Thursday, 17 August 2017

Exploring the Sherry Triangle with Genuine Andalusia

If you've been following my posts for a while, you may have picked up that I have developed a passion for all-things sherry. I freely admit that up until a couple of years ago, I would have been a little bit sniffy about the idea of sherry - it was something that older people drank, wasn't it? I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong, and when it comes to sherry I was very wrong. Fortunately I have been able to put this right over the last couple of years; in particular through going to a couple of sherry-tasting masterclasses by Beltran Domecq at the annual Wines of Spain tasting, but also through visiting the sherry-producing area as I am lucky to have a sister-in-law who lives in the area.

At the end of June we paid a visit to this sister-in-law and had an absolutely splendid time (including visiting a 2* restaurant in the area which you can read about here), in particular spending a day with a travel-company that she works with called "Genuine Andalusia", who specialise in bespoke tours for people with a focus on uncovering hidden gems and putting you in contact with real Andalusian people and businesses. One of Genuine Andalusia's areas of particular expertise is their sherry tours, so we were very keen to get along and check out what they had to offer.

Visiting small-scale producers

We started our trip with a real treat, we visited a small-scale producer by the name of Domingo whose vineyards are in the Macharnudo Pago (think sub-appellations) of Jerez. Domingo's family own a relatively sizeable set of vineyards, most of which produces grapes that go in to a local co-operative who produce sherries on their behalf (thus sharing the cost of production between a larger group of people). In recent times Domingo has started keeping some of his grapes for his own production and has started his own small-batch solera system, which allows him to produce  a little of his own sherry as a project. Now, you can't buy Domingo's products as he doesn't sell any bottles, this is purely for his own enjoyment.  

We started our visit with a walk through Domingo's vineyards. He took us around the site and explained how the different vineyards are laid out differently according to the topography of the particular site - for instance the best sites are laid out in what is termed the "royal layout" with a vertical orientation (perpendicular to the hill) with a wide-enough gap between the vines to allow horses to go through; manual intervention is preferred on Domingo's sites to mechanical (even though hand-picking costs five times as much as mechanical). The abundance of grapes on the vines as you explored really served to show how well these vines were being tended to, even in the punishing Andalusian summer sun and it was very evident that Domingo was exceedingly proud of these vines.

After the vineyards we were taken to Domingo's small bodega on the site, which contained his solera systems producing sherries and sherry vinegar. Domingo explained to us a little bit of the solera system and how we used it to make his wines, then we got into the important business of the day - tasting his wines! We tried several Fino-style sherries along with a couple of darker, oloroso-style sherries. The Finos were unlike any sherry that I had tried before, the second a young Palo Cortado style sherry had juicy Amalfi lemon notes; if you served this to my blind I would have sworn that it was a Mosel Riesling! After this we tried another Fino that was slightly cloudier, but again had surprising floral and tropical fruit notes on the nose; this one had more "heat" on the palate, reminding you that it was a sherry and hence had a decent whack of alcohol to it. The Olorosos were similarly interesting with the second of these being my favourite, it was a light caramel colour, with a pleasingly exotic nose; on the palate it was beautifully sweet with touches of caramel and dried fruits to it, but there was also an intriguing savoury side to the wine which added balance on the long finish. Very impressive!

Along with these beautiful wines, Domingo (or more accurately Domingo's mother) prepared a delicious lunch, which was certainly needed as Domingo is a generous pourer and there were no spittoons! We had some local beans, a tuna and potato salad (slathered with local olive oil) and, of course, those fantastic Spanish tomatoes - which every time I taste them make a more and more convincing case of the need to move to Spain.

Domingo only takes visitors that have been organised through Genuine Andalusia, but this was a really fantastic opportunity to meet a producer (especially a small-scale one who is basically having to do everything himself) and learn about the realities of sherry production.

You can see that this is a real passion for Domingo and this really comes through in everything that he does.

From small-scale to LARGE-SCALE!

