Sherry Triangle Here I Come!

travel buddies

I am not a wine writer, but I am a story teller. I am also the one that likes to document and organize processes. My hope is that this blog may benefit others who want to discover sherry or travel to the Sherry Triangle.

In all my years of global travel, I’ve never gone alone. I try to avoid looking like a tourist. I’d much rather travel where I can be with a local to gain an insider’s perspective. Most of my travels abroad have been this way, and usually in the company of one to six others. So, when my husband encouraged me to cash in my air miles and go back to Spain to explore the Sherry Triangle on my own, it scared me. I’m sure most people would think I am nuts for trying to talk my way out of it. Here I am, working part time, with my husband’s encouragement and air miles to pay my way – and I’m scared to say yes.

This has always been the plan – start a blog, go to Spain, come back more equipped to educate others in my community. It’s not coincidence the many people and conversations that have paved the way to get me mentally and emotionally ready for such an adventure!

Step One – Say yes: I decided to say yes. It may have taken weeks, but I don’t believe in living with regrets.

Step Two – Decide when: I decided to go this spring when I knew a friend from home would be there as well. I told her she would be my security net – not actually needing to be there, but nice to know I wasn’t totally alone should anything happen.

Step Three – Confirm airfare: Cashing in accrued air miles is not an easy task. In fact, I think airlines make it difficult on purpose. You can’t get things for free without a hitch. I don’t know what I’d do without my husband who has a lot of knowledge in this area. It took two weeks to confirm each leg with each partner airline that I will arrive to my destination and make it home. (FYI – there is not a direct route traveling from Portland, OR to Jerez de la Frontera and will take two days to arrive and one LONG day to return. Thankfully, I have Global Entry to get through TSA and Customs lines a bit faster. Customs in DFW can take hours in long lines, and transferring terminals in LAX is rumored to have the rudest people you’ll ever meet working in an airport.)

Step Four – Confirm lodging: My husband and I have had a lot of luck using Airbnb. I decided to rent an apartment near my friend. It’s a charming studio with all the amenities I need. The woman leasing it was very quick to reply to my questions and even gave me a discount incentive to book right away. $36 a night for two weeks? Yes please! (Not sure if using my Spanish and name-dropping for locals in Barrio San Miguel helped or not.)

Step Five – Plan an agenda: I’m stuck at step five for the moment. I have a vague idea of where I want to go, which bodegas to visit. I also want to keep things organic. I don’t want to feel over-booked. I want to leave room for getting out of Jerez de la Frontera to also see Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Visiting a vineyard would really complete the journey as well. Two weeks is way too short – so I want to make the most of it without making myself sick and exhausted.

I welcome any tips and suggestions in the comments. There’s no sense in recreating the wheel – but I sure feel like I am in many ways.

I’m a Sherry Triangle Maverick!

Living Big Drinking Sherry

Mary Cecchini There’s nothing quite like meeting a kindred spirit for happy hour. You forget that you haven’t known each other long when you both share a love of living life to its fullest. Don’t let her petit frame fool you – Mary Cecchini is full of life and fulfilling her big dreams! I was first introduced to Mary at the launch party for her new travel business Living Big. It is specifically designed for female travelers who desire a pre-planned adventure with small groups of likeminded women. A week later, I happily accepted her invitation to grab a tapa at Bar Vivant in East Portland.

Mary plans to lead a trip to Spain at the end of August, which includes a visit to wine country in Rioja. I was surprised when I asked if she’ll go to the Sherry Triangle, she admitted she wasn’t sure she ever tasted sherry. (To be honest, I really should not have been surprised. Unfortunately, for being a drinking culture, Portland, Oregon has yet to catch the sherry fever.)

As we talked about our mutual love for Spain, Bar Vivant was perfect for our meeting. It has a wonderful Tuesday happy hour offering a free tapa with a purchase of a drink. I suggested we get a sherry flight and a couple tapas. Whether I realized it or not, I was about to give my first guided sherry tasting.

Until this moment, I had been too nervous to consider leading a sherry tasting because I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Yet, there I was unplanned and unrehearsed, endlessly talking about my passion for sherry!

Happy Hour Sherry Flight

I chose a flight of three of my favorites: a La Guita Manzanilla, La Garrocha Amontillado and Sangre y Trabajadero Oloroso along with a Parisian Montadito of prosciutto and brie and of course Tortilla Española topped with a spicy tomato sauce and eggless mayo. Mary tasted and I talked, making sure to throw her napkins on the floor to follow Bar Vivant tradition. Throw napkins on the floorI think she likes it

Parisian Montadito + Tortilla Española with Manzanilla, Amontillado + Oloroso

Parisian Montadito + Tortilla Española with Manzanilla, Amontillado + Oloroso

I first had Mary taste each sherry starting with the Manzanilla, then the Amontillado and finally the Oloroso. She would describe the nuances she could pick up from each one. For the Manzanilla, she said there was something almost fishy. With the Amontillado, she could smell the toffee notes. The Oloroso she expected to be sweeter. She said the smell reminded her of flavored coffee. Then I asked her to do it again, this time eating the tapas first. I loved watching her reaction as the sherry flavors enhanced. We were both amazed how the spicy tomato sauce on the tortilla really balanced out with the Oloroso.

