Back in April I travelled for a couple of days to sunny Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía for a sherry adventure with Tio Pepe. Jerez is often overlooked in the tourist trail in favour of more popular destinations such as Seville, Granada and Cordoba. It would be a mistake to give Jerez a miss though. It has got all the charms and authenticity of southern Spanish towns, without being overcrowded with tourists. Prices are very affordable too! You can feast on authentic Spanish tapas, drink the best fino in the world and cry your eyes out at a live flamenco show all in one glorious night out.
Before this trip, my previous encounters with sherry had been on trips to Spain. The first time I learnt about the difference that sherry is fortified wine made in Jerez was actually last year during the Taverns, Tapas and History Tour of Madrid. A common misconception about sherry is only a sweet dessert wine, but sherry is produced in a variety of styles. The dry versions pair perfectly with savoury nibbles, olives, fried fish, Spanish ham and of course tapas. The darker versions are best paired with a dessert or savoured after a meal, like a liqueur.
The best place to learn about this wine is definitely Jerez, the sherry capital of the world! The city itself gives the name to the wine: known as Sherish under the Arab, it later became Jerez. And if you want to order a glass of sherry wine in Spanish, guess what you need to say? “Un Jerez, por favor!”
Get a glimpse into my sherry adventure in Jerez with this video!
Viña La Canariera, Tio Pepe Vineyards
My Sherry adventure started at Viña La Canariera, Tio Pepe’s 40,000-hectare vineyard in the heart of D.O. Jerez.
There is a reason why Tio Pepe is the world’s best seller of Fino. The chalky soil of Jerez is essential to the growth of palomino grapes and the warm and humid climate helps in their maturation.
Back in the day, this land was covered by the sea and so it’s a mix of marine sediments, limestone and clay. The soil, known as Albariza, absorbs the rain during the rainy season and this water nourishes the plants during the hot season. Irrigation is actually prohibited in the sherry wine production and the vines rely solely on rainwater.
The sight of these thousands of hectares of white clay soil was striking. I wish I could go back in August in time for the harvest!
Bodegas Tio Pepe in Jerez
We left the vineyard and returned to Jerez to visit the winery, which is located in a beautiful manor house in the centre of the city. Bodegas Tio Pepe is part of Gonzalez Byass Winery and is open to the public every day from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday morning. Sherry wine tours are available to book online on their website.
Gonzalez Byass was founded in Jerez in 1835 by Manuel Maria Gonzalez. When he was very young, Manuel decided to dedicate himself to the production of sherry wines, with the help of his uncle Pepe, and that’s how the fino took its name. The company is still family-run today, by the 5th generation of the Gonzalez, who are still very much hands on in the business.
We had a tour of the winery, learn about how the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and how the clean wine is fortified with grape spirits. The moment the wine goes into wooden casks, the fortification journey as sherry wine begins.
The lighter “fino” sherry has to stay in casks for at least two year by law, but at Tio Pepe they keep it a minimum of 4 years. Darker sherry wines can stay in casks up to 51 years though before they are bottled and sold.
Sherry Wine Tasting
After a tour of the winery, through charming vine-covered lanes, we met Gonzalez Byass Master Blender and Winemaker: Antonio Flores Pedregosa. Part of Antonio’s job is to control the ageing of the wines and choose how the blends are made each year to keep the brand’s consistency. In order to do that, Antonio has to taste the unfiltered “raw” sherry directly from the cask. The sherry in its natural state is called en rama. You need to know how to handle a venencia (a small cylindrical cup connected to a long and narrow metal stick) to drink sherry en rama, which I can tell you is not as easy as it looks!
After a few attempts at drinking wine using the venencia, we decided to revert to the glass for a sit-down lesson in sherry tasting.
The tasting was incredibly interesting and it was funny how each one of us ended with different favourites. There are so many varieties of sherry, so it’s about finding the right one for you.
I love sweet wines, but my favourites were somewhere in the middle. Number 1 was Viña AB made from 100% palomino grapes and aged for 8 years in American oak casks. The colour is bright amber and it has delicate notes of hazelnut and almond. Like all sherry wines it should be served slightly chilled.
My 2nd favourite was Nectar, made from 100% Pedro Ximenez grapes. It has a deep ebony colour with sweet aromas of raisins and caramel, but is still easy to drink. It wasn’t as rich as the 30-year old Noe or the Matusalem: so thick, sticky and sweet that you could drink a glass of it instead of pudding.
After tasting ten different sherry wines we were all craving food and our cravings were satisfied with a delicious lunch at the bodega restaurant.
Where to eat in Jerez
After all this talk about Tio Pepe Fino and sherry wine, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you where to drink it (paired with amazing Spanish food) in Jerez.
La Carboná was where I started my sherry adventure and what a great restaurant to start! I loved the cavernous but surprisingly airy dining room; the generous portions of jamon Iberico de Bellota, Payoya cheese and Don Bocarte anchovies; and the black rice made with with squid, boletus, aioli and fino wine.
Another place I love in Jerez is El Pasaje Tabanco, more of a bar than a restaurant. It’s tiny, in between two streets in the old town. There is a small stage where different flamenco groups play almost every night: get a table in the front or stand by the bar, order some tapas and a glass of fino, and enjoy the show.
The best tapas I ate in Jerez were from Albores. It’s a busy restaurant, with small tables lined on the sidewalk outside, but it’s very cheerful and fun. I don’t even know what we ordered, as I lost track after the first dishes of pan con tomate and croquetas. I decided to put my camera and phone away and just enjoy the moment – with a glass of Tio Pepe Fino of course!
My last food tip for Jerez is to visit the local food market, Mercado de Abastos, on Saturday morning. In the square outside the covered market hall you will see a kiosk making freshly-made churros. The dough is shaped using a machine, then fried in oil. The hot churros are wrapped in paper, sold and eaten straight away. The best part? You can actually take your paper cone of churros to one of the bars in the square, lay it on the table or eat the fried dough dipped in hot chocolate. What’s not to love?
We stayed at Hipotels Sherry Park, a nice and comfortable hotel with outdoor swimming pool located 15 minutes walk from the old town.
I hope you enjoyed this post and will now add Jerez to your destinations to visit! Thank you Tio Pepe for making me discover the sherry capital of the world!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tio Pepe. All opinions are my own.