Sippin’ Sherry in Spain
Tio Pepe, Sandeman, Harveys, cream or dry – does sherry bring memories of a family Christmas – that sweet tipple, enjoyed once a year, before tucking into the festive meal?Sherry, for ages one of the most tradition-bound, staid and ignored wines in the world, is surging in popularity with the new generation of wine drinkers savouring this idiosyncratic, fortified sherry from Spain.
And there’s lots of sipping in Jerez de la Frontera, in Western Andalusia, home to the world’s finest sherry producers, flowing with bodegas, (cellars), offering guided tours around the estates.
It all started with the Phoenicians who brought the first vine to Jerez back in 1100 BC. The Arabs nurtured production believing this nectar harboured medicinal properties and traded this sherry wine for wool from the British. And this belief holds true today as scientists in Spain have discovered that sherry shares the same health benefits as red wine due to the presence of antioxidants that help control cholesterol levels. One sip or two induces relaxation, but beware, several glasses may lead to a headache!
Wine tourism is a defining character of this aged city of Jerez. Organised, educational visits to the impressive bodegas that reside here are popular. In fact, it’s big business for internationally acclaimed names such as Sandeman, Harveys and Tio Pepe, all located in the heart of the city.
Tio Pepe (González Byass) is said to be the largest and dates from 1835, which makes it one of the newest of the great sherry dynasties in Jerez. This bodega offers tours at set times during the day when a miniature train transports visitors to cellars packed with bottles dating back centuries and barrels signed by illustrious visitors including Lady Thatcher, Martin Luther King and Orson Welles. A musty aroma pervades the whole place.
Tours end, naturally, with tastings of several glasses awaiting your verdict. Each glass holds several sips of the sherry family in gradients of dark to clear, sweet, smooth, aromatic and dry. Soothing and relaxing, with aged notes of lemons and green olives, a gentle saline touch maybe with hints of yeast or a generous bouquet with nutty character. It’s fun and a great way to meet visitors and to share sherry notes and noses!
Geographically sitting between the hillside and the coast, the Jerez area is famous for sherry, brandy and vinegar. Who would know, back in 1835, that it would harvest into one of the largest sherry and brandy producing areas in the world and even spilling into regional cuisine and culinary skills. Try the grape juices, sherry vinegar and sample the gastro-tapas such as mushroom or kidneys in sherry or braised pigs’ cheeks!
Horses also characterise this intriguing place. Horse drawn carriages parade the narrow streets showing off the city to its visitors. But it is the Andalusian horse dancing that earns the trophy. Twice a week, this 90-minute event sees the horses performing to music around the ring, first on four, then on two hooves, a leg pointed to the left and then a lowered head to take a bow. Horsemanship at its best, poised in perfect tailored attire, preserving an ancient art and breed.
Jerez de la Frontera is in the south west of Spain, a cradle for the art of flamenco, a motorcycle race circuit and the fighting bull. An old walkable rambling city with masses of history hidden around white walls, emanating from cobbled alleyways. The gated courtyards appear ablaze with healthy greenery and fountains. Here you can expect fiestas and flamenco performances, old-style bars (tabancos), palaces, churches and orange trees. Unused wine cellars have opened their doors to harbour museums harnessing traditional arts from horse drawn carriages to clocks all within this walled city with a gothic styled cathedral at its centre.
Sherry gets its name from our Anglo-inability to pronounce the word “Jerez,” the city at the southern end of Spain in which the wine is produced. Like champagne, sherry can only be called sherry if it comes from this specific region. So, while in Spain enjoy a sip of sherry to toast your good health. And with Christmas on the horizon enjoy a toast with this traditional aperitif and let the festivities begin.