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From Speyside to Sherry – Our Trip to Jerez

As a whisky guy with two decades in the industry, it's a bit embarrassing to admit that until recently, my encounters with the famed home of sherry, Jerez, was a fleeting trip back in 2012.  During my tenure as a Glenfiddich ambassador, it was a whirlwind visit that barely allowed me to scratch the surface of this sun-soaked Spanish gem. So, when the CopperCairn team (myself, Fraser & Jo) decided to embark on an educational expedition to escape the chilly embrace of Scotland's February frost, Jerez beckoned with promises of rich history and even richer sherries.


But before diving into the sherry-soaked delights of Jerez, we made a pit stop in Seville. Were we indulged in a few nights of culinary exploration and sherry palate preparation. While Seville dazzled us with its architectural wonders and mouthwatering tapas, a humble tabanco stole the show. A basic bar with jamón dangling from the rafters, locals chattering animatedly, and me savouring a glass of Manzanilla alongside a bowl of Spanish olives. Simple? Yes. Memorable? Absolutely.


A Whisky Fans Guide to Sherry.

Bar in seville spain
The amazing tabanco in Seville

Fino: Reminiscent of the delicate balance of single malt whiskies light in flavour, Fino sherry offers a pale, dry profile with subtle nutty undertones. Enjoy it chilled alongside salty snacks for a refreshing experience.

Manzanilla: Much like the coastal salinity of some scotch whiskies, manzanilla sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda boasts a distinct briny character. Pair it with seafood or sip it alone for a taste of maritime adventure.

Amontillado: With its rich, nutty flavours developed through a unique ageing process, amontillado sherry mirrors the complexity often sought in aged Scotch whiskies. Indulge in its warmth alongside hearty soups or robust cheeses.

Palo Cortado: A rarity in the world of sherry, palo cortado combines the finesse of Fino with the depth of Amontillado, much like discovering a hidden gem among your favourite whisky expressions.

Oloroso: Bold and unapologetic, oloroso sherry skips the subtleties to deliver intense flavours of nuts, fruits, and toffee, reminiscent of the rich complexity of mature Scotch whiskies that have been exposed to some of these casks. Pair it with indulgent desserts or hearty dishes.

Pedro Ximenez (PX): For those with a sweet tooth, Pedro Ximenez sherry offers an indulgent treat. Its luscious sweetness and notes of raisins and caramel make it the perfect finale to any sherry tasting experience.  The prominent expression of sherry is like big whiskies influenced by peat or 100% sherry cask maturation.


With Seville's warmth lingering in our hearts (we had now turned from blue to white), we hopped aboard a train bound for Jerez, ready to uncover the secrets of sherry. Our first port of call? La Carbona is where a stunning dinner featuring the best sea bass I have ever experienced awaited. Well-fed and eager for the adventures ahead, we tucked ourselves in early, knowing that our first official date with Sherry awaited us the next day.


Bright and early, we found ourselves strolling through the charming streets of Jerez, a town that surprised us with its size.  Our destination was looming ahead: González Byass. There, we were greeted by Salvador Chirino Robledo, the oenological and cask manager of the most prominent selling sherry in the world. As Salvador led us through the storied grounds of González Byass, dating back to 1835 when Manuel María González created the bodega, we couldn't help but feel the weight of history beneath our feet. Legend has it that the paths connecting it are the town's old streets.  Salvador tells us that the empty returning sherry cask from the UK would have been filled with stones to ballast the ships.  These were then used to make the roads. Mind blown!!

Gonzalez Byass Jerez
We used to be in a band you know!

As we meandered through the warehouses of González Byass, Salvador regaled us with tales of Sherry's maturation. Contrary to the whopping 60-70% influence that casks wield over Scotch Whisky, the impact on sherry seemed almost... modest. It was a revelation to discover that the essence of sherry owes less to its vessel and more to the alchemy of time and terroir.


Ah, Tio Pepe – the Glenfiddich of the sherry world! González Byass's flagship brand is synonymous with excellence, much like its whisky counterpart. But the real jaw-dropper? Stepping into a room frozen in time, where bottles dating back to the 1800s slumbered, their secrets locked away.


And if that wasn't enough to leave us reeling, Salvador casually mentioned the distillery's foray into brandy production and whisky experimentation. Nomad, their whisky born of the marriage between Irish and Scottish whisk(e)y that finds its finishing touch in González Byass's casks. Our amazement peaked as we were shown the monstrous warehouse holding casks being readied for Scottish whisky, each proudly adorned with the recognisable logos and names of renowned distilleries and companies.


Barbadillo Bodega spain

The next day found us venturing to Barbadillo, the venerable bodega nestled in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where our affable host Patricio awaited. Patricio whisked us away on another captivating tour with boundless enthusiasm, delving deep into the rich tapestry of sherry's history and production. But the real highlight awaited us: a tantalising tasting journey through Barbadillo's esteemed range of sherries, from the delicate finesse of Fino to the decadent delight of what unanimously became our newfound favourite, their Pedro Ximenez sherry.


The history and sheer amount of sherry produced here were incredible.  Before digging into sherry production in Spain I was always under the impression that the scotch whisky industry was propping up the sherry industry, but I now know that that is not the case with millions of bottles being sold by the Barbadillo family and only a small percentage of their business providing casks for whisky. 



Our Top Sherry Insights:


  • Sherry's traditional production methods have stood the test of time, remaining unchanged for centuries.

  • Palo Cortado's unique character arises from a natural second fermentation after the Flor's demise.

  • Many iconic Jerez bodegas owe their origins to British influence, with British companies and families playing pivotal roles in their establishment.

  • Sanlúcar de Barrameda is the exclusive home of Manzanilla production, owing to its special microclimate and sea-air interaction.

  • Sherry's flavour development doesn't solely rely on oak ageing (except for Manzanilla). At Barbadillo, we marvelled at barrels over 150 years old, highlighting the depth of sherry's complexity beyond wood interaction.

As we reflect on our whirlwind trip through sherry country—where we walked the historic streets of Jerez and breathed in the seaside air at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, we're reminded of the treasures we unearthed within the walls of the two sherry bodegas we visited.


From the robust flavours of Jerez's fortified wines to the briny elegance of Sanlúcar's Manzanilla, each sip carried us on a sensory voyage. And while our hearts may forever be loyal to whisky, the allure of sherry has certainly left its mark. So, the next time you're perusing a drinks menu or planning your next adventure, consider indulging in a glass of sherry. You might discover a new passion to complement your love for whisky. And if you're craving a winter escapade filled with warmth and culture, Jerez awaits with open arms.

 



Some Sherry terms for you:


Sherry Triangle: Refers to the geographical area in southern Spain where sherry production is centred, encompassing the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.


Bodega: Spanish term for a winery or cellar where sherry is produced, aged, and stored.

Flor Yeast: A type of yeast that forms naturally on the surface of young sherry wines, creating a protective layer that prevents excessive oxidation and contributes to the development of certain sherry styles, such as fino and manzanilla.


Palo Cortado: A style of sherry that results from a unique fermentation process involving the spontaneous development of a second flor yeast layer, leading to a distinctive flavour profile combining characteristics of both fino and amontillado sherries.


Solera: A traditional ageing and blending system used in sherry production, where younger wines are gradually mixed with older ones by stacked barrels, resulting in a consistent and complex final product.

Microclimate: The unique environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and wind patterns, found within a specific geographic area, which can significantly influence the flavour and quality of sherry grapes and wines.


Pedro Ximenez (PX): A sweet style of sherry made from sun-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes, known for its intense sweetness, viscous texture, and flavours of dried fruits, raisins, and caramel.





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