A Special Visit with El Maestro Sierra

EMS sign

It’s so quiet.

All you can hear are birds.

So peaceful.

~ Excerpt from my journal April 24, 2015

Pilar PláI knew I wanted to visit El Maestro Sierra after reading their backstory in my “sherry bible.” Firstly, I loved that a master cooper, building barrels for Gonzalez Byass, founded it because he wanted to become an almacenista. (Sherry makers at that time typically earned their vocation out of a birthright and did not favor this start-up mentality.) Secondly, I love that in a very male-dominated trade, this bodega is run by women.

From the street, the bodega was pretty unassuming and just as humble inside. They don’t do tours, so I was glad Ana was available on short notice. Eduardo from Spirit Sherry encouraged me to visit, and I’m so glad I did. It was by far one of the most unique experiences I had while in the Sherry Triangle.

They are quite strict about maintaining their way of tradition down to the letter. The botas are the original barrels from 1830. Ana explained that there is a four-degree difference between the floor and the area above. Which is why they keep their barrels of Fino on the bottom rows of the solera where it’s cooler, with the Oloroso barrels stacked on top where it is warmer.

EMS wax sealEverything is done by hand, using no machinery. They stick to the old method of siphoning the wines from the barrels to aid the blending process. They use no chemicals or harsh filtration. If filtration is needed, it’s only using egg whites and gentle paper filters to catch any large particles. They even run off of well water to guarantee no chlorine touches their wines. Even their labels are applied by hand. It was certainly the quietest winery I had been in!

The conversation and tour with Ana was fast pace with little pausing for pictures. She left me alone with my cata, or tasting. I wished she’d share her thoughts with me on each wine. Since they are such an authentic bodega, I wanted to know the special nuances that set their wines apart from others.

I did my best to write down my own thoughts for each. I started with the Fino I’ve had in the past. It is dry, but mature for being only five years old. Due to the gentle filtration, it has a strong flor, or yeast influence. I loved it’s golden color in the sunlight. Next, I tasted the Amontillado. It’s aged twelve years, but still had a very salty Fino influence. I loved its butterscotch aromas and topaz color.

The flight quickly moved onto the aged bottles. The Viejos are only bottled once a year in September and only 20 to 70 bottles at a time. Because so very few are bottled in general, each label has the date and number written on the back.

Amontillado Viejo 1830 comes from a solera that started when the winery was founded. On the nose, I picked up a metallic brass note. On the palate, although it was dry, it was very round with nice toffee notes. The Palo Cortado had an amazingly clear amber color. I’m a lover of all Palo Cortados, and this one had such a nutty complexity, I couldn’t put my glass down. That was until I moved onto the two Oloroso VORS! The Oloroso 1/14 VORS hit my nose like a the smell of varnish and burnt caramel, but the flavor was intense and heated the sides of my tongue similar to a really smooth whiskey. They saved the best for last. The star of this show was certainly the Oloroso Extraviejo 17 VORS. It averages over 80 years old! It too had a smell of polished wood floors and caramelized bananas. The finish was rich and lingered on forever. It took a lot of willpower not to reach over and help myself to a second glass.

El Maestro Sierra BlissI didn’t stay long, but I certainly did not want to leave this silent sanctuary. It was like stepping back in time. I enjoyed having a moment to pause and take a deep breath. So much love and care goes into this place, and I could feel it extend to even to me as a visitor. I am so grateful for this unique experience.

Sevilla Tapas Tour Extreme

ShawnRecently, the Certified Sherry Educator graduates were celebrated all over social media streams. I was so proud and excited for my sherry-loving Twitter friends. I’ll admit I was also feeling extremely envious. I too want to join my friends as a Certified Sherry Educator. I wish I could toast them in person with a celebratory copita for their achievement!

One such friend and graduate is Shawn Hennessey of Azahar Sevilla Tapas Tours. I had the privilege of meeting her last spring. Her blog about our visit is far more concise, so I’ll do my best to recount my experience without too many details.

setas1It was my last weekend in Jerez, and only by pure luck I had a last minute cancellation to squeeze in a trip up to Sevilla. Using my GPS and WhatsApp with Shawn, I was able to navigate from my train to the bus that would take me to the Metropol Parasol, also known as the Setas, the Mushrooms.

