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Jerez, flamenco and zambombas in the cafes and streets. Christmas in Cadiz.

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Jerez or Sherry

Of course, the main attraction in Jerez has to be sherry. After all, the English word is simply a corruption of the name of the town where this amazing drink is cultured. I have been a fan ever since I first discovered alcohol for myself rather than imbibing what other people provided for me.

I was sixteen and had just started doing holiday work to supplement my meagre pocket-money. My cousin was working for the post office helping with the Christmas deliveries. That didnít suit me one little bit. I wanted to be inside so I got a job working for the local brewery.

This was a new world for me, and I made sure I tasted everything I possibly could. The brewery brewed their own beer, naturally, but they also had a wine shop with a wonderful cellar underneath, which is where I initially worked. One thing stood out, and that was the sherries. To my untutored palate it seemed to me that most wines, although covering a range of tastes, were very uneven in terms of quality, whereas, the same could not be said for the sherries. Of course, there was a range from steely clear, to thick viscous dark, and from dry as dry to ultra sweet, but the quality did not seem to be so uneven. Clearly some were quality wines, but none of them seemed to be low grade.

I soon found there were specialities, such as almacenistas, and I started collecting them.

Differing types of wine from the
          Jerez region

Next time I went to Spain I deliberately headed to Jerez and spent an inordinate time diving into small bodegas which seemed to be in most of the streets in central Jerez. They were easy to spot; an open door leading to a set of stairs down into a cellar.

I liked the slender glasses, and I really liked the contents. The first thing I learned was that you donít ask for a sherry. You traditionally ask for a Fino.

I then discovered the almost desolate town of Sanlucar at the mouth of the Guidalquivir. The place was silent and sleepy, with dust blowing about. I wandered into a bar, and tasted something rather different, a manzanilla. I was keen, and it didnít take me long to realise there was an interesting hierarchy of these wines, from the simple standard version to the pasada varieties, which were just as dry, but with a fuller taste.

I was entranced, and spent days wandering around the town, sliding in and out of bars, walking down to the southern end of the town and discovering the remnants of an American commune that apparently dated back to the days of the civil war.

I then wandered back east and discovered some more of these amazing wines. Sherry is the classic wine, but there is a whole family of these wines; the manzanillas on the coast, and the montillas inland, and even montillaís little sister, the moriles.

The odd thing was, that no matter which bottle I tried, they were all jolly good. But you have to like dry wines to really appreciate these. If you have a sweet tooth, then stick to the darker sherries, and leave the rest alone.

It doesnít matter where you go in Jerez, Sanlucar, or Santa Maria, the streets are lined with massive warehouses where the wines sleep in their barrels. And I havenít forgotten Chipiona, where things are slightly different. But Iíll come to that in another blog.

Christmas in Cadiz (Part 2)
The Spanish Riding School (Part 4)

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