Tag Archives: Sherry

6 WEEKS IN SPAIN – SUMMING UP

Our trip to Spain has been a wonderful experience. Madrid, Seville, Jerez, Cordoba, Sitges, and Barcelona – each unique and each an expression of the overall Spanish culture and way of life. And the wines! We stayed mostly in AirBnB.com (LINK) apartments with a couple of hotels for shorter stays. We walked almost everywhere and used the trains and busses – we only had a rental car for one week.

We began with five days in Madrid, the capital and one of Europe’s great cities. We stayed near the old town and the Palau  Real (Royal Palace), where there were a variety of restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs. Madrid also has the high-end nightlife of a major city, although things are still a bit depressed here as the overall economy struggles to recover from the recession that hit Spain particularly hard. That said, it is a magnificent place to visit and we will surely return for a longer stay. The Prado Museum is among the very best in the world.

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Tapas is the king of food in Spain, and since the recession, these small plates of nearly infinite variety have moved from the status of late afternoon or late night snack to the evening’s repast. The variety and quality of Tapas at the many small tapas bars and cafes is simply astounding. And there is inexpensive and very good wine everywhere! During our stay in Spain, we probably averaged 2 euros a “copa” or glass. On most wine lists in the tapas bars, ALL of the wines were under 20 euros a bottle (and the dollar and euro are currently nearly at par)! So a Tapas dinner for two – three to five plates and two to three glasses of wine each – was almost always under 20 euros. This was true everywhere we went. There are more expensive places to eat, but the vast majority of food establishments in Spain are very, very reasonable.

After five days in Madrid, it was onto the Renfe High Speed Train for a nice ride down to Seville (Sevilla), the largest city in southern Spain’s Andalusia area. Seville is a gem of a city with a great history and a bustling food and wine scene. It is a home of Flamenco, and we saw some amazing shows while in town. We stayed for 3 1/2 weeks in an AirBnB.com apartment near the center of the old town. We were literally surrounded with history and the hustle and bustle of a busy city.We explored the city’s Tapas bars, the Arabian Spas, the Mercados (markets), along with the many historical and religious sites. We could have stayed longer. The people are amazingly welcoming, very proud of their city and their culture. We met many locals through our AirBnb host.

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While in Seville, we did side trips. One was a weekend in Jerez, the center of Andalusian Sherry production. Jerez is like a mini Seville with a historical city center, but with numerous Bodegas where Sherry is produced and Tabacons, bars where Sherry is served out of the cask and where, frequently, Flamenco shows are staged. It is also home to the Royal Andalusian Horse Training Center, which we visited for a performance.

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After Seville, we flew to Barcelona’s Airport (BCN), but did not go right to Barcelona. We rented a car and went south a bit to Sitges, a wonderful Mediterranean Beach Community. Sitges reminds me of the French Riviera, only it has sandy beaches and that amazingly inexpensive Spanishn food and wine. We stayed at a beachfront hotel for seven nights and explored the food and wine scene a bit. Sitges is near the Penedès D.O. (LINK) wine region. You can read about our winery visits there here (LINK) and here (LINK). Sitges was relaxing and enjoyable.

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Then it was on to Barcelona for the final week in Spain. This was my third visit to this wonderful city. Part of the reason that we came was that both Dorianne and I were presenting at a conference at the ESADE Business School (LINK) on Spirituality and Creativity in Management. We still managed to squeeze in some wonderful food and wine, though. Also, Barcelona is home to all things Gaudi – that’s Antoni Gaudi (LINK), the genius visionary architect and designer. We stayed a bit out of the city near the FC Barcelona Stadium, which was a great choice.

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So Spain has cast its spell on me once again. It is with mixed feelings that we depart for France tomorrow, as much as I love France. Spain was hit hard by the financial collapse, but it is coming back gracefully, as far as I can see. And Spanish Wines – tintos, blancos, cavas, and Sherrys – are among the best values in the world today. So go to your local store and ask for something Spanish and then make a few small plates at home and sit back and savor the culture that brought us so much and continues to do so.

Some photos from our trip.

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GONZALEZ-BYASS IS THE LARGEST SHERRY MAKER IN THE WORLD

Dorianne and I spent Easter weekend in Jerez, Spain, both to take a break from the hectic Santa-Semana schedule in Seville, and to explore a bit of Sherry country. Andalusia, the southwestern region of Spain is known for its production of Sherry Wines.

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Lobby and Waiting Room for the Tours.

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There are a number of bodegas or Sherry houses in Jerez. The only one open on Good Friday afternoon was Gonzalez-Byass (LINK), makers of the best-selling Tio Pepe and a number of other Sherries and brandies. Gonzalez-Byass is the largest Sherry producer and also has wineries in every major Spanish Wine Region – they are sort of the Mondavi of Spain. The bodega is located adjacent to the Cathedral of Jerez and The Alcazar – prime real estate to be sure.

The tour cost 16 euros, including a tasting of two wines and a plate of tapas. Gonzalez-Byass is a big operation, and the tour was extensive. There were groups taken out in Spanish, English and German while we were there. You also take a tram for part of the tour. It is very touristy, but I was impressed at the amount of information provided by our guide, Rachel and the expanse of the bodega. The tour is not an intimate experience, but it is a great introduction to Sherry wine production.

