If you’re anywhere near striking distance to Jerez de la Frontera, the birthplace of sherry, we highly recommend you take a day and immerse yourself in sampling the drink the town is known for. I wasn’t very familiar with this unique wine, but now I’m a fan. Sherry tends to be ignored and underrated. It shouldn’t be.
Jerez de la Frontera, located in Southwest Spain, is about an hour from Sevilla, in a region known as the Sherry Triangle. Jerez was named the #1 wine tourism destination in Spain in 2022. We had an awesome experience touring and tasting with Roger Davies, owner of A Question of Taste, which specializes in food and wine tours in Spain.
Sherry is a fortified wine exclusively produced in the Sherry Triangle. Sherry, as with other fortified wines, has a higher alcohol content than non-fortified wines, ranging from 15-21 percent. Three types of grapes are mainly used to produce sherry: Palomino, used to make drier types of sherry, and Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, used for the sweeter types.
The extra alcohol is added to fortify the wine before it enters what’s called the solera system, which uses old oak casts containing wines of different ages, continually blended together to provide a consistent and complex style of mature wine.
The three most important styles of dry sherry are Fino, Oloroso, and Amontillado. There are also sweet sherry styles: Pale Cream is a sweetened Fino; Medium and Cream are often the names for sweetened Oloroso or Amontillado sherries. Pedro Ximenez is a sweet sherry made from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been concentrated by sun drying.
One of the unique aspects of sherry production is the use of flor, a yeast that forms on the top of the wine as it ages, which keeps the wine from contact with air. Flor is used only for certain kinds of sherry. Special ladles called venencias are used to break the flor crust and dip into the barrel to get to the wine.
Sherry may have a reputation of being primarily a sweet dessert wine but we learned that most sherries are served with appetizers or with a meal. Some, like Pedro Ximenez, are often consumed after a meal, like port.
The first winery we visited in Jerez de la Frontera, the birthplace of sherry, was the revered Bodegas Lustau, which dates back to 1896. It produces a full variety of sherry styles, as well as vermouth, vinegar, and brandy.
This visit really exemplified the benefit of taking a wine tour with an experienced guide. Roger has such a close relationship with Lustau that he has his own set of keys and full run of the premises. He knew the winery and its products intimately; at one point he wanted us to try an additional sherry and simply went and retrieved it.
The tasting experience was also unusual in that we sampled different sherries in the different rooms where they were being aged, which was pretty cool. As we progressed through the winery, the sherries we tasted became darker in color and deeper in flavor (hoisin sauce, maple syrup). I didn’t rate them since while I liked them all I must admit I didn’t know much about the wines. But look at how many we were able to try!
· Manzanilla Papirusa
· Fino de Jerez 3 En Rama
· Palo Cortado de Jerez
· Amontillado Escuardrilla
· Amontillado Los Arcos, fortified to 18.5% alcohol due to evaporation
· Oloroso Don Nuno
· Cream East India sherry, 80% Oloroso and 20% Pedro Ximenez (my personal favorite)
· Pedro Ximenez San Emilio, 100%
· A sherry-based white vermouth
· Sherry vinegar
Bodegas Fernando de Castilla
For a slightly different sherry tasting experience, we next visited Bodegas Fernando de Castilla. This boutique winery, founded in 1837, produces both “classic” and “antique” (older, more expensive) sherry, and in some cases a special, “singular” sherry. The winery also produces vermouth, vinegar, and brandy.
Here we had two sets of tastings, first in the aging rooms, directly from the barrels, using a venencia, and then in the winery’s tasting room. Again, we were impressed at the number and variety of items offered to taste.
From the barrels we sampled:
· Amontillado Antique (20 years old)
· Oloroso Antique (20 years old)
· Pedro Ximenez Antique (30 years old) (my favorite)
· Solera Reserva Brandy de Jerez
· Solera Gran Reserva Unico Brandy de Jerez
Then in the tasting room, with olives and anchovies, we sampled:
· Fino Classic
· Fino in Rama Fernando de Castilla
· Palo Cortado Antique (30 years old)
La Cruz Blanca
It is possible to visit multiple Bodegas in Jerez de la Frontera in a day, but that’s a lot of sherry, especially considering that these are fortified wines. How you map out your visit is up to you.
We opted instead to enjoy a tour through the old quarter of Jerez and lunch al fresco at La Cruz Blanca, a local, non-touristy spot in a pedestrian square in the heart of the historic center. We had traditional Jerez cuisine, including tuna tartare, potato salad with mackerel, squid, pate of scorpionfish (called rockfish in the United States), and gilde de sardines with olives and piparras (a Spanish pepper), accompanied, not surprisingly, with Fino sherry. Yum!
We hope you enjoyed learning about our experience visiting Jerez de la Frontera, the birthplace of sherry. What sherry bodegas would you recommend we try next? Please share! Send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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