Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
The southern Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera is the namesake of sherry, another fortified wine made from grapes grown in and around the city, in southwest Andalusia. Viticulture there dates back into antiquity, but the large-scale production and export of sherry and other similar wines from the south of Spain did not develop until considerably later. By the fifteenth century, however, sherry was being enjoyed all across Europe, and far, far beyond: Columbus famously took a cargo of sherry with him on his voyage to the New World in 1492, and when Ferdinand Magellan began his circumnavigation of the world in 1519, he had more than two hundred and fifty kegs of sherry in the hold to sustain him and his crew.
In England, sherry grew in popularity after the Andalusian port of Cadiz was sacked by Francis Drake in 1587; among the spoils, Drake brought almost three thousand barrels of sherry back with him to Britain. It was around this time that the word first appeared in English, although not in the form we know it today. Initially, sherry was known as sherris – the name by which it appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2:
A good sherris-sack hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain, dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapours
which environ it, makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is the warming of the blood, which before, cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice. But the sherry warms it, and makes it course from the inwards to the parts’ extremes.
The spelling sherris represents an anglicised version of Jerez (which at the time was known by the Spanish name of Xeres), and was pronounced precisely as it’s written: ‘sheh-riss’, rhyming with Ferris. So how did we get from sherris to sherry?
If you put an S at the end of a word in English, people are going to think that it’s plural. That’s how we ended up with the word pea from the original singular form pease, and misconstrued the singular word statistic from the plural field of statistics. Likewise, sherris, with its final S, was misinterpreted as a plural repeatedly enough for an erroneous singular form, sherry, to surface around the turn of the sixteenth-seventeenth century. Sherris, meanwhile, remained in occasional use right through to the 1800s, but eventually sherry established itself as the dominant form and we’ve been drinking it ever since.
Magellan had the right idea: in preparing for his trip, he spent more money on wine than on weaponry.