Hands-on learning is the best! She was full of great questions and I was relieved that I could answer them! I still need to learn more, but she assured me she had an amazing time learning so much in only a couple hours. I shared with Mary my dreams to teach more friends in Portland to do exactly what she and I were doing – having a casual happy hour learning about sherry and become familiar with what’s available around town. I told her my daydream to someday take people with me to visit bodegas in Spain and return sherry experts. Someday.

If Mary can do it, why can’t I?Seana Yee

Aside

One more thing…

After writing my last post about my visit to Bodegas Tradición, I learned a bit more from Peter Liem in my “sherry bible” that I wanted to share for clarification:

Tradición, Calle Cordobeses, 3 ~ This bodega is dedicated solely to old sherry. It doesn’t produce a single Fino nor does it release anything under the average age of 20 years. Being a “boutique” bodega, only 12,000-15,000 bottles are released each year – each labeled and individually numbered by hand.

The private art collection contains over 300 works of Spanish artists including Velázquez, Goya and El Greco. The Picasso tiles pictured in my blog were painted by him when he was eight years old!

For more details about Bodegas Tradición, you really should pick up a copy of Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucía by Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín.

Aside

My First Bodega Tour

I’ve been daydreaming about going back to Jerez de la Frontera this year. I’ve never traveled completely on my own, but I’ve always envied women who have. As I research and plan out my way around the Sherry Triangle, I can’t stop thinking about my first, but certainly not my last, bodega tour.

It was a Saturday in May 2013. I was visiting Jerez for the first time on a flamenco tour. It was our day off, so we scheduled a tour with Bodegas Tradicíon. Our group filed into the beautiful old building. I had never seen anything like it before. The walls were covered in mildew and had a unique sour smell. The high ceilinged room was filled with black barrels stacked on each other.

Whether I didn’t hear clearly or perhaps it was information/sensory overload, I really couldn’t comprehend it all. I remember something about humidity mentioned, and a demonstration about adding to and sampling the wine. I was distracted by wanting to capture it all with my camera, even though it took terrible pictures in low lighting. At one point I got separated from my friends and nearly joined the wrong tour group. (I knew to move along when I noticed all the white hair and accents)

I found my friends in the tasting room. I expected sherry would pair well with chorizo, iberico ham and almonds, but who knew Fino is amazing with potato chips?! In contrast to my first introduction to  sherry, this tasting was slow, deliberate and educational. But again, I failed to retain what each sherry was, or how it was developed or why it progressively got sweeter. I was so intrigued by the bottles they had on display that were centuries old. Overall, the experience left its seeds to learn more.

A special highlight at Bodegas Tradicíon is their art gallery. I had studied Spanish artists in college while on exchange in Sevilla. I was amazed to see in person the paintings I’ve only read about in books. I loved being so close to paintings by Picasso, Velázquez and El Greco; I could see each individual brush stroke.

At the end, we went into the office and saw great old pictures framed from the history of the bodega and traditional harvest time. Throughout my ten days in Jerez, I slowly began to have a glass of Fino or Palo Cortado at every meal. I was completely fascinated by the bodega and the traditional way to make sherry. I can’t wait to visit more bodegas both large and small to continue my hands-on learning!

New Year’s Resolution – #DrinkMoreSherry

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions or if I do, I don’t hold to them very tightly. I prefer to reflect on the past as I move forward into the New Year. But I really meant it when I declared on social media I want to #drinkmoresherry. As I make plans for 2015, I’ve been reminiscing about my comical and someone chaotic introduction to the wonderful world of sherry.

sherryfest westIt was spring of 2013. I was preparing for my first flamenco trip to Jerez de la Frontera. I was studying bulerias with my teacher Laura Onizuka, and saw she would be performing at the Sherryfest West hosted by Bar Vivant and Galaxy Wine Company. Until this moment, I had never heard of Sherryfest, nor several of the bodegas being represented, nor even Peter Liem. I did not realize that his co-authored book would soon become what I affectionately refer to as my Sherry Bible. I just thought this would be the perfect way to further prepare for my trip Jerez.

I should preface that I prefer intimate settings to crowds of people. So, this experience was a bit of sensory and information overload. The small bar was filled with nine bodega reps, a small flamenco tablao for my teacher and her performers, a table with free tapas and several Portlanders squeezing in for the experience!

sherry menuWhen I first walked in, I was handed the list of open bottles by vendor. I was still clueless about in what order sherry should be tasted. I felt like I was experiencing culture shock. I’m not even sure if I tasted all 38 bottles. I did my best to scribble tasting notes by the ones I really enjoyed. My top three by the end were Valdespino – Deliciosa Manzanilla, Emilio Lustau – Almacenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina (Garcia Jarana), and González Byass – Alfonoso Oloroso. However, I really enjoyed every bottle from Fernando de Castilla. I believe I didn’t take notes because Jan Pettersen was the so engaging in conversation.

Eventually, I gathered near the flamenco tablao and clapped along and shouted out jaleos. Jaime Gil from Valdespino stepped out for a little bulerias. He remains a great resource for me throughout my journey; always available to answer my questions. My hope is to visit the bodega on my next journey to Jerez de la Frontera.

As I look at this list, I’m compelled to taste through these again with fresh eyes. If I knew then what I know now, it would have been a whole different experience. Which is why I plan to #drinkmoresherry in 2015!