Sherry Tasting in the Sherry Triangle
People come to vacation where we live, which is something I sometimes forget. They come from all of the world to see the horses dance, sun themselves on the beaches, watch flamenco dancers tap their feet, and to taste the sherry. If asked to share everything I knew about sherry before moving here, I would have said it is a wine that I sometimes cooked with, but didn’t like, and that English movie characters drank it out of small glasses. Now, having been on a handful of tours, I can tell you a decent amount about how this unique wine is produced, that I enjoy Pedro Ximénez poured over vanilla ice cream, and that no visit to southern Spain is complete without learning more.
We live in the middle of the Sherry Triangle, which is made up of the cities of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez de la Frontera, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Each of the cities has its own bodegas, or wineries, and in some cases, its own way of producing sherry. For example, manzanilla sherry can only be produced in Sanlúcar, which is closer to the sea and benefits from different winds blowing over the grapevines.
Being that we live in El Puerto de Santa Maria, we have gravitated to a few bodegas there. Osborne Bodega is famous throughout Spain, but even I am proud to say that it is from el Puerto. As my parents commented, it should be mandatory for all of our guests to take the tour as you learn so much about the local area, the iconic bull logo that has been adopted by the nation, and finally, the wine that is so synonymous with the area.
Osborne offers a daily tour in English, though advance reservations are required. I have gone on the tour four times now, with four tour guides, and each has been fantastic. The tour lasts about an hour, followed by a tasting that is at your own pace. Literally, they leave you with glasses, bottles of sherry, and your own devices. Guests of ours have struck up some great conversations with other visitors and taken over an hour in the tasting portion alone. This laid-back approach and hospitality is one of the finer points of living in this region.
Another great option for sherry education and tasting is the San Marcos castle in El Puerto, which is now owned by Caballero. This tour is also about an hour long and includes a tasting of Caballero’s sherry at the end. However, the majority of the tour is spent viewing the castle and hearing tales of El Puerto’s past with only a small portion of time going over the high-level details of how sherry is produced. In my mind, this is a great option for those with limited time in the area, or less of an interest in wine. And if you just had to take young children tasting with you, I'd also vote for the San Marcos castle.
Finally, my personal favorite, Bodega Luis Perez in Jerez. I saved this one for last because it is my favorite, but also because sherry is not their specialty, which is a good thing if you prefer a more standard red wine. The Sherry Triangle is a one trick vineyard pony, and it does that trick well, however that has not always been the case. Leading up to the nineteenth centry, this region also produced red wines, until a blight from the United States killed all of the vines. At this point, they decided to focus production on the Fino grape and sherry wines. Yet one grape, the Tintilla de Rota continued to grow on the coasts in Rota. The vision of owner and founder of Bodega Luis Perez was to resurrect that grape and once again begin producing good, quality wines. In my book, what a success he has been.
One of the highlights of the Luis Perez tour is the scenery. Sitting high on a hill, you can see for miles in every direction. Miles of vines and fields and scenery straight out of Gladiator. During the tour, you get to walk into the vineyard, and if the timing is right, sample different grapes straight off the vines. Then, you move inside to see the small, in-house wine production, finally followed by a sit-down tasting complete with delicious tapas in a gorgeous Spanish home.
I should add that Luis Perez does produce a small batch of sherry, reserved for high-end restaurants throughout Spain. So, on the tour, you will learn about the tradition of sherry production. Because, this is the Sherry Triangle. You might as well embrace it.