The Urium Meeting Place

Some of the most supportive people I’ve encountered in my sherry journey have been through social media connections. These days, it’s so easy to feel connected in friendship across the miles without ever having met in person. Imagine my excitement when I realized I would be in Jerez for harvest at the same time as these fellow sherry lovers! The one bodega we all share a common love for is Bodegas Urium. How fitting that this became our meeting place! Despite the jet lag and the summer heat, we all greeted each other with open arms and cheek-kisses as if this was not our first official meeting. Allow me to introduce you to my friends.

urium-familyThe Urium Meeting Place – Rocío, her husband Mario, and her charming father Alonso take hospitality to the next level! I joke that Rocio and I are like two teenage schoolgirls since we met in 2015. We text each other, giggling about life, and also share our hardships when we need support. She takes her family’s business very seriously and amazes me with how much she manages! She does it all – back office invoicing and orders, hospitality to guests visiting the winery, PR management, etc. She is the most capable woman I’ve ever met!

Heaven help me if I can understand anything Mario says, but he is so jovial! I think he laughs at the end of every sentence that comes out of his mouth. He may seem quiet in a crowd, but one-on-one, he is very passionate about his life in Cuba. In Urium, he jumps right into the family business of running the soleras and doesn’t hesitate to make sure you’re comfortable in their home. I truly believe he is the best selfie-taker!

Who doesn’t love Alonso? He looks like Santa, is so passionate about his wines, and makes a mean stew! I love listening to his childhood stories. He tells many jokes that get lost in translation, offers sound advice and encouragement, and will even sing a few lines of a Sevillanas. Just beware; he will charm you into singing or dancing for him as well!

urium-fun4Criadera – I have followed Helen Highley on Twitter since I first started my sherry journey. She and her husband Stuart live near Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve learned so much about sherry reading her blog. She’s the one who put me in touch with smaller, boutique sherry houses like Urium and Faustino González. Upon finally meeting her in Jerez, her enthusiasm is infectious. It’s no wonder she’s made such amazing partners for her own Sherry Boutique.

urium-funMontilla-Moriles UKErik and Laura Burgess are another dear couple from Scotland, in Blantyre east of Glasgow. Well, everyone will learn quickly that Erik is originally from New Zealand. They bring a stuffed animal Kev the Kiwi on their travels for some fun photo moments. Erik is my #1 fan on Twitter! I can always rely on him to like and retweet my posts! One will also learn a lot about whisky from these two, as they compare and contrast their passion for both scotch and sherry. They uniquely focus their passion for sherry in the Montilla-Moriles region where most PX grapes are grown. Although sherry styles from this region aren’t aged within the sherry triangle, I’ve learned from Erik and Laura not to disregard these wines entirely. What I discovered, upon meeting in person, are their giving hearts! They are the most generous people! I’m really hoping our paths cross again on their home turf!

Shawn HennesseyDon’t be fooled by other guided tapas tours reciting a script – Shawn is the real deal! She is the eyes and ears of Sevilla, Malaga and beyond! Originally from Canada, she has lived several years in Sevilla. Her tours include hole-in-the-wall places where she has built friendships with owners and waiters. Her love for sherry is top-notch. She is such a role model for me. Plus, we share a mutual adoration for cats. When she knew I was coming to take the Certified Sherry Educator’s course at the Consejo Regulador, she came to visit Jerez to lend me her notes! She may be camera shy, but she is anything but when it comes to one on one conversation! If anything, she’s been the one to push me out of my own shell.

alexSherry Company Alexander Dopson has been my kindred spirit throughout my journey. I was excited to finally meet up in Jerez. He and his wife just made the move back to Sevilla from Miami. Although his father is American, his mother is from Jerez. It’s a mind trip to hangout with him and see how he flips from being a total Floridian to Jerezano in one conversation. He’s so fluent; I relied on him to be my interpreter for the little details my language ability couldn’t catch. He is passionate and eloquent when he speaks or writes about sherry, not just about the wines, but the region, the history, and the culture. He’s been a mentor to keep dreaming big and to never give up on my goals for Sherry Sips. When we met at Urium, he brought along his best friend Sergio, who quickly felt like my long lost cousin. Sergio and his new bride Maria became dear friends throughout my stay in September. I hope when we all meet again, they’ll take me to Grazalema where they grew up together.

We had the pleasure of an unexpected addition to the visit from Carl-Gustav Aullo. He’s a Spanish-Swede writing a book on sherry in Swedish! I loved listening to his fluent Spanish with little Swedish interjections. Having just been to Stockholm connecting to my Swedish roots, it was a joy to get to know him and share stories. After several glasses of sherry, we even pulled him in as we serenaded Dancing Queen to Alonso before leaving the bodega and heading onto other sherry adventures.

If you’re passionate about sherry, there are amazing friends who await you with open arms. If you want to meet in person, you know where we’ll be. What happens at Urium stays at Urium.

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 Sacristía 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 pringá 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!