No study for the WSET Diploma fortified unit would be complete without a visit to Jerez de la Frontera, the home of Sherry. We discovered our love for Sherry whilst living in Vancouver and were excited to explore its origins. We visited three very different bodegas during our weekend getaway – Lustau, Bodegas Tradicion and Gonzalez Byass, all located in Jerez de la Frontera. Interestingly the name, ‘Jerez’ translates simply to ‘sherry’ with ‘Frontera’ referencing its time as a Spanish frontier during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.
Emilio Lustau originally started as an almacenista in 1896 (literal translation: ‘warehouse owner’). Today they are an international brand with sherry produced in all three corners of the sherry triangle: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
The Lustau bodega complex, “Los Arcos” in Jerez de la Frontera were by far the most impressive of the three we visited. The orientation of the buildings, the high ceilings, the placement of windows and shutters and the damp sand floors are all carefully planned to ensure the careful ageing of the sherry soleras within a constant temperature and humidity. The beautiful arched columns, the sheer size of the bodegas and the numerous stacked sherry barrels demand appreciation. It is such a unique and serene place to age wine.
With such wonderful surroundings, the tasting at Lustau was no let down. Our tasting line up was as impressive as the bodegas, with wines including the Almacenista (Manuel Cuevas Jurado) Manzanilla Amontillada, Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia and the VORS Pedro Ximenez. The highlight of the weekend was definitely the VORS Pedro Ximenez, with more than 30 years of age, it comes from one cask selected from a solera of six set aside as a family reserve in the 1930’s. Flavours of dried fruit such as fig and raisin intertwine with liquorice and coffee. It is full bodied, almost chewable, rich yet not cloyingly sweet, with a freshness that makes you double check its age. This level of complexity and intensity is rarely seen in such balance. The long finish allows you ample time to ponder over it, which we did.
Our second visit was to the relatively young Bodegas Tradicion who commenced their own label in 1998. They focus on producing quality old sherry’s, which is assisted by the acquisition of aged sherry from other bodegas. In particular, they acquired some of the best old soleras from Croft when its bodegas were sold to Gonzalez Byass in 2001. Bodegas Tradicion produces sherry using traditional techniques, meaning that everything is done by hand, from transferring the wine from one criadera to the next to the labelling and wax seal on the bottles.
We were fortunate enough to taste the full range of sherry and brandy. Interestingly the most expensive bottle of 30 year old sherry was just over €50 a bottle whilst the 40 year old Brandy was €199. Our favourites were the VORS Amontillado and the VORS Oloroso, both 30 years old, and at a bargain price of €43.50. Amontillado was quickly becoming one of our favourite Sherries on this visit. This was no exception, with its dry, salty palate accompanied by caramel and almond undertones. It was complex, rich yet delicate, with a lingering finish.
Last but not least, was a visit to Gonzalez Byass for what we described as the Disneyland of Sherry. What wine tour is complete without a train ride and wine drinking mice? Mockery aside, Gonzalez Byass vast marketing has made Sherry into an internationally known wine, albeit not necessarily a ‘cool’ one. This was very much the standard tourist visit which included tastings of both Tio Pepe, their flagship Fino Sherry, and Croft Original Pale Cream. The Tio Pepe is an easy drinking wine as far as Fino goes. A refreshing aperitif with a pale lemon hue, the flavours of nuts, lemon and salt are bought into harmony with an accompanying plate of almonds and green olives.
The timing of our trip coincided with the Feria de Manzanilla in nearby Sanlucar de Barrameda. We could not come all this way without attending the festival of Manzanilla so our hotel organized a car for us and we were on our way. Being mobile meant we could also drive the sherry triangle, so we first headed for El Puerto de Santa Maria and then across to Sanlucar de Barrameda. Expecting to see vineyards all around us, we were soon spotting mirage vineyards that always turned out to be some kind of crop as we got closer. Interestingly, we only saw two small areas of vineyards on our drive between the towns in the triangle. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the majority of vineyards are actually north of Jerez (called Upper Jerez) and so we completely missed seeing them, having driven south, on the triangle route between the three sherry producing towns.
The Feria de Manzanilla more than made up for the lack of vineyards and was a highlight of the weekend. Focused on traditional dress, music, flamenco, fresh seafood and of course Manzanilla, it felt like the whole region had come out to celebrate. We found ourselves in one of the many restaurants set up in tents along the main boulevard, eating the freshest of seafood washed down with local Manzanilla. It was a great place to relax and take in the all the colourful sights. Our favourite seafood was the fresh local prawns and the deep fried baby squid. It was the perfect end to a memorable weekend that cemented our love of all things Sherry.
Flights from London:
- Ryan Air direct to Jerez (Seasonal – Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sundays until November 2nd 2012)
- Hotel Chancilleria – great value, comfortable rooms with helpful and friendly staff. They have a fantastic rooftop patio basked in sunshine or a cool walled garden to enjoy, depending on your mood.
- Meson del Asador – melt in your mouth oxtail speciality. Where the locals eat.
- Restaurante Sabores – the Cantabrian anchovies are a must. A little more upmarket, with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and conveniently attached to the Hotel Chancilleria.
- Cruz Blanca – rated number one on trip advisor. Our experience was that the food was good but far from great.