Sherry is made with only white grapes, primarily palomino, which grows well in the gray soil of the region. Dry Sherry or Fino is made from earlier harvests, sweet sherry or Cream or Dulces is made by adding late harvest grapes to the blend, in some cases, raisins.

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Almost all Sherry is blended – a process where there is a stack of barrels four high. The bottom barrel contains up to 60 vintages, the second barrel is newer, the top barrel the current vintage. The winemaker takes 1/3 of the bottom barrel and then replaces that 1/3 with wine from the second barrel, and so on. Some from each of the upper barrels is added to the current wine being made. This, according to Gonzalez-Byass, results in a uniform product over time. There are some vintage Sherries, which are not made using this process.

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The grey soil of Andalusia.
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Samples of Brandies.
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Rachel shows us the Old Brandy Stills.
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Signed barrels at Gonzalez-Byass.

Here is a good PDF showing the process of making Sherry wines (LINK).

The tour concluded in a very modernistic tasting area built inside the storage building for Tio Pepe wines. We tasted three wines – a Fino, a Cream, and a Blend, and had tapas at a table shared with a mother and daughter from Moscow who had taken the English language tour. They told us about Russian wines, which I would love to try sometime.

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World’s Largest Weather Vane.
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Tasting Area inside Tio Pepe Storage Building.

I recommend Gonzalez-Byass for those who want to learn about Sherry production and enjoy the big touristy experience. They do it well. There are lots of opportunities to experience other bodegas in Jerez – just don’t go in Easter weekend!

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SHERRY IN JEREZ, SPAIN

Dorianne and I took the train from Seville to Jerez on Good Friday and returned on Easter Sunday. During our short visit, we managed to do quite a bit – toured the largest Sherry Bodega – Gonzales-Bypass (LINK), makers of Tio Pepe and other sherries and brandies; had wonderful food and wine at several tapas bars; saw a Flamenco music show at a tabanco – a place where they serve Sherry from casks; visited a performance of the Andalusian Horses at the Foundation Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre (LINK); stayed in a very nice 4-star hotel, and strolled around town a bit.

I will be blogging about some of the specifics over the next couple of days, but for now, here are some representative photos of our side-trip.

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AN EVENING OF TAPAS AND WINE IN SEVILLA

Exploring Sevilla (Seville) is an experience of one discovery after another. This is our first trip here, and we are in a rented apartment near the center of town for 3 1/2 weeks. Preparations are underway for Holy Week (LINK), which is a huge deal here, with between 1 and 2 million people coming to the city for over 50 processions and other festivities. It is the biggest week of the Sevilla calendar.

Sevilla is also the home of tapas, the concept of a variety of dishes served on small plates. Tapas used to be either a snack between lunch (served here between 1pm and 4pm and dinner (served between 9pm and 11:30pm), or to accompany a larger meal. Today, especially after the economic recession here, tapas have become lunch through dinner for most people. Plates of tapas, usually one or two pieces of something, a plate of olives or a salad, cost between 1.5 and 3.5 euros. Larger servings, media or plata cost more (think bread plate/salad plate/dinner plate).

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Marinated Pulpo (octopus) with Onions and Peppers
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Serrano Ham on Toast with Quail Eggs
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Patatas Fritas (fried potatoes) with a spicy Catsup and Garlic Mayo

There are hundreds of tapas places in Sevilla. We happen to be staying within a block of a very good one, and we have been there twice so far.

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The place is Taverna Coloniales (LINK) at the Plaza del Christo de Burgos. Here, on a corner, dozens of people gather from afternoon through late at night to sample an amazing array of tapa, wine, and beer. Dorianne and I have found that three or four tapas plates are sufficient for a meal. Add two or three glasses of wine each, and our bill comes to about 18 euros, or $20. It is cheaper than eating in our apartment.

The Taberna is staffed by six people, four at the bar, one in the back room where there are about 6 tables, and one out front where the sidewalk cafe can seat around 30. The place is often packed, but the staff is excellent at knowing who needs what and when they need it, and they remember what you ordered when it comes time to pay. They remind me of the countless counter people who work in places in Manhattan, giving excellent service to large numbers of people. Part of what we in the US would call a “chain,” there are several establishments owned by the same people in the area.

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Last night, we had the tapa pictured above with a Tinto (red) wine from Rioja a 2011 Finca 10 Crianza (LINK – translation needed). The wine is, of course, Tempranillo. The term Crianza means that the wine has been aged for a shorter time (24 months with 6 months in barrel) than a Reserva (36 months with 12 months in barrel) or a Gran Reserva (60 months with 18 months in barrel). The wine was fruity, with a pleasant nose and a hint of minerality on the tongue; a bit bitter, with medium tannins and acidity. At under 2 euros a glass, it was hard to complain, so we did not.

Wine - Sherry - canasta-botella

After our meal, I ordered a glass of Sherry, a Canasta Cream Sherry (LINK) from Jerez (LINK), the premier Sherry region about an hour south of Sevilla. Also under 2 euros a glass, this wine reminds me of a California Port – rich and smooth with a very nice finish. That’s me above, with the glass of Sherry.

Here are some other photos of Taberna Coloniales:

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