Jerez: a journey of discovery

With Sherry Week just around the corner, we invited our elusive Mancunian friend @undertheflor to tell us why the traditional wines of Andalucía are such a treat for the senses.

A few years ago now I learned one of the great secrets in the world of wine: that the wines made in Jerez (and Sanlúcar, and Chiclana, and Montilla-Moriles), are among the most extraordinary, delicious wines being made anywhere.

For years before that I had enjoyed the occasional glass of cool, crisp fino but one night I found, in a bottle labelled “palo cortado” what seemed like a new world. It was one of those ‘Cortes gazing out on the Pacific, watcher–of–the–skies’ type moments. I discovered a whole new dimension to wine, a bass clef to go with the treble, jazz music after a lifetime of military marches.

Once bitten by that bug I was off on a journey to discover the amazing variety of wines, from finos and manzanillas to manzanillas pasadas, amontillados and olorosos (not to mention palo cortados, moscatels and PX), and in tasting them reached some quite dizzying peaks. I met a cracking collection of characters – mayetos, almacenistas, capatazes, arrumbadores, toneleros, bodegueros and marquistas – and visited some majestic old bodegas.

A mayeto traditionally worked in both vineyard and winery, but also owned their own vines and (usually modest) winery. An Almacenista is literally a warehouse keeper or wholesaler, who habitually bought and aged young wines before selling them on to larger sherry houses for further ageing or blending. A capataz is a cellar-master. Arrumbadores handle and move the barrels, or botas, in the cellar, while toneleros look after them. Bodegueros oversee the winemaking process, while marquistas go from winery to winery, tasting from different botas before bottling, branding and marketing the wines which really grab their attention.

But the best thing about the journey is that all the time I was in fact heading back in time, and back to the vineyard. Because today, Andalucía is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world at one of the most exciting moments possible. A region that has long worshipped the cellar, the solera, and the quasi magical effects of tiny yeasts is learning to celebrate the fruit of its vines, the soils of its terroir, and the character or its vintages, and is at the same time casting off the worst excesses of its recent industrial past to rediscover a history unmatched by other regions.

Most importantly, the wine-loving public is once again waking up to the awesome wines once celebrated by Shakespeare and Poe, pillaged by enterprising English “pirates” and shipped around the world (and in some cases, back again).

I find it very hard to recommend any single wine but I would recommend the journey to anybody and wholeheartedly. There is so much more to the traditional wines of Andalucía than I ever dreamt, and even better, there is even more to come.

Read more about fortified wines at undertheflor.com, a pretty ordinary blog about some pretty special wines.

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