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
I soon found there were specialities, such as almacenistas, and
I started collecting them.
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
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
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
Christmas in Cadiz (Part 2)