By Karis Bouher
If you’re a lover of sherry, a trip to Jerez in Spain’s Andalucia region is for you. I was there recently as part of the Tasty Andalucia campaign and was lucky to visit two of its best-known sherry bodegas – Gonzalez Byass and Osborne.
A little about Jerez
Jerez de la Frontera –Jerez for short — is located in southwestern Spain in the province of Cadiz. It’s known for its sherry and brandy production as well as horse culture, and Flamenco music and dance. During February and March, Jerez hosts a major Flamenco festival, and in May the Feria de Caballo horse fair. Jerez is the perfect place to wander the streets and discover; even during December it was sunny with temperature highs of up to 17 degrees Celsius.
In Jerez, Sherry is the name of the game. Gonzalez Byass is a well-known name in the production of sherries and wines, with wineries around Spain. They have been around since 1835, producing wines in Jerez and it’s still owned by the same family who started it. We were lucky to visit Gonzalez Byass’ Tio Pepe bodega (cellar/winery) – you know the bottle with the red hat and guitar? Well, if you’re a sherry lover, you will!
During our tour of the bodega (which is huge!), we were led through the streets and shown the inner workings of the historic and modern winery. We were privileged to meet Head Sherry Master, Antonio Flores, who showed us the art of the ‘Venencia’, allowing us to try the sherry straight from the cask. He also shared with us his passion for sherry and his strong connection to Gonzalez Byass: he was born in the bodega as his father was the Head of Production at the time – you just can’t get any closer to your job than that! It wouldn’t surprise me if there really was a small percentage of Tio Pepe in his veins.
Antonio also took us through a tasting of their sherry products, from Fino —a dry sherry you would have with, say, fish— to the sherry creams more suited to desserts that your grandmother probably drinks (and I won’t lie, it’s my preference!).
You can also tour the bodega and see for yourself Tio Pepe’s history and try a few delicious sherries. You can book your tour here: bodegastiopepe.com/en
Osborne Bodega and Toro Gallery
Osborne is another well-known name in Spain and one of the oldest family businesses in the world – in 1772, Thomas Osborne Mann started Bodega Osborne to commercialise the wines in the local Cadiz region. Don’t get caught pronouncing it ‘Oz-born’ because it looks like an English name though (it was originally), the pronunciation is ‘Oz-bor-nay’.
There are two really interesting aspects to the Osborne Bodega in Cadiz – you can tour the historic winemaking facilities and try more examples of the stunning sherries (and in this case brandies) produced in the region. By the end, you’ll be bit of an expert and I suspect you’ll be able to make comparisons between the different producers.
From the facility tour, you’ll get the visit the Osborne Foundation’s Toro Gallery – a celebration of El Toro de Osborne, or the Osborne Bull. What is the Osborne Bull? If you’ve driven around Spain, you may have seen one or more large black bull silhouettes on the side of motorways. These bulls were installed in the 1950s as part of a marketing campaign for Osborne and have become national icons since. It was fascinating to see the history of Osborne’s marketing campaigns (but that could be the marketing manager in me!) and I bet you didn’t know that J.R.R Tolkien is connected to the Osborne family…I’ll let you find out how when you go.
The city sights
Now to walk off all that sherry and tapas, I highly recommend a wander around the city. Three of the key spots are:
The Cathedral (€5) – Construction of the Jerez Cathedral started at the end of the 17th Century and continued through to the late 18th Century. Because of the long build period, lovers of architecture will enjoy the mix of Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles incorporated into the design. For more information: catedraldejerez.es/information.htm
The Alcazar (€5) – Built in the 11th Century, the Alcazar of Jerez is a Moorish fortress containing the only remaining Mosque of 18 originally built in the city. It now serves as a small oasis in the middle of Jerez with its manicured gardens and views of the surrounding area, including the Cathedral.
Asuncion Square – If you like architecture, this square is worth a visit as you’ll see examples from the 15th to the 20th Century. The Church of San Dionisio is Gothic-Mudéjar in style with additions from later periods; the Old City Hall is a surprising mix with a Renaissance façade, grotesques, and statues of Hercules and Julius Caesar (it’s now a library); lastly the newest piece is the pillar honouring the Assumption, erected in 1952.
Getting to Jerez
If you make Seville your base during your time in Andalucia, it will take around one hour if you drive and around an hour and a half if you take public transport.
Find out more
I was lucky to visit Jerez recently as a guest of the Tasty Andalucia campaign. I would like to thank the companies who looked after us during the trip: Plancton Marino at