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Article by Roger Davies
Food and wine guide for Spain

We set off for Jerez de la Frontera from Seville on a beautiful sunny morning with an intense blue sky; yet another wonderful day in Andalusia ! Jerez is 55 miles to the south of Seville but before arriving in the town we took a detour to visit one of the vineyard areas to the north of the town.

Photo above (© Roger Davies) - the white, albariza soils, have a high chalk content, ideal for the growing of grapes destined for sherry

Looking over the rolling landscape vines can be seen growing on the areas which give off a white sheen. These are the famous albariza soils which have a high chalk content, ideal for the growing of grapes which are to be destined to make the different styles of sherry. The albariza soil is often compared to a sponge due to its water-retaining capacity. During the hot summer the surface of the soil becomes baked forming a crust which stops the moisture deeper down from evaporating. The roots of the vines thus continue to take in water and stop the vines becoming too stressed. The main sherry grape is the palomino fina which produces very average white table wine but when used for all the different styles of dry sherry produces a wine on a totally different quality level.

It’s interesting to note that the world’s two greatest aperitif wines, champagne and sherry are at the two climatic extremes of grape growing, one being almost not hot enough and the other almost too hot. The best vineyards in both cases are on chalky soils and yeast plays a major role in the ageing process of champagne and some of the styles of sherry as we will see when we get to the bodega (winery).

Leaving the vineyard we headed to Jerez and the Sánchez Romate bodega situated in the old quarter of Jerez. This is one of Jerez's oldest bodegas, having been founded in 1781. They do not normally arrange visits but made an exception for us.

Photo Above - here Roger is seen in the Lustau Bodega

Photo Above (© Roger Davies) - Rafael pours sherry in to a glass. He is pouring the sherry from a venencia.

Rafael, who was to show us around and who has spent nearly 40 years working the bodega, handed each of us a copita, the typical sherry glass. He also had a venencia, the instrument used for drawing wine from the butts, as we were going to taste everything straight from the barrel. It was then off for a lesson on how the different styles of sherry are made and what they taste like!

The winery buildings with their rows and rows of sherry butts, their high sloping roofs and the subdued light are often called cathedrals and do seem to have an air of sanctity about them, the better to contemplate the vinous treasures which they hold!

Sherry wines are produced using the solera system. In the sherry bodegas you will see 500-600 litre wine butts stacked one on top of another up to a height of four. The butts nearest to the floor are known as soleras and those above as criaderas. When wine is needed for bottling it is taken from the soleras which contain the oldest wine. Up to one third of the wine in the solera may be extracted. This quantity is replaced with wine from the criadera above the solera and successively up to the last criadera. The last criadera is replaced with wine from the previous harvest that has been fortified. To make things more confusing this whole system is also known as the solera.
Photo Above (© Roger Davies) - sherry wine butts, stacked and marked in the soleras system

Go to page 2 of Sherry

Read about our Sherry wine tour with Roger

Or view our tour of the Rioja wine region

When booking your accommodations using my recommended Travel Agent, book your own Wine Tour with Roger.

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This page last updated March 2007
The copyright holder for the sherry wine article on this page is Roger Davies.