Travel: My sherry amour; TASTY HOLIDAY IAIN MAYHEW enjoys the odd tipple as he samples the Andalucian city of Jerez on a sherry tour. Bottoms up! SHUPER BREAK SHERRY SHPECIAL.
THE hot Spanish sun isn't over the yard-arm yet. Mind you, I wouldn't know a yard-arm if it came up and introduced itself saying, "I am a yard-arm, and when the sun goes over me you are allowed to crack open the drinks cabinet."
Anyway, it's only 10 in the morning and there isn't a yard-arm in sight, just row upon row of huge wooden casks stacked high in a cathedral-like vaulted bodega.
And here I am drinking sherry like a guilty alcoholic.
Or perhaps alcoholics don't feel guilty about tackling the Bristol Cream at this time of the morning. Not here at any rate. This is Jerez, the sherry capital of the world, where even the name, pronounced He-reth, sounds suitably slurred. Or should that be shuitably shlurred?
You see, I'm rambling already and I've been here for only two days.
I am on a sherry tour of this grand old Andalucian city, sipping religiously at the shrine of labels such as Harveys and Tio Pepe, Croft Original and Domecq, learning the difference between an Amontillado and a Fino, a Manzanilla and an Oloroso and trying to touch my nose and walk in a straight line at the same time.
This is becoming increasingly difficult. One is supposed to sniff, sip and spit it out. But it seems churlish to lob a mouthful of 50-year-old Very Old Rare Sherry (V.O.R.S as they call it in the trade) into a spitoon bucket so I sniff, sip and sip again.
Until it's all gone.
I should know better, not least because my first foray into the chummy, rose-tinted world of alcohol was the delightful discovery of a halfempty bottle of sherry hidden behind tins of pears and mandarin oranges in my grandmother's pantry.
I was 14 years old and the bottle was probably about the same age so we soon got on like a house on fire. I gave it an earful of pubescent angst while it was clearly upset about only being opened at Christmas time. I don't remember much after that.
What I've learned since, of course, is that a) teenage uncertainty can last for decades - fortunately, though, without the acne - and b) once you've opened a bottle of sherry you should never, ever keep it for more than a month, and even then only in the fridge.
Jerez has taught me those lessons this week and it has also shown me what a fine, handsome city it is, ideal for a short break or as a base for exploring the rolling vineyards, ancient towns and stunning beaches of this part of Andalucia. Here's a guide...
What to see: The city is spread out around its Old Quarter, dominated by a 12th century Moorish Alcazar, much of which has been restored. The gardens are splendidly laid out with orange and olive trees leading to the old Arab Baths, while at the top of one of the buildings is a camera obscura which gives you a live panorama of the whole city.
Across the road is the 18th century cathedral built on the site of an Arab mosque and nearby is the magnificent Antiguo Cabildo - the old town hall - which was built in the 16th century and is still in use. North of here, the bullring attracts thousands of fans in season.
Apparently attendances and ticket prices have rocketed since one local matador decided to dispense with the traditional red blanket and stand stock-still in the middle of the arena waiting for the bull to gore him. Presumably there'll be plenty of cheap seats by next season.
Jerez is a bustling place and in the morning the old food market is packed with stalls selling everything from giant tuna - caught off the coast at nearby Cadiz - to freshly-picked fruit and vegetables. If that makes you feel hungry, head for the Bar Juanita, just off the Plaza Arenal for a tapas lunch.
The sherry tours: There are several sherry bodegas in and around Jerez and your hotel will give you details of opening times.
There is also an excellent tourist information office in the centre of town which can help you plan your visits. Costs seem to vary, but reckon on about EUR7(pounds 5) for each bodega. This includes a tasting session and an informative guide. I visited... ooh, lots, including Gonzales Byass (www.bode gastiopepe.com), which is the largest and most commercialised.
