— 16 Aug 2017, 13:39:00 by with thanks to Wilem Powell
Where better to sample some of the world’s finest sherries than in the sherry capital itself – Jerez de la Frontera? There was only one problem – I don’t like sherry.
We wanted to avoid the sherry giants like Domeq, Gonzalez Byass and the like and head instead to an authentic, boutique, bodega that produces extremely high quality, aged sherries in limited numbers. We chose Bodegas Tradición.
The glorious, vine covered patio
Sherry tasting at Bodegas Tradición
Specialising in old and rare sherries classified as VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum) and VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum) Bodegas Tradición has gained a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest sherries. This is a bodega that focuses on the artisanal aspects of the process. Everything is done by hand, from refreshing the soleras to the labelling and lacquering of the bottles.
We entered into a beautiful shady courtyard where an ancient vine blots out the fierce rays of the sun and leaves the patio bathed in a warm green light that feels at once both mildly soporific and vibrant with life, like the ‘wood between the worlds’ in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’.
Cobwebs, mould and yeast form part of the magic
Eduardo took us first to the humid cellar, within whose mould blackened walls rows of barrels conceal the mysterious flor that protects the Fino quietly ageing within. This idea, of a yeast growing on top of the wine and protecting it from oxidation, intrigues me and we were lucky enough to see the flor in various stages of its life, by turns ash grey and hungry, pale and active or thick, creamy and wrinkled like the geotricum rind of a fine French cheese.
After whispering amongst the barrels (and momentarily losing our eight year old daughter, who had decided to hide in the cobwebby darkness) we headed back to the timeless courtyard to taste some of that Fino.
Wow! What a surprise! I think I had expected something my mother might have fed to her Christmas cake, a cloying, sickly sweet concoction as far removed from wine as orange squash but no, this Fino was crisp, refreshing, appley and delicious.
Viticultural archive that defies imagination
Bodegas Tradición might be one of the newcomers but it has a family heritage stretching back to the 1600s and the wines that have been selected are some of the finest and oldest around. The process involves no added caramel, no cooked-wine, fining, chill-filtration, cold stabilisation, no added sulphites and no blending (apart from the cream styles we Brits are more familiar with). Added to this artisanal process is an unbroken archive dating back to its very beginnings. We were lucky enough to be shown around the archives. Stacks of papers tied with cotton ribbon containing everything from accounts to personal letters are all being painstakingly archived by Manuel who proudly showed us papers dating from Admiral Nelson’s (somewhat dubious) ecsapades.
Painstakingly preserved correspondences, records and artefacts are stored here in the fabulous archive
Flourish and Blotts eat your heart out!
For those with an interest in archiving this was a real gem and so far only a tiny dent has been made in the sheer volume of documents. Old books, sketches, photographs and letters are all waiting to be discovered.
Carefully stacked and tied in neat bundles, this is the longest, unbroken viticultural archive in the world
Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, PX.....
Hungry for more, we headed into the larger cellar where row upon row of barrels, stacked three high, stretched into the distance. Here, the many other styles of sherry were ageing in their black barrels, each one marked with the Foreman’s chalk as he arrives each morning to taste them.
We tried an Amontillado from the second criadera, a sherry that began its life as a fino and spent a decade ageing under its blanket of flor before the flor broke down allowing a gentle oxidation to take place and the wine was taken to become part of the Amontillado solera system.
Next we tried an Amontillado from the fourth criadera, ten years older than the former, it was deeper, darker and more complex in style, although still appley and crisp, somewhat like a Russet. Then we sampled an even older Amontillado, this time from the solera, hot buttered toast sprang to mind. Yet there were many more aged sherries to be tasted, some like raisin Danish, others darker, more powerful, nutty Olorosos and beautiful, rare Palo Cortados a fruity Pedro Ximenez like dark muscovado and raisins (it is made from sun dried grapes) and the sweet Cream style (that was more reminiscent of Mother’s sherry back home).
Don't be fooled, this is a very complex pour!
Eduardo’s casual manner with which he used the extremely tricky venecia (a narrow ladle that disturbs the flor as little as possible as it is lowered through the barrel’s bung hole and which necessitates an extremely competent pour) belied his reverence for these beautiful, aged sherries, some of which contain wines that date from the C18th.
Maybe not the cheeriest painting ever, but a classic El Greco
Aged sherries in the company of Old Spanish Masters
Before sitting down to enjoy yet more of his fine sherries, Eduardo took us to the private fine art collection that has been amassed over the past decade or so. Dating from the Medieval period to the modern day, this collection is shocking in the secrets it holds, Goya, Velazquez and El Greco to name a few. En route back to the lovely courtyard we casually studied four tile paintings by Picasso, aged 8.
Food pairings and Picassos
Another surprise (obvious if you think about it) are the food pairing opportunities afforded by these superb sherries, shellfish cry out for a crisp Fino and sweet, rich patés a richer, nuttier Amontillado. Eduardo recalled a recent pairing of mushroom risotto with a Fino that he said had been superb. We rounded it all off with a brief tasting of an extremely old brandy. Perhaps it is my love of Armagnac or maybe the sherry had really won me over but it didn’t appeal to me in the same way that the sherries had done. I had been converted!
La Paquera de Jerez
After a thoroughly enjoyable tour with the delightful Eduardo, we set off on our own to explore what else Jerez had to offer. The following images hint at Jerez's claim as the birthplace of Flamenco, its quietly crumbling former glory, palm lined plazas, jacarandas and orange trees that shade the stately streets where beautiful, shuttered windows (I have a thing about windows and doors) reveal the faded beauty of Jerez’ earlier days. Although a former Moorish stronghold, replete with its own Alcazar, Jerez lacks the distinctly Moorish feel that Granada and even Sevilla have, it is a little more elegant, Venetian, Italianate. We visited on an uncommonly cool day in August (a mere 32 degrees C) and it was all very quiet. It felt as if the locals had headed north to cooler climes. We ate near the Cathedral, far later than we had expected, where we found Bodegas Tradición’s sherries at the top of the wine list. Understandably at a much higher price point than the generic offerings that abound (Tio Pepe and so on) we wasted no time in ordering another Bodegas Tradición Amontillado to enjoy with some traditional, hearty tapas.
The faded beauty of Jerez' Historic Centre
Most sherry producers also produce brandy but none quite like this one!
If you would like to arrange a tour at Bodegas Tradición (it was the highlight of our week) you will need to book in advance. If you are yet to be won over by the world of sherry I urge you to give the proper stuff a try. Forget Harvey's Bristol Cream, these sherries are like fine wines and deserve the reputation they are developing. Unlike Spain, Britain is just catching on to the complexities aged sherries can offer, London in particular is witnessing a sherry revival but it's not just for the hipsters or an aperitif for Granny, a cold sherry paired with the right food is an absolute delight.
Rich, nutty and complex, the beautiful 30 year old Amontillado
So, which of these limited production beauties did we take home? It was a difficult choice, having been won over by these high quality sherries we had a fine selection to choose from. In the end we plumped for the 30 year plus Amontillado, which, I am pleased to say has made its way safely back home. Apparently it will keep for 12 moths once opened if stored upright but I’m not sure it will last that long.