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How To Decode Sherry Bottling Codes

by Tim Elliott on February 16, 2011

Sherry back labelToday is Wine Blogging Wednesday 70 and I’ve chosen Sherry in keeping with the theme of Spanish wines we have never had before. Sherry has a lot of issues gaining mindshare with the American consumer but one of the most basic is turnover of stock since some Sherries – Fino and Manzanilla in particular – are best within the year they were bottled. Even other styles which will hold in the bottle for years have a shelf-life that consumers should be aware of.

The problem is Sherry is not vintage dated but a blend of many years slowly aging in the solera. Each year a portion is drawn from the bottom barrels and bottled. For commercial reasons Sherry producers stamp a bottling code on each bottle as it comes off the line. This allows importers and retailers to rotate stock but remains somewhat cryptic for the consumer. But once learned you can use this information to make a more informed buying decision.

The two most common coding systems start with an “L” printed on the back label along with a 4 or 5 digit number. In the 4 digit code, the first digit after the “L” indicates the year followed by the day of the year the Sherry was bottled. So the “L7137” code on the bottle pictured here translates to the 137th day of 2007, or May 17, 2007. If the bottle has 5 digits after the “L” then the first 3 digits indicate the bottling day and the last two are the year. So “L18409” would indicate the 184th day of 2009, or July 3, 2009.

There are some other variations of these codes but 90% of the time here in the U.S. you will see the two listed above. The best writeup I’ve seen online on this is over at the Wine Lover’s Page but for some reason it didn’t turn up when I searched on my phone in the store. I wish it had since the Amontillado selected for tonight’s tasting is almost 4 years in the bottle, more than likely at the end of it’s life. Of course it could also be fine as some others have noted. We’ll see a bit later on.

My friends at Catavino have another helpful post about this subject that includes a handy freshness chart:

  • Fino/Manzanilla: Consumed no more than 12-18 months after bottle date and no more than 1 week after opening.
  • Amontillado/medium: Consumed no more than 18-36 months after bottle date and no more than 2-3 weeks after opened.
  • Oloroso/Cream: Consumed no more than 24-36 months after bottle date and 4-6 weeks after opened.
  • Pedro Ximenez: Consumed no more than 24-48 months after bottle date and 1-2 months after opened.