Southern Spain is more likely to evoke images of energetic flamenco dancers and elaborately decorated matadors, rather than of sherry. It may come as a surprise to some that this fortified wine is as much a part of Andalusia as the region’s better-known cultural icons. It is fair to say that sherry is one of the world’s most misunderstood beverages – a dated tipple stored in the dark corners of cupboards of British grandmothers and only dusted off during the festive seasons.
One of the oldest wine varietals in the world, sherry is a fortified drop produced in what is known as the ‘sherry triangle’ of Andalusia – also the oldest wine-producing region in Spain – formed by the cities of Jerez (where the Anglicised word ‘sherry’ comes from), Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Historically, sherry was originally made solely from white grape, before brandy was added to it to help it stay stabilised during long ocean voyages. Sherry today is therefore a blended wine of several years of age, and is usually consumed as an aperitif.
Another misconception of this humble spirit is that it is a sweet beverage – indeed, brands such as PX or Pedro Ximenez certainly live up to that expectation – but Fino and Manzanilla sherries prove that the wine can also be dry, fruity and even comparable to champagne. Such a spectrum of flavours means that sherry is one of the most versatile wine varieties in the world. Lighter, crisper blends pair well with a platter of regional soft cheeses or a seafood paella, while heavier sherries are better suited to foie gras and game dishes; sweeter varietals are best reserved for dessert courses.
Of course, the most authentic way to appreciate sherry is on a bodega-hop of southern Spain. Sanlucar de Barrameda is the only place where you can find manzanilla, while Jerez’ Gonzalez Byass is the largest bodega in town and home to the famous Tio Pepe sherry. Then there are the many boutique hotel bars and restaurants where sherry can be enjoyed alone or incorporated into innovative cocktails.
With such a rich history – and an equally rich taste spectrum - it is high time sherry be noticed by discerning palates. Its increase in popularity has run in tandem with a global surge in demand for Spanish cuisine, so what better time to head to Andalusia to refine your palate?
Taste of Andalusia: Four premium sherry experiences
1. This is sherry country
Sherry country in Spain
To really appreciate the depth, variety and quality of Spain’s beloved wine, one must head to the source. Cellar Tours offer four- to eight-day tours of Andalusia, specifically venturing to Ronda, Granada and Seville. The tour is entirely customisable according to your interests, but the sherry vineyard tours come highly recommended if you seek to properly educate yourself. You’ll also stop at Jerez de la Frontera – specifically the Bodegas Tradicion, with an impressive wine cellar and art collection featuring the likes of Goya and Picasso. There, you can taste rare sherries and brandies before heading over to Fernando De Castillo, famed for its Amontillado wine. Of course, food and wine go hand in hand, and no expense is spared on the gourmet side of things, with a lunch at Michelin-starred El Puerto de Santa Maria at Aponiente before travelling to Seville for the final leg of the experience.
Four-day tour from EUR 2,400 (US$2,562) per person; +34 91 143 6553; www.cellartours.com
2. Do as the locals do
Villa Jerez, a Spanish villa converted into an 18-room boutique hotel
In Jerez, life moves slower than the bustling metropolises of Madrid and Barcelona. Siestas are strictly adhered to city-wide, while tradition can be found everywhere, from the old bodegas to the famous horses at the Royal School of Equestrian Art, which dance to the beat of Spanish music. After a day spent touring the city’s most celebrated bodegas, including the legendary Gonzalas Byass, head back to your base at Villa Jerez, an elegant Spanish villa converted into an 18-room boutique hotel. There, you can sample plates of Southern-style tapas on the terrace at Las Yucas Restaurant before retiring to your classically decorated Junior Suite, with a living room and terrace that overlooks the pool and gardens, where you can indulge in a final nightcap (another sherry, perhaps?) before bed.
Junior Suite from EUR 175 (US$186) per night; +34 956 153 100; www.hace.es/en/hotelvillajerez
3. A reinvention
The Americano bar in Hotel Alfonso, Sevilla, Spain
It seems that sherry doesn’t have to be enjoyed on its own, if the Americano Bar in Seville’s Hotel Alfonso XII is anything to go by. Perch on a stool along the long wooden bar and spend an evening sampling sherry in a selection of enticing cocktails. The Discovery of Heaven is a highlight, with Fino sherry, orange blossom water, lemon juice and a splash of blue curacao. Prefer sherry as a solo act? The bar boasts a comprehensive selection of premium tipples that the staff are all-too happy to walk you through. Once you’ve had your fill of libations matched with fried squid, croquettes and live jazz, the hotel’s Royal Suite awaits. Taking up 200 square metres of the first floor, it combines Spanish classic elegance with Moorish design, from the hand-painted ceilings and antiques throughout, to the 10-seater dining room and the two lavish green-marble bathrooms.
Royal Suite from EUR 1,780 (US$1,876) per night; +34 954 917 000; www.hotel-alfonsoxiii-seville.com
4. The best of everything
Cadiz, Spain and the Sierras
Granted, sticking to the south of Spain is a challenge when amazing gourmet and luxury experiences can be found everywhere. Zicasso’s two-week Luxury Spain Tour will give you a taste of Madrid and historic Toledo before you head south to sherry country. Day six will see you visiting a sherry bodega in Sanlucar de Barrameda and tasting some of the region’s finest varieties, before indulging in a seafood lunch and then a drive on to Jerez de la Frontera. The trip can be tailored if you’d like to stay a little longer in the sherry triangle, otherwise the journey continues with cooking classes and coastal drives en route to Granada, where you will get to tour the Alhambra Palace. The trip finishes in cosmopolitan Barcelona, with walking and sailing tours, and a journey through the nearby Sant Sadurni d’Anoia wine region. Cheers to that.
Customised packages are priced between US$350 to $1,000 per person, per day; www.zicasso.com