After visiting a small-scale, local producer it was time to check out one of the big boys - we headed to Jerez de la Frontera to go to Bodegas Tradicion, one of the most famous sherry producers in the Triangle. We were treated to a private tour by Genuine Andalusia's Diana who took us around the Bodegas starting with their very impressive art gallery, which featured some very interesting art works (the family who own Bodegas Tradicion made a lot of their money in dealing in art), including a lot of middle-age and early modern European religious paintings and artifacts. My favourite was this picture of a bullfighter by J. Jimenez Aranda (below left) - this guy just oozes attitude. We also saw some small pieces by a very young (I think he was 10 or so) Pablo Picasso depicting that favourite Andalusian activity of bull-fighting (below right).

After the gallery we started exploring the Bodegas' cellars, which were vast and labyrinthine and really served to illustrate the scale of their production versus a small producer like Domingo. I am always reminded of a cathedral when I visit Bodegas, the buildings are so tall but there is a stillness and a sense of timeless tranquility within. Perhaps this translates itself to the reverence that wine-lovers treat their beloved wines with (or maybe I'm taking this analogy a bit far...!).

The Wines

After exploring the Bodegas for a little while, it was time for the main event - to taste their wines! We made our way to a tastefully decorated and rather comfortable study, where Diana led us on a tasting (as you can see below).

We started with the Fino Tradicion which had a properly sherry nose with a slight salinity to it. On tasting it was fresh with again a slight saltiness to it. There was some citrus fruit acidity (lemon), which gave it a pleasing elegance and brightness.

Next up was a VORS Amontillado. Most of the sherries from Bodegas Tradicion that we tasted fall into the "VORS" categorisation, which means "Very Old and Rare Sherries", i.e. the wine has received at least 30 years of ageing on average (I say on average because of the nature of the solera system). This wine had a very interesting nose which I noted smelled like "glue and pineapple"...! On tasting, however, this wine came into its own - it had tremendous breadth to it with a touch of woodiness, combined with a juiciness and had a tremendous complexity to it.

We continued our tasting with a VORS Palo Cortado which had a slight sweetness to it, which reminded me of butterscotch. On tasting it had a taste that reminded me of salted cashews - that's got to be a good thing, right?! This was a beautiful wine, which I bought a bottle of because it was so good (although it wasn't cheap at €70 a bottle).

Moving on up (as Heather Small from "M People" would say), we next tried a VORS Oloroso which had a more perfumed (but less complex) nose than the previous wine. I found this to be an interesting wine, but didn't quite hit the heights of the previous wine in terms of complexity or profundity.

Time to move on to the sweet stuff! First up we tried their VOS Cream (which is made from 70% Oloroso and 30% PX), which was full of delicious butterscotch and hazelnut aromas. On the palate the texture was very full-bodied, the wine really coats your mouth nicely. The tasting notes are of bright, tropical fruits, with a decently long finish. It wasn't overly complex, but it was certainly a pleasing tasting experience.

Last up on our tasting flight was the VOS PX. This went even deeper on the nose with rich coffee, burnt caramel and some herbal notes. Once more on the mouth there was a luxuriating mouth feel to the wine with some delicious chocolate and coffee notes that went deeper than the previous wine. The last wine was more of a crowd-pleaser, but this was a real purists wine - it  showed the depth and complexity that a good PX can have. A beautiful way to finish a lovely tasting.


As you can probably tell we had an absolutely brilliant day with Genuine Andalusia - I can certainly recommend their services if you are looking to organise a trip to the Sherry Triangle. They can adapt their tours to your particular requirements and would be happy to discuss these with you. You can contact the team by emailing them at:

I must say a huge gracias to Ivan and Diana from Genuine Andalusia for organising a wonderful day for my wife and I - we had a great time.

Disclaimer: I did not pay for this tour as it was gifted to me. Nonetheless, the opinions contained within this article are my true opinions and were not swayed by the hospitality offered.  

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