Sherry Odyssey 2015

tabancoAs I slowly write posts on each sherry maker I visited this spring, I realize I wrote about my list of where I hoped to go, but never said where I actually landed this time around. (Trust me, there’s so much more to experience – I’m already planning for my return!)

Here’s what fell into place in April 2015:

So much packed into a little amount of time! I can’t wait to get back to experience even more!

González Byass – Part 1 The Public Tour

The Way to Gonzalez ByassWhen I travel, I try my best not to get caught up in tourist traps. So, I never had the intention of visiting Bodegas González Byass – or what most refer to as Tio Pepe. However, this was a research trip, and I had a friend encourage me to be a tourist for at least one day. I wanted to be able to give an honest recommendation for anyone who may ask about it. I am so glad I decided to go, because I soon discovered González Byass is exactly where you should go if you know nothing about sherry!

TicketFirst, they have guided tours available on Sunday afternoons when so many others are closed. I was even able to go online the night before to book my tour. It’s a very simple process. I could select to view the page in English, pick which tour I’d like to go on, including the time, date, language, and if I’d be trying two or four sherries with or without tapas. Once purchased online, I didn’t have to print anything. I just showed up at the recommended time on the confirmation email, gave the lady my name and she handed me my ticket. You only really need it at the end to verify which tasting you selected.

I was a little turned around trying to find the main entrance, but there are plenty of signs and arrows pointing guests in the right direction. Even though I understand Spanish, I chose the English tour. It actually had less people attend, making it easier to hear. I mostly saw couples and adults on the tour. However, my group had a small family. Their three-year-old son LOVED the “train” we took around the grounds.

Albariza & Palomino Fino VinesThe tour is fast paced, so there was not a lot of time to take all the pictures I would have liked. The bodega feels like a step back in time – cobblestone streets once accessible to the general public are now preserved inside the grounds. Some of the vines inside are over 100 years old.

The first part of the tour was in the large arena-like event area called La Concha for the style of the glass roof. It was built for the Queen’s visit in 1862 where the royal dinner was served. It continues to be a great event space to showcase not only the wines of Jerez, but flamenco and the prized horses all under one roof. It has over 100 barrels marked with the flags of all the countries where they export. The train took us to where they used to distill brandy. The walls are completely blackened from the many years of angel’s share evaporation. On average, 5% of alcohol evaporates each year from the barrels. Just outside in the courtyard is a huge, iconic Tio Pepe bottle as well as the acquired Croft bodega on one side, and the area where they restore the casks on the other side. New barrels are never used, so it is an art to keep these old barrels maintained. They try to maintain barrels for 80 years – after that, they’re shipped to Ireland and Scotland for whiskey.

me and JesusWe were ushered into a large room that houses the casks of Jesus and the twelve Apostles. The backstory is in 1862, Queen Isabel II came for the pressing of the grapes, but the vendimia was already over. Traditionally, the townspeople would buy grapes in September to preserve until New Year’s Eve to eat one grape at each stroke of midnight. So, Sr. González went to each house to collect these grapes to make a press for the queen. It created 16,500 liters of wine. Since it was standard to only fill each 600 liter barrel with 500 liters of wine, this came to out to 33 barrels. Christ was crucified when he was 33 years old. The large cask created for the wine was named the Christ barrel – of course it’s currently filled with Palo Cortado. They didn’t want it to be lonely, so the twelve Apostles are positioned on each side according to the famous painting of the Last Supper. However, there is not a Judas Iscariot barrel for superstitious fear that the wine would turn to vinegar. That barrel was replaced with Mathias.

The next several rooms housed barrels signed by the rich and famous. Of course the Royal Family have their own barrels beautifully displayed. Picasso’s barrel was sent to him in France to sign while he was in exile. What made me chuckle was their excitement that Chelsea Clinton has a signed barrel. Personally, I was more impressed by Steven Spielberg’s barrel.

Before coming, I had a friend say to me to tell the mice hello. I had no idea what she meant until nearly the end of my tour. Long ago, José Gálvez would train the mice of the bodega to climb up and drink Cream sherry out of a copa. To this day, they still keep a filled glass on the floor with a little ladder to the top as an offering.

At some point on the tour, we watched a video subtitled in English telling the history of the bodega and the making of sherry. Despite the made-for-TV acting, it was really informative for someone who may not know anything about sherry.

At the end of the tour, we were led into a giant modern tasting room filled with the other tour groups. The general tasting is a glass of Tio Pepe Fino and a glass of Croft Pale Cream. I requested four glasses on my ticket. I was poured a glass of Alfonso Oloroso and the Solera 1847 Cream (the wine the mice drink) in addition to the Fino and Pale Cream. Had I known how generous the pours would be, I would have ordered the tapas. Not because the wines upset my stomach, but because I became, shall we say, quite happy.

souvenirsThe only way to exit out of the facility is through the store. This was a strategic move on their part! Get the guests to drink two to four sherries, and then don’t let them leave Tio Pepeland without going shopping first! I had enough wits not to buy large bottles I couldn’t take home. But the mini bottles and all the cute Tio Pepe memorabilia were irresistible! I managed to leave without buyer’s remorse. I sighed with relief as I exited the store, only to realize the final challenge was the rotating metal-bar gate leading to the street – a buzzed girl’s worst nightmare.

