The history of Sherry is rich. For starters it is one of the oldest wines in the world, introduced to Britain when notorious pirate Drake, plundered Cadiz and filled his decks with over 2000 barrels as a gift for his adored Queen Elizabeth 1st. But prior to all that, the Moors tended the chalky vineyards around their occupied city of Sherish and made their wine of present day Jerez.
For centuries, Britain was the main market for Sherry, sending their sons to oversee production- hence the many Anglicized names involved in the industry.
A sometimes forgotten fact is that Sherry can only be called Sherry if it is produced within the DO of Jerez- likewise, Champagne can only be Champagne if it’s produced within AC Champagne. In fact, established in 1933, Jerez claims to be the first recognized DO in Spain.
Fortification became part of the Sherry making process in an attempt to stabilize it during the journey north. And with fortification, the industry began to develop the different types of Sherry we know today.
But then Sherry went out of fashion. The darling of our grandparents but not of the next 2 generations as along came the world wide explosion of new fashioned wines. Wines from almost every corner of the globe. Trendy wines. Fashionable wines. But fashions die whilst the old stalwarts remain.
Thankfully recent years have seen a re- emergence of Sherry as a wine worthy of attention from some of the most renowned wine connoisseurs, chefs and media channels. Sherry can leap into your life and become an exciting voyage of discovery when you find out that not only is there a different type of Sherry for every food of the world ( this is no exaggeration!) but that Sherry is also entrenched in a glorious culture of music, horses and cuisine.
And then it happened – a massive nod from the rest of the wine fraternity in Europe – Jerez was selected as European Wine City 2014. An extra special time to visit might be during International Sherry Week from 2-8 June 2014 when the city will be filled with an even bigger buzz.
This is Jerez’s year and what better reason to head to this elegant and proud Andalucian city – a city synonymous with Sherry, Horses and Flamenco. Jerez is also a stepping stone to Costa de la Luz with its glorious beaches.
Top 10 Things to do whilst in Jerez:
1. Start the day with a leisurely walk through the Alcázar.
Standing tall is the La Cámara Oscura tower - projecting real time happenings on the streets of Jerez onto a huge convex dish. A spectacular guided tour for €3 – whist you stand still.
2. Visit as many bodegas as your time allows.
Gonzalez Byass, Lustau and Maestro Sierra are to name but a few. But one special one is Bodegas Tradicion. Here you will taste some of the oldest Sherry produced. The Family’s other passion is Spanish Art and viewing his private collection,although not advertised, forms part of the €18 tasting tour.
3. The Spanish Riding School may be in Vienna but the ROYAL Spanish Equestrian School is in Jerez.
Check which days you can marvel at this fabulous performance of supreme horsemanship. Normally, visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays are for the show. Booking at the Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre is essential.
4. Take the train to El Puerto de Santa Maria, one of the 3 towns of the Sherry triangle.
Here was the last fresh water stop for the likes of Christopher Columbus en route to the ocean blue. Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia is alongside this famous ocean channel. Here the father makes the Sherry, the mother markets it and the daughter tells you all about it. A tasting of 6 Sherries, 2 Brandies with accompanied snacks
5. Whilst in El Puerto, dine at Aponiente, regarded as one of the best restaurants in Spain.
Awarded a Michelin stared for his sheer innovativeness, Chef Angel Leon uses fish other restaurants reject. Indulge in fish caught by his own boat – so fresh it’s still wriggling upon arrival in his kitchen. Fish chorizo, squid risotto, sauces thickened with fish eyes, seaweed concentrates that are so dark they are almost black. Aponiente 12 course tasting menu, accompanied by 6 different Sherries.
6. Hop on the train to Cádiz
Once the wealthiest of all European cities and home to more Louis XV furniture than Paris., its prominence is now a faded memory but the charm of the old city with its 129 remaining merchant’s towers is a sight to behold. Los Gaditanos are known as the party animals of Spain. A wonderful restored market. Climb the cathedral bell tower to cast your eyes over the Bay of Cádiz, out of which Nelson lured the French and Spanish fleets to their demise at Trafalgar. Reward yourself with lashings of chilled Fino alongside Boquerones fritos and Tortallitas de Camarones in El Faro de Cadiz and homemade cake at Bar Quilla, overlooking the little boats at Playa la Caleta.
7. Take a cooking class to indulge your sense in the Tastes of Andalucia!
With a Certified Sherry Educator and Chef by your side, and the view of the sea directly cascading in front of you, enjoy a leisurely afternoon learning about Andalusian cuisine. While savoring a glass of Fino, you’ll prepare – and feast upon – local Ajo Blanco (refreshing cold garlic soup), Gambas Ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pescado a la Sal (salt baked fish) and ending with Orange and Almond cakes. Book your Andalusian Cooking Class!
8. Follow the delicious Ruta de los Tabancos trail
A relatively new trend in Jerez, these fabulous Tabancos/ Sherry bars serve Sherry directly from the cask (en Rama). There are 6 to check off your list: Tabanco El Pasaje, Tabanco La Bodega, Tabanco La Sureña, Tabanco Plateros, Tabanco San Pablo y Tabanco San Pedro. They all serve great Tapas and are within staggering distance of each other. Start with Fino, then Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Olorosso, and ending with Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.
9. Explore the Dining Scene!
Dining in Jerez will not disappoint. It is a shining example for how the wine of an area is made to go with the food of the area. There is a Sherry to match every dish of Jerez. Here they cook with the Sherry they drink. A splash of Fino with fish. Amontillado with artichokes. Oloroso with beef cheeks. Cream with foie gras. PX for deglazing pans. When making a sofrito base for a paella, Fino gives such depth and a layer of flavour which brings out the best in the tomatoes and the added seafood. A glass of chilled Fino or Manzanilla is the perfect match for a chilled tomato Gazpacho. Similarly as the accompanying wine to Ajo Blanco (almond & garlic Gazpaho). All these fabulous dishes can be found amongst the array of top class restaurants in Jerez which we will be covering in a future post.
10. Visit the Mercado de Abastos in the centre of Jerez!
Boasting of one of the finest selections of fish outside the city of Cadiz, it’s from here that the Jerezano chefs make their season selections.
A visit to Jerez might leave you in awe. When you add together the package of the wine, the gastronomy, the music,the history, the horses – you will appreciate how this almost sleepy corner of Andalusia has captured a hearty international following.