white blend made mostly of palomino, known as the 'sherry grape', that spends five months in neutral oak barrels under a veil of flor. It's not unheard of, but it is an uncommon practice in Spain outside Jerez.