When The Mister and I travel, we like to make sure we taste not just the local food, but also the local booze. In Scotland, this meant going to a whisky tasting, and in Andalucia, a sherry tasting. Sure, we drank some sherry at our Flamenco show, but we wanted the full treatment.
Using my handy Lonely Planet guidebook, I found a list of “bodegas” (sherry producers) that offered tours, but one really stuck out. Bodegas Tradicion not only offered tours of the sherry-works, but they also had a gallery of Spanish art spanning centuries. I minored in Art History in college, which was inspired in a large part due to my visits to Madrid in high school and Barcelona in college. There was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see this private collection.
Jerez turned out to be a lot hillier than we’d realized, so by the time we’d walked to the bodega, we were hot and out of breath. Luckily, just inside the gate they had a wonderful terrace draped in vines.
Our guide gave us a few minutes and a glass of water to help us catch our breath before the tour. We found out that she was a German expat from our neck of the woods who had sorta stumbled into this job a long time ago and never looked back. I can understand why! It was just the two of us on the tour that day, so we agreed with our guide that we didn’t need masks and headed into the “cathedral of sherry.”
Bodegas earned this nickname because of the high ceilings required in sherry production. It turns out that true sherry can only come from a small area called the “sherry triangle” that has particular environmental conditions that aid evaporation. Sherry is derived from grapes just like a lot of different types of alcohol, but the continuous process of controlled evaporation, mixing the different ages of sherry and the oak barrels, it is a very particular beverage. When you enter this cathedral, the air is thick with the scent of raisins and caramel.
Though the ceilings and windows are very high in order to let the special wind enter and circulate, the barrels are not stacked more than three high. The youngest sherry is on the top, and a few times a year they take a portion from the uppermost row and mix it with the next one down and so on. When people talk about the “age” of a sherry, it refers to the oldest known batch in the mix, though sometimes these same batches can have even older parts from previous blends. So sherry labels look a little something like this:
One of our favorite factoids of the day was the origin of the word “sherry.” I had always thought of sherry as a British drink, and with good reason. It is marginally popular there now, but was very popular in my particular era of expertise, the Industrial Revolution. Both the chosen name and the regulations come from the UK. The town of Jerez de la Frontera has had many names over the centuries, but an old map in a British library showed the name Sherish during its Islamic past. That became sherry. Our guide explained all this with the aid of a helpful timeline.
After the tour, of course, came the tasting itself. We tried several different types from youngest to oldest, but also with different means of arresting the fermentation process. She also gave us a nice little platter of food pairings common to the region. (You guessed it, even more tuna!)
At the end of the tasting, we got to choose our favorite and take a glass into the art gallery. But our guide also gave us one more option. In addition to sherry, they have a small collection of artisanal brandy. The Mister and I both opted for the brandy, especially because the guide had a little glint in her eye when she told us about it. When she brought out the snifters, she revealed that it was 300 euros a bottle! We felt like nobility as we strolled through the private art collection and sipped our fancy brandy. One highlight for me was a painting by Goya that I had actually studied in my art history courses. Goya did many portraits of royalty, but he wasn’t always flattering. Maria Luisa was not a very nice woman, and you can see it in his portrayal.
Another favorite was this piece by Eugenio Lucas Villenil (1858-1918). The contrast of the gray day and the joyful color and movement of Carnaval stole my attention right inside the door.
There was another treat just outside the gallery. Pablo Picasso grew up in Malaga, which is where we flew in for our visit. He was prolific, even as a child, and often did his artwork on ceramic. At some point when he was still alive, a set of his childhood tiles and plates were unearthed, and he confirmed their authenticity. Now, they adorn the Bodegas Tradicion.
We ended the visit by buying a bottle of our favorite sherry. We also got an 8 euro bottle of sherry from the flamenco show to share with friends, but this one was just for us to enjoy. Just this week we opened it up to toast our new puppy, Milo, who will come home with us Sept 19!
This fabulous sherry tour ended around 1PM, and after lunch we headed to Seville for two days. Come on back next week and I’ll tell you all about it.
Do you want to read other posts in this series? Find them here!