It even has a little train to haul you around the flower-filled grounds, stopping off at huge warehouses stacked to the ceiling with casks containing Tio Pepe and Croft Original and smaller, secret cellars housing the oak-aged sherries reserved for the royals, the rich and the famous.
At the Harveys bodega (www.domecq.es), I was shown round by a charming man whose surname, I discovered later, was Domecq.
We tasted, amongst others, palo cortado which I was told is the finest sherry of the lot. "You drink this only when you are alone and thinking about the world," said Snr. Domecq.
I'm sure he was right, but it would still go down pretty well at any rowdy party I've ever been to. I mentioned this and Snr. Domecq said he was concerned that young people hadn't yet embraced the sherry culture as much as their grannies.
When I suggested he should market an Amontillado on ice as a Full Monty I was met with a hard stare and the conversation became as dry as a very dry Fino.
Other Jerez bodegas you should visit include Lustau (www.emilio-lustau.com), a small, rather exclusive place with its own sherry club for well-heeled clients, and Bodegas Tradicion (www.bodegastradicion.com) which as well as producing some of the city's finest sherry has a small art gallery with paintings by old masters including El Greco.
The nightlife: Jerez is also the home of tapas and flamenco and the two - three if you throw in a chilled bottle of Fino sherry - go nicely together in many bars and restaurants in the city.
On one balmy evening I strolled through the cobbled streets of Barrio Santiago to the Plaza del Mercado, a scruffy little square with kids playing football under the date palms, watched by their grans and grandads.
In the corner of the square was the Lagar El Tio Parrilla, a bar-cum-restaurant which had barely opened by 9.30pm. Two hours later it was heaving with locals as a small flamenco group performed.
This wasn't for tourists, they were doing it for themselves and there lies the charm of Jerez - it is very Spanish, very Andalucian, and a world away from the Costas' Sky TV bars.
Days out: A 20-minute drive from Jerez will bring you to San Lucar de Barrameda.
This is a charming old Spanish seaside town at the mouth of the Guadalquiver River, overlooking the Coto Donana National Park.
If you're still on the sherry trail, you don't even have to get withdrawal symptoms here. Go for a tasting of Manzanilla at the Bodegas Hidalgo - La Gitana in the centre of town, before heading off to the beach for dinner at El Mirador de Donana, in Bajo de Guia overlooking the rivers.
SO WHAT GIVES SHERRY ITS TASTE?
WHY does sherry have such a different taste, smell and texture, from ordinary plonk?
Well, it can only be made from two varieties of grapes which grow exclusively in the chalkysoiled vineyards around Jerez. The Palomino grape makes a dry, delicate sherry, while a grape called Pedro Ximenez is generally used for the sweeter stuff.
After fermentation and fortification with grape spirit the sherry is stored in casks, or butts, in a bodega (cellar). Each year, as newer batches arrive, they are perched on top of the original butts and slowly, using pipes, these are allowed to top up the older sherry. This process is known as the solera. It can take 25 years and more to make a Very Old Rare Sherry...
I FLEW out with British Airways (www.ba.com) from Gatwick to Gibraltar, which is about an hour's drive from Jerez.
I returned with Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), which currently has a daily service direct from Jerez airport to Stansted.
I stayed at the four-star Sherry Park Hotel (www.hipotels.com), which is currently offering double rooms from around c80 (pounds 64) a night at weekends.
It has a pool and is only a short walk to the city centre.
For details about the city, visit www.turismojerez .com or, if you need any more information about sherry, recipes and where to eat and drink in Jerez and its surrounding area, visit www.tenstartapas.com
We tasted palo cortado, which is the finest sherry in the world
LOTTA BOTTLE Iain and his new mate Tio Pepe; ONE VINE DAY: Picking grapes in Jerez; HANDSOME: The old town in Jerez; RIOT OF COLOUR: The gardens at Alcazar
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Article Type:||City overview|
|Date:||Aug 2, 2008|
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