From Cádiz, we move (not so swiftly) on to Jerez de la Frontera, a city a mere 30 minute drive from Cádiz, yet falling under no shadow but its own in the notoriety stakes. For Jerez is a city with its own story to tell, not least in respect of the alcoholic beverage which very much put the city on the map and which is named after an Anglicisation of Jerez itself – Sherry. While inherently synonymous with its deeply authentic Andalucian feel, by its flamenco tablas and its famous dancing horses, few can deny the starring role which the city’s globally-recognised fortified wine has to play. Indeed, upon alighting at Jerez’s decorative blue and white tiled station, the first thing we saw beyond the train platforms was a large pile of sherry barrels, while in the air, every so often, we were greeted by the unmistakable waft of wine-soaked oak.
Our visit to Jerez coincided with searing, desperately intense heat. It was like an inferno, and no shade nor fountain could provide relief from the roasting thrust of temperatures in the mid-40s. Yet relief was to be had, in the dark shady vaults and cellars of the sherry houses and ancient bodegas peppered all over town, providing additional temptation to spend several hours indulging in the city’s favourite nectar. While our first taste of the amber wine was the homemade brand – Bodega Casa del Marques – whose bodega adjoined our hotel (the Casa Palacio Jerezana) and where we had a very special one-to-one tasting with the proprietor on the night of our arrival, the second encounter was with easily the most recognisable sherry brands of them all – Tio Pepe.
With its charismatic logo, a bottle decked in red sombrero, matching jacket and guitar, Tio Pepe is just as common on a supermarket shelf in London as it is in Jerez. But in the Bodegas of Gonzales Byass (proprietors of the brand), we were able to appreciate like never before the scale of this global operation. Stretching across acres of land in the very centre of the city, the bodega tour (which owing to distance covered included a ride on a Tio Pepe-red trenino) was an education for even the most familiar of sherry connoisseurs. From mammoth vaults storing countless hundreds of wine-stained barrels, to shady courtyards covered with vines, the Bodega exhibited something of the unreal in its atmosphere of calm but industrious production imbued with a winey perfume and a debonnair flair. There was also plenty of proof that we were not alone in visiting this flagship bodega – barrels signed by countless celebrity visitors were in evidence across the site, including the signature of Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip and Jean Cocteau.
A sherry connoisseur I cannot claim to be, so the tasting at the tour’s climax, with its introduction to the different grades of dry Finos and Manzanilla, complex Amontillado and Oloroso, rounded and nutty Palo Cortado and sweet Cream and Pedro Ximénez, was a true highlight. Dangerous though. Intoxicated by the heady mix of sherry varieties, the passage through the gift shop to the exit proved to be a taxing experience, something which had no doubt been planned by the tour organisers. But now that I am back in London, that swiftly purchased bottle of Palo Cortado has the immediate and tangible power to transform us back to those delightfully cool, intoxicating bodegas. The must-do destination of any visitor to Jerez.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.