Xerez, Jerez, Sherish or Sherry, it’s all sweet to me!
Good social scientists triangulate their data, and so, having sampled Jerez’s flamenco scene and gained an insight into Andalucian horse culture, it was impossible for us to truly get beneath the skin of Jerez – a city synonymous with flamenco, horses and sherry – without exploring the world of that wonderful fortified wine.
Well, that’s our excuse for a sherry tasting anyhow!
Jerez was actually called Xerez or Xeres during Spain’s Muslim occupation and many claim this is where the name ‘sherry’, as well as the fortified wine itself, originated from, and there are lovely bodegas or wineries dotted around the edge of the old town to prove it.
Visiting the bodegas is one of the most popular things for visitors to Jerez to do. But while these white-washed buildings with their elegant arches and grape vines dotted here and there are indeed very atmospheric (wander the neighbourhood around Plaza del Mercado at night and you’ll feel like you’re on the set of a Spaghetti Western), wine connoisseurs accustomed to the kind of tastings normally offered at vineyards elsewhere in Europe, the Americas, and Australia, might be disappointed.
A handful of bodegas welcome visitors, including Sandeman, Garvey, Bodegas Terry (no, we didn’t make that up), Bodegas Harvey, and El Maestro Sierra, among others, however, none of them are very well-equipped for dealing with foreign wine buffs eager for informative cellar door experiences and horizontal- and vertical- ‘try-before-you-buy’-style tastings.
Instead, visitors fork out €10 for a silly train ride around the grounds, a stroll through some of the dimly-lit cellars (admittedly very atmospheric with their ceiling-high rows of old barrels), a cheesy film, and an encounter with a resident family of mice (that’s not a pun or a typo either).
The sherry tasting involves visitors being seated at tables beneath tents in an enormous banquet hall of a room, given a half-size bottle of Tio Pepe ‘Palomino Fino’, a glass of Croft, and a basket of potato chips, before the ‘guide’ bids them farewell to take another tour. There’s no opportunity to compare the range of sherries, no explanation, no opportunity for questions, and certainly no chance of discussion about the virtues of sherry over brandy for example.
While there’s an enormous souvenir supermarket shop with the full range of sherry for sale (and some very cute t-shirts actually – see the pic above), even here there are no wines available for tastings and no expert sales staff on hand to provide advice.
So while a visit to Tio Pepe is probably obligatory for sherry buffs, Jerez completists, and those who’ve never visited a bodega before, people who really appreciate the wonderful products of the grape will be very disappointed. Which is why we decided to do our own tasting…