Let me be clear that my private tour with Shawn was far from the norm. Once we discovered we felt like two reconnecting friends, the entire day played out exactly that way! Having a one-on-one visit with Shawn gave me the chance to see Sevilla from her insider perspective, as well as learn her courageous story of beating stage-four colon cancer, and creating her ever-growing walking tourism business.

setas2We went up to the top of the Setas for a beautiful view of the city. Shawn shared how she moved from Toronto, Canada to Spain without knowing any Spanish. She just knew that’s where she was supposed to be. I told her that despite studying for four months in Sevilla and studying flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera, I truly had never been tapa barhopping. Shawn was the perfect friend to make that experience happen to the extreme!

We started in La Azotea in Barrio Santa Cruz, where a blonde Italian pixie greeted us. She helped kick off the day with a glass of cava and tostadas with tomato.

The next stop was to the iconic Las Teresas, a classicly old bar with wooden floors, tiled walls and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling. We sipped the most delicious glass of Lustau Botaina Amontillado – served in a white wine glass upon Shawn’s request. The little nibbles of meat and cheese were all that was needed before moving onward.

We popped in Casa Morales into its back bar. Shawn asked barman Diego for something special. He pour us a very cold glass of SacristĂ­a AB Manzanilla Pasada to go with our bite of lomo en manteca. It was here when I felt our conversation go from casual chitchat to a level of transparency only friends can share. At one point we both went from teary eyes to sarcastic teasing and laughter.

It was the perfect transition as Shawn led me her table in her “family’s” place, Bodeguita Romero, for the best pringĂĄ montadito in town! It was a packed Sunday brunch crowd and so loud, we had to practically shout to each other over our glass of Alfonso Oloroso from Gonzalez Byass. Shawn also ordered the famous papas aliñas, as well as braised pork cheeks to go with a glass of Palo Cortado Leonor from Gonalez Byass. When we left, I was already quite satisfied, but we had to make one more stop at La Brunilda. We were too full for their “crackburger,” so we enjoyed a Manzanilla Bota 55 from Equipos Navazos and some queso payoyo.

As with many experiences in Spain, there’s always room for just one more! We wandered over to El Corte Ingles for a special treat at the Gourmet Experience! I was introduced to Silvia Flores. She is absolutely the sweetest, and has made a name and wine reputation for herself, despite being the daughter of Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass. She poured us glasses of the newest 2015 Tio Pepe en Rama. It was so refreshing! Then she spoiled us with glasses of Apostoles VORS Palo Cortado with a couple bites of Michel Cluizel dark chocolate.

After that wonderful visit, I was ready for a break. Shawn invited me to her flat, where I met her flat-mate and her three adorable cats. A sherry lover AND a cat lover?! This day just kept getting better! I felt right at home.

flamenco2By the evening, I joined her Flamenco & Tapas Tour for the flamenco show at the Museo de Baile Flamenco. (I think I was the only one calling out jaleos in the crowd of tourists. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the flamenco peñas in Jerez.) After the show, we kissed our goodbyes, and I caught my train. I dozed off and nearly missed my stop. Thankful Shawn sent a text saying WAKE UP!!

From start to finish, this day was perfectly orchestrated and meant to be. It makes me so happy to know Shawn is officially a Certified Sherry Educator. It is well deserved! Next time you’re in Sevilla, be sure to take her tour and tell her @SherrySips sent you!

An Afternoon with GutiĂ©rrez ColosĂ­a

GC botasI woke up to a tweet this morning celebrating the 70th birthday of Juan Carlos, the winemaker at GutiĂ©rrez ColosĂ­a for the past 55 years. Seeing his face reminded me of one of the best conversations I had this past spring. To think, my visit nearly didn’t happen.

GC Sangre y TrabajaderoI originally planned to visit this bodega because one of the first Olorosos I ever tasted was their Sangre y Trabajadero. I was nervous to go on my own by train from Jerez to El Puerto de Santa Maria. (FYI it is listed as El Puerto on the kiosk. You can purchase your ticket the day you plan to travel. It’s not the last stop on the train, so be watchful and don’t get lost in the scenery.)

Having never been to this town, I was thankful for my phone’s GPS to take me right to the little door on the boulevard. I mentioned to the woman in the storefront that I was here for my 12:30 appointment with Carmen. She asked, “¿Cuál Carmen?” I couldn’t remember if my email correspondence was with Carmen the mother or Carmen the daughter. What I soon discovered was Carmen the daughter was not available, and Carmen the mother had two large tour groups she was entertaining. Rather than apologizing and sending me away, they graciously invited me in and had Bertrand lead me through the bodega.

GutiĂ©rrez ColosĂ­a is located right on the banks of the Guadalete River. I mention this because I learned their location is perfect for keeping a healthy veil of flor yeast year-round. The bodega is a lovely cathedral style, shadowed to keep out the light and heat. Because they are so close to the river and sea, they don’t need to keep soil on the floors to regulate the temperature.

