17 Sep A Sherry Experience, Visiting Jerez, Learning about Sherry Wines
Visiting Jerez , Learning about Sherry Wines, Experiencing the Jerez Culture
For many people sherry http://www.sherry.wine.esconjures up an image of a grandmother sipping a slightly warm, sweet drink before Sunday lunch. The reality of sherry is far more sophisticated than this and it deserves much greater recognition and respect.
My clients, Amy and John an Anglo-American couple, were keen to visit one of the smaller, family owned bodegas in Jerez. They wanted to learn more about sherry and the Jerez region in general. I love Jerez; it is smaller than Seville and quite charming. The Jerezanos walk upright with great pride and all look terribly elegant. There is a certain air of decay surrounding some of the old palacios and buildings, which just seem to add to its charm.
Amy and John were staying in Seville at Hotel Corral del Rey in the historic centre. I picked them up after breakfast and we drove to one of the many bodegas, well-known for producing high quality sherry wines (it has won many awards for its Pedro Ximenez and all of its wines are between 20 and 30 years old). Apart from quality wines, the bodega also houses a very good private art collection of Spanish paintings including works by Goya, Velasquez and Murillo.
Even outside the bodega you can smell the sherry and the aroma just gets more intense as you walk amongst the hundreds of barrels in the damp cellars. The tour is fascinating and the sherry expert, who showed us around and explained the whole process, infected us all with her passion and enthusiasm for this wine.
Later, during the tasting session we learned about pairing sherries with different foods and flavours. Sherry is a brilliant and versatile wine that has many styles and nuances. The fino and manzanilla sherries are dry and crisp and the amontillado, oloroso and cream sherries are darker, golden and more intense in flavour. They are often served in Spanish homes and bars as an aperitif before lunch and work well with different dishes from spicy curries, seafood, game, meat and cheese. There is a sherry for every food type.
It is believed that sherry was originally introduced into Spain in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians who brought over vines from Lebanon and began cultivating them in the sherry triangle of Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barameda. Even when large parts of Spain were under Muslim rule for many centuries, sherry wines were still produced and Jerez was known as Sherish.
As a fortified wine, sherry lasts much longer than ordinary wine once opened and travels well. It was imported by the Romans and Columbus carried many kegs of sherry on his ships when he sailed from the Spanish ports in search of new worlds. When Sir Francis Drake raided the port of Cadiz in 1587 and destroyed 37 ships of the Spanish Armada he also stole 2,900 barrels of sherry and brought it back to Elizabeth´s court where it became incredibly fashionable. Some say that it is in reference to this looting of the sherry and burning of the Spanish ships that sherry became known in those days as “sack”.
When the bodega tour was over we had time on our hands before lunch so we took the opportunity to visit a private home in the centre of Jerez that has been lived in by the same family since it was awarded to them by Alfonso X for their help in reconquering Jerez from the Moors.
The old palacio looked rather nondescript from the outside but inside was a mixture of old and new, filled with valuable china, paintings, and the occasional Muslim artefact that had been discovered by the current Count´s grandmother, as well as many family photos of various generations greeting their respective Spanish Kings and Queens.
We ended our trip to Jerez with a fabulous seafood lunch in a local restaurant. I knew that Amy and John are both passionate about food (I had already done a tapas tour with them and booked them a variety of restaurants during their trip). We ate a wonderful selection of shellfish, tuna, octopus and other dishes that were all prepared simply but using the freshest, quality ingredients.
We drove back to Seville on full stomachs, feeling that we´d had a great day out. As we were passing Hacienda de San Rafael, the hotel I used to manage, we made one last stop here to enjoy a gin and tonic in the lovely garden and reminisce about our great day. Amy and John´s suitcases would be heavier on their return flights home; full of the sherry bottles they had bought earlier in the bodega.