While we were in Cadiz Spain, we took a day trip to Jerez. Tom wanted to explore sherry and Joyce humored him (Joyce hates sherry). We took a train from Cadiz to Jerez De La Frontera and found a pretty town and has a number of historic sites. Jerez has a scenic Old Town, with whitewashed houses lining narrow alleys and lanes.
The primary sights in the center of the city include the cathedral, Alcazar, central square and Placio del Tiempo, which houses the largest clock museum in Europe. Just as lovely, however, are the whitewashed buildings that line the narrow, winding alleys and streets. Further out is the Real Escuela Andaluza de Artes Ecuestre, one of the best known equestrian schools in Europe.
Although we unfortunately missed the two days per week when the school stages public displays of horsemanship, I had one overarching motivation for visiting Jerez: to tour a sherry bodega and to engage in some serious tastings.
Gonzales Byass’ Tio Pepe Tour and Tasting
We began our sherry exploration with a tour and tasting at Gonzles Byass’ Tio Pepe, where we explored the lovely vine-shaded alleys and resultant sun-dappled, whitewashed buildings and learned the bodega’s:
- History, founded in 1835 and now managed by the fifth generation of the Gonzales family—which has since bought out the Byass interest;
- Terroir, consisting of 1,000 hectares (10% of the entire D.O) of 60% chalk soil which reflects the sun and evens ripening;
- Vine management philosophy, and how it grows on only one side of the vine each year (rotating to maintain concentration and consistency) and picks all Tio Pepe grapes by hand;
- Selection process, by which the winemaker selects the grapes that are best suited to Fino and Amatadillo (the same grapes with different numbers of years of aging) and Oloroso, and how it does a single, gentle press for the former and a stronger second press for the later to get more concentrated juice;
- Barreling process, as with its exclusive use of neutral American oak barrels that are used for an average of 30 years (and up to a maximum of about 60), using looser-grained American oak (instead of tighter-grained French oak) to facilitate absorption of water, concentrate the alcohol, and more readily absorb and impart the sherry taste;
- Floring process, by which it leaves the top quarter or so of the barrel by unfilled to provide the oxygen the yeast required to metabolize the sugar in the wine, and how the year hardens into an air-tight layer that protects the wine from oxidation while it ages and contributes the sherry’s characteristic almond, green apple and nougat tastes;
- Solara system, by which wine is blended among vintages (a minimum of four years for Fino, eight for Amatadillo, and up to 30 for Oloroso) by semantically transferring wine from the barrel of each vintage into the barrel of the wine from the previous vintage for the prescribed number of years; and
- Vintage process, by which it selects a few particularly good years from which it holds back a small quantity of wine to age and release, whenever it is deemed to be ready, as a special vintage sherry.
We even learned about (but did not see) the bodega’s pet mice, who developed a taste for sweet Oloroso sherry and how the bodega now puts out a glass of Oloroso, with a ladder for the mice to climb to the top, to take an occasional drink.
Then after going through a collection of special barrels, those dedicated to royal and celebrity guests and a special aging cellar for particularly distinguished wines, we made an unfortunately all-too brief stop at the tasting room, were Tom tasted four different sherries:
- Tio Pepe Fino with four years under flor barrel aging and 15% alcohol with less than 1 gram per liter of sugar;
- Vina AB Amatadillo, which is the same wine as the Fino, but fortified to 16.5% alcohol and aged for ten years, which provides more time for the wine to oxidize, yielding a sweeter (4 grams per liter), darker color and a fuller, richer, more nutty and dried fruit taste with and greater structure;
- Del Duque Amatadillo, which consists of 75% Palamino Fino and 25% Pedro Ximemex, is aged for an incredible 30 years (including at least four under flor), providing an even deeper golden color, more integrated tastes and a deep amber color and subtle, velvety texture with wood undertones; and
- Matusalem Cream, which, unlike the previous wines (which are 100% from the Palomino Fino grape), contains 25% Pedro Ximenex and 21.5% alcohol and an extraordinary 130 grams of sugar per liter. Its grapes are specially selected and dried in the sun to concentrate the sugar, then undergoes a second pressing and is aged for 30 years with more space in the barrel for oxygen, This ensures complete oxidation and creates a sweet, heavily extracted wine with dark mahogany color and a pronounced dried fruit and caramel taste.
Although Tom used to enjoy Fino sherries, he now tends toward the deeper tastes of Amatadillo. And he enjoyed the Vina AB, at least until he experienced the rich, concentrated tastes of the extraordinary Del Duque—an amazing sherry. Although he doesn’t often drink Oloroso, he does appreciate it: and appreciates it even more after the wonderful Matusalem Cream. NOTE TO JOYCE: The same thing after we visited Scotland and scotches, which prompted Tom to start drinking more expensive ones. Keep him away from learning about better sherries.
Fundidor Pedro Domecq Tasting
From there, we were were off to Fundidor Pedro Domecq, a Suntory-owned company that combines the bodegas of Fundidor, Pedro Domecq and Harveys. We did a tasting of four Terry sherries, followed by a Harvey’s Bristol Cream (which is a combination of the four Terry’s) and two brandies (Fudidor and Terry).
We began with three Terry sherries that were made from 100% Palimino grapes, beginning with the lightest and driest. These were:
- Fino, with five years aging in American oak and 15% alcohol;
- Amontillado, which is aged for 9 years and has 17.5% alcohol ; and
- Oloroso, which is also aged for 9 years with 17.5% alcohol.
These were followed by a sweeter Pedro Ximenex sherry; a blend of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximenex whose grapes are sun-dried to concentrate the sugar. This was followed by Harvey’s Bristol Cream (which Tom never liked) that is made from a combination of the four Terry sherries.
While Tom found the Fino a bit sharp for his palate, he enjoyed the other three Terry’s, although the Tio Pepe Del Duque and Matusalem provide very tough, and totally unfair (they are, after all, about five times the price), comparisons.
We finished the tasting with two brandies, a Pedro Domecq Fundador (nice, but not especially noteworthy) and a very refined Terry Centanario.