As some of you might recall, my daughter, Katie, is in Spain for the year as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant. As a part of the Fulbright program she is required to pursue a cultural education project, focusing on a particular aspect of life in Spain. Well, the apple must not fall very far from the tree because her project is to study the food and wine of Spain. Talk about a practical, and satisfying, immersion experience. She recently took a weekend trip to Sevilla with a fellow Fulbrighter. Together they spent a day in Jerez exploring that city’s greatest export. The following notes and pictures are Katie’s. This piece opens a new chapter in The Grape Belt’s annals as she is the site’s inaugural guest blogger. Hope you enjoy her look at Jerez. Cheers!
Our guided tour started late, but it’s Spain on a holiday so that wasn’t too surprising. What was surprising is that we had to wait outside in the courtyard and not in a tasting room or wine shop, which is typical of the other experiences I’ve had.
The guide seemed to be knowledgeable enough, but she had a distracting, thick accent, which made understanding just about everything she said quite difficult. She also did not spend much time explaining sherry in general, how the process began, what the steps were, or how important sherry is in Jerez and the surrounding region.
Luckily, I had done a quick read of some articles explaining sherry so I wasn’t completely lost, but the fact that she assumed we knew such things was quite presumptuous. I mean, I like being treated like a competent, intelligent adult, but this is one of those moments where I could have used a tutorial. The tour only lasted about 20 minutes and we rushed through the storehouses, but it was still incredible to walk among the barrels and smell the sherry. And, to experience the bodega with such a small group made for a much more intimate and therefore impressive experience.
Then, it was straight to the tasting room, where we tasted eight sherries from dry to sweet. I have never tasted so much sherry before nor did I appreciate the range of aromas and flavors that sherry has to offer.
There wasn’t much explanation of the type of sherry we were drinking as you would receive at a typical winery tasting, where the guide might remind you of the bottling, aging, and storage process before giving you a pour. Here, it was more of a “well, here’s the fino…do you like it?” This meant we spent most of the time reading the label to get some clues as to what we were supposed to be tasting in the sherry or what we might pair it with.
This sherry, our first, was dry, with not a very long finish; fresh and light, with an oaky aroma and hints of butter. In the glass it is super clear with a hint of pink when held up to a white surface, but from the side it has more of a light hay color.
The tasting room hostess said this would be saltier than the Manzanilla and that it is popular in Japan as a pairing with sushi. This wine was less buttery on the nose, and the color is slightly darker. In the mouth it is more tannic, and, as the guide suggested, stronger saline flavors.
This wine reminded me of the sherries my father has tried to introduce to me at home, and so was strangely familiar. It has a strong taste, more like a spirit, with less fruit flavors than the previous samples. Most of the flavor is up front, and the finish isn’t very long at all.
This sherry is 20 percent alcohol, redder and darker than the one before. A bit lighter with aromas, again, of maple and caramel, but sweeter and easier to drink, with more fruit. A darker wine in every way, but with lighter flavors, almost like honey.
Amontillado has a dark, amber-like color. This sample smelled syrupy and sweet, like caramel or maple syrup. Sarah said, “it tastes like lady whiskey.”
The color of this sherry is dark brown, and it smells like a fish market. Happily, it doesn’t taste like one. In fact,once you get it past your nose it has a super sweet taste— like candy, maybe a chocolate-orange bark, and has a creamy consistency. It’s easy to see how it might pair with a variety of cheeses.
This sherry is one of Lustau’s most celebrated wines and has won many international awards. Really dark, almost coffee color. It reminds me of being in a hospital, with aromas that are sweet but slightly sterile. Sharper, with more noticeable alcohol on the palate. Both the consistency and flavors are super syrupy.
As it’s being poured, you can see it comes out silently like molasses, and smells like a Ricola cough drop, with a sweet and sappy aroma; and, while the aromas remind me of a pine forest, the wine looks like chocolate, and tastes like dried fruit, maybe raisins or figs. The finish is very long. Definitely good as a syrup over ice cream.
I think Sarah and I both found the oloroso to be the easiest to drink and the mildest. The drier sherries were a bit too “alcohol-y,” whereas the sweeter sherries were so sweet and syrupy that I don’t think I could drink them on their own. I think our consensus on the sherry tasting was that it was a great experience and fun to try out, but I know I will not be ordering sherry at a bar or casually after a nice meal anytime soon. I think I’ll stick to unfortified wine for now.
People in Jerez drink sherry at bars instead of a glass of wine or beer. Walking through the streets you see great numbers of locals out on terraces and eating in the plazas and everyone is drinking sherry. We arrived in Jerez on a holiday so it was even more pronounced, but we did wander down this one alley lined with bars and there were families and couples, old people and young people, sitting on stools in the alleyway and it seemed as though everyone was having a glass of sherry and some tapas. It felt like what must be a quintessential Jerez experience. Sarah and I both joined in and ordered a glass of sherry (I ordered fino and she ordered the house oloroso that came out of an unlabeled glass bottle looking like moonshine) to fit in with the locals. I wish I had just gotten a glass of wine because I struggled sipping down another sherry after our tasting, but it was worth it to be part of the Jerez experience. — by Katie Riley