GC flightCarmen reminded me of my own mother; playing hostess, making sure everyone was taken care of and feeling at home, as well as not liking her picture taken. At her request, I promised not to post the one picture I convinced her to take with me.

She poured the standard flight of their Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, and treated me to a plate of cured meats and cheeses. I was left to sample them on my own. Sadly, the only tasting note I made was their Fino reminded me of Manzanilla for its salty nuances.

Carmen brought her husband Juan Carlos down from his meeting to sign my sherry bible. He took me by surprise by sitting down to take time to chat. Our chat quickly turned into an hour conversation!

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Our topics were not at all what I expected. We talked about religion and how he is not a religious man. We talked about wine and climate change. He was quite matter of fact that climate change isn’t anything he worries about; it’s not anything that will impact his wines in his lifetime. When I mentioned that I focus on sherry, because the wine world in general overwhelms me, he assured me that it is quite small when it comes to where grapes can actually grow to produce good wines.

GC VORSAs we continued, Juan Carlos spoiled me with his bottles of VORS. The Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX. He had me drink the Oloroso first because it’s the youngest of the group. Mind blown!!

At one point in our conversation, I mentioned whiskey and Carmen chimed in that my pronunciation was very Andalucian when I spoke. I was quite honored, not only by the complement, but also by how they treated me like a guest in their home despite all the other groups sitting right behind us.

By the time we kissed our goodbyes, I had already spent three hours with this lovely couple! The entire visit to Gutiérrez Colosía went above and beyond my expectations. I cannot wait to go back!

GC autograph

Flor Friday at 15 Romolo

15 RomoloBack in June, Chef Michelle Matthews and Sommelier Ian J. Adams from 15 Romolo were declared the winners of the 6th edition of the Copa Jerez. (Here’s a great recap from fellow sherry blogger Ruben at Sherry Notes.)

Ever since, I’ve been following 15 Romolo on twitter, anxiously awaiting a chance to go visit! The opportunity finally presented itself this past weekend. I had to fly through San Francisco to visit family in wine country. I decided to squeeze in a bite before heading to Sonoma. What better way to spend #FlorFriday than at a sherry bar in the city with friends?!

sherry listOn a Friday night, this area of town is a busy place! The old hotel space was already packed with people by 18:30. My eyes went straight to the sherry list. They offer so many wonderful libations including two sherry flight specials.

Flor FridayTo my disappointment, Ian J. Adams was not there that evening, but Daniel was very helpful with sherry suggestions. He brought out the Old & Rare flight which had a couple of my favorites, as well as two from Toro AlbalĂĄ I’ve wanted to try for some time: Manzanilla Deliciosa en Rama from Valdespino, Amontillado Viejisimo (35 yrs) from Toro AlbalĂĄ, “ApĂłstoles” Palo Cortado VORS (30 yrs) from GonzĂĄlez Byass, and Pedro XimĂ©nez “Gran Reserva” 1983 from Toro AlbalĂĄ. Daniel also surprised me with their signature sherry cocktail Maids of Cadiz.

sherry rainbowWe started with the Pork Croquettes and an order of a delicious Romolo Poutine! I decided to drink my Manzanilla first. It’s mild nuttiness and freshness helped cut through the richness of the dishes. The Amontillado Viejisimo was also a perfect pair. I loved this dry, aged amontillado for its toffee notes.

While I waited for my entrĂ©e, I had “dessert” first. The PX was full of raisin flavor yet a bit too sweet on its own. Daniel brought out a dish of blue cheese. It’s been suggested to me before to pair blue cheese and Pedro XimĂ©nez, but until this moment I hadn’t actually tried it. On its own, I’ve never been a fan of blue cheese, but paired with the wine BOTH became total rock stars! I couldn’t get enough of either!

good eats + sherryAt their suggestion, I ordered the Yo-Mama Burger to enjoy with my Apóstoles Palo Cortado VORS and Maids of Cadiz cocktail. Yes, house-made peanut butter and bacon actually go very well on a burger, and the entire entrée went surprisingly well with the Palo Cortado!

The cocktail should have been enjoyed before the flight. The apple brandy really is the star here but a bit too thin to go head-to-head with a Palo Cortado and burger. Overall, it is a nice palette-cleansing cocktail to end a long week and kickoff the weekend!

Unfortunately, I did not leave any room for the dessert recommendation of their Chocolate Torte paired with the Oloroso Dulce “Matusalem” VORS from GonzĂĄlez Byass. I’ll make room next time! Yes, there will definitely be a next time!

Me at Romolo