One of the most famous sherry brands in the world has to be Tio Pepe. The bodega where it’s made is situated in the heart of historic Jerez, and offers a bewildering variety of tours that range from a basic introductory tour (and tasting of two wines) to a technical tasting of nine sherries and VIP experiences that include visits to the vineyards and a meal (with wine pairings).
Whichever tour you pick, though, you’ll enjoy the experience of wandering through the bodega’s ancient whitewashed courtyards and quiet sherry cathedrals, where wines slumber in barrels for years. The bodega even has its own wine train, which ferries you around the vast complex.
You might find you like the place so much that you don’t want to leave — in which case you’re in luck. The bodega opened its own hotel recently, integrating luxurious facilities into a structure based on buildings that used to house the winery’s workers.
Rey Fernando de Castilla
At the other end of the scale, visits to the small Rey Fernando de Castilla bodega are a more intimate affair. Small group visits are arranged by appointment, and offer an hour-long opportunity to delve deep into the technical details of producing sherries, brandies and sherry vinegar.
A tasting follows, and depending on your interests, you should get to taste both biologically aged wines (finos and manzanillas) as well as aged oxidative styles bottled from single barrels, as well as a bewildering array of brandies, and even a vermouth (arguably the hippest style being made in Jerez these days).
Situated somewhere between the two in size, Bodegas Tradicion may offer Jerez’s most upmarket winery visits. The bodega specialises in aged wines — even the fino, traditionally bottled on average after four or five years, is not released until after its eighth birthday.
Most of the wines, though, are aged for much longer—oxidative styles such as amontillado, palo cortado and oloroso clock up at least 36 years in barrel, while sweet wines usually hit their mid-twenties before release.
Arguably, though, the USP of the 90-minute tour at Tradicion is not the guided tour of the winery’s cellars or the tasting of its venerable wines, but the opportunity to visit the bodega’s collection of Spanish paintings, spanning the 14th to 19th centuries.
A short hop westwards in a car will take you towards the Atlantic coast and the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, home to manzanilla (rather than Jerez’s fino). Bodegas Barbadillo, established exactly 200 years ago in 1821, is one of the town’s biggest producers. Its cellars sprawl across town, with different wines of different ages stashed closer to or further from the cooling sea breezes, as style dictates.
You could, should you so wish, just pop in and visit the bodega’s museum (a collection that celebrates both sherry production and the Barbadillo family’s long association with the region). If you want to taste, though, it’s best to book a timed slot—and why not schedule a private guided tour of one of the bodega’s working wineries while you’re there?
The ultimate sherry geek experience, though, must be the two-and-a-half hour introductory tasting course, which adds a tutor-led sherry tasting session to the winery tour and museum visit.
Hidalgo la Gitana
Another Sanlucar stalwart is Bodegas Hidalgo la Gitana, producers of the world’s best-loved brand of manzanilla, La Gitana (the one with the portrait of the lady in the shawl — the eponymous ‘gipsy’—on the label). Make sure you set your GPS to take you to Hidalgo la Gitana, though, as — rather confusingly — there is a Bodegas Hidalgo in Jerez.
Although Hidalgo la Gitana’s site is frustrating to navigate for non-Spanish speakers, bear with it as the bodega offers an interesting range of visitor tours. There’s the basic guided cellar tour, which ends with a tasting of four of the bodega’s wines, but other offerings include evening tours, tastings of premium wines, visits to vineyards and the opportunity to sample sherries direct from the barrel.
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