Ma Sherry Amour
Author: Guest Blogger
Oh, the many wonders of Sherry. In my mind it is undeniably the world’s most underrated, underpriced and truly splendid wine. Now, I’m not really talking about the sweet tasteless stuff that Auntie Mavis used to drink with the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day, I’m enthusing about the serious, nutty, complex, mouth-watering delights of the best Olorosos, Amontillados, Palo Cortados and, for those who can’t escape the cravings of a sweet tooth, the raisin-ripeness of Pedro Ximénex (PX) and, as we discovered at Lustau last month, the delightful floral Emilín Moscatel.
I think it’s clear that I love Sherry, so in order to enhance our understanding of this most fabulous of beverages, my colleague and I headed to Jerez, to pay homage to this great wine. And, quite frankly, to drink some fresh Finos, eat delicious tapas and enjoy the last of the European sun. But those particular tales are for another time, we’re here to hear about the Sherries, right?
Firstly we were taken to the fascinating Tevasa cooperage to see the men in action, making the casks in which to age these great wines. Now, it turns out that a cooperage is an amazing place – if nothing else the noise is unbelievable, creating an almost magical, hot and sweaty world of bangs, clangs and hissing steam as the various teams of men hammer, fire and shape these beautiful casks – then the blaze of the fires (below), the soft mist of the water softening the wood for shaping and the dusty, woody smells all add up to create a really unique atmosphere (above).
Moving on, we went to visit Gonzáles Byass, home of the famous Tio Pepe sherry – a great reliable Fino, showing the style’s addictive salty tang and subtle almondy creaminess – and it was great to see the casks that we’d watched being made earlier in the almighty bodegas dotted around the estate.
The following day we were treated to an altogether different experience at Lustau, a smaller, more understated producer, where visits are by appointment only. The lovely Francisco took us around the various bodegas, where we saw the renowned East India Solera being aged in its special casks and, a personal favourite of mine, the Solera Gran Reserva, Very Rare Oloroso, ‘Emperatriz Eugenia’, maturing gently and quietly in the magnificent surroundings of the cathedral-like bodega. In fact, we were even able to see a barrel on display with a clear glass panel, allowing us a peek of the layer of ‘flor’ (yeast – right) which collects on the surface of Fino sherries, preventing oxidation and sealing in the wine’s distinctive freshness.
As if the flight of 14 of Lustau’s Sherries (below)wasn’t enough to please us (which included a fantastic 1998 vintage Rich Oloroso, ie. not made in the traditional Solera System!) Francisco also recommended us his favourite restaurant – a bit of a way out of town but with an unparalleled selection of fresh seafood tapas and a sublime selection of Lustau’s Sherries (and even a few bottles of Berrys’ Glenrothes Whisky lurking on the shelves!)
The upshot of these four days is that if you have never been to Jerez, then I can’t advise you strongly enough to book a trip immediately (and, if you want my advice, October was the perfect time). Even if Sherry isn’t your bag, then there are plenty of lovely wines and beers (not to mention the local Brandy de Jerez, also made in the solera system) to satisfy and, once basking in the sunlight, eating the (downright cheap) fresh tapas, laughing with the locals and watching elderly men whip up a frenzy with haunting Flamenco songs and romantic guitar rhythms, you’ll suddenly find yourself with an oloroso in hand wondering why you ever shunned this amber nectar in the first place.