I am glad I took my friend’s advice to at least gain an honest opinion, and my honest opinion is everyone should visit Gonzalez Byass at least once. You’ll soon discover that I went twice!

Planning for a Sherry Adventure

Feria de JerezBeing connected to bodegas and other sherry bloggers via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram makes me forget the physical distance that keeps me from just hopping on a plane for a visit. Seeing current pictures of the Feria in Jerez makes me a bit envious that I didn’t extend my trip just a bit longer.

Air BerlinSadly, flying from Portland, Oregon to Jerez de la Frontera, Spain is a calculated and very long journey. There’s no direct way to get there that won’t take less than four flights and suck 24 hours of my life away. So, visiting the Sherry Triangle takes some good planning. I was able to use reward miles, but it was still quite challenging to work with a representative to actually redeem them! My first day of travel left at 5:00am on a Tuesday, arriving at 5:00 pm on Wednesday with five different flights using three different airline partners. This meant no one would allow me to check-in online – I had to get a boarding pass printed on each leg at each airport!

Airbnb Manolo & CarmenSince I never traveled on my own with no pre-planned agenda, I decided to visit Spain when I knew friends from my flamenco circle in Portland would be in Jerez. I knew roughly where they would be staying and found this adorable Airbnb apartment close by. (PS – highly recommend staying with this adorable couple – Manolo and Carmen will take you in like family!) This apartment was perfectly located near the center of town as well as the train station.

The month prior to leaving, I contacted several bodegas and sherry connections made on Twitter or Facebook to arrange a time to meet once in Jerez. I purposefully left my days relatively flexible. Most bodegas have their visitation hours all at the same times, so I rarely visited more than two a day. This allowed me space for processing my visits, as well as accept last minute invitations or schedule changes.

RubénThe other blessing in disguise I had was adding global roaming to my mobile plan. I never realized how much I would rely on WhatsApp and Google Maps once I was walking around town! Texting via WhatsApp was essential to confirming if I was running late because GPS got me lost. I even used it with a friendly taxi driver who practically became my private driver for when I really needed one. (If you ever want Rubén’s number, let me know! He’s the best!)

I knew from the beginning I wanted to learn about sherry from grape to glass. I selected bodegas based on what I read or what labels I was familiar with. I also took any recommendations from fellow sherry bloggers. There’s only so much you can do to plan – the rest just falls into place in the day-to-day living.

THAT is what adventure is all about!

Live the Dream

Sherry Triangle Wish List

TradicionThis spring, with much support and encouragement from my husband, I will be traveling back to Jerez for the sole purpose of exploring the Marco de Jerez (AKA the Sherry Triangle).

Although my home base will be in Jerez, my Bodega Wish List includes small boutiques and larger establishments throughout the entire Sherry Triangle.

lightsAfter reading Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín’s Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, and Talia Baiocchi’s SHERRY, my bodega wish list only got longer:

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA: Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo, Bodega El Maestro Sierra and hopefully connect with Equipo Navazos.

Over the last year, I have enjoyed meeting Sherry Ambassadors in Portland and really hope to visit their bodegas: Bodegas Rey Fernando de CastillaBodegas Emilio Lustau, and Valdespino (Grupo Estévez). Based on a friend’s referral, I also hope to connect with a smaller boutique Bodegas Urium. (I volunteer for an urban winery in Portland and have a special place in my heart for smaller operations.)

I recently wrote about my only bodega experience with Bodegas Tradición, and have since met its Director Lorenzo García-Iglesias a couple times in Portland. However, I may or may not have time to squeeze in a return visit with so many others to explore!

SANLUCAR DE BARRARMEDA: I would like to take a day trip to visit Bodegas Barbadillo, Bodegas Hidalgo – La Gitana, Bodega Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín (La Guita), and especially Bodegas Delgado Zuleta simply for its history and age.

EL PUERTO DE SANTA MARIA: This may be a shorter visit, but based on recommendations I’d like to see Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía and Bodegas Grant.

CHIPIONA: I hadn’t planned on visiting Chipiona, but I was strongly advised to see the King of Moscatel – Bodegas César Florido.

spiritsherryIdeally, I want to return from my trip with a firm understanding about sherry from grape to glass! Thanks to a mutual sherry lover and blogger Criadera, I’m excited to connect with her friends at Spirit Sherry tours to go out to the vineyards.

I really want to balance having a plan with letting things happen organically. To be honest, I’m not even sure how far in advance I should reach out to all these bodegas to set up an appointment. I haven’t figured out the bus or train routes. I’m not even sure how things will happen day to day. I have my plane ticket and my apartment reserved, and the rest will fall into place. Like the proverb says, Todo tiene solucion menos la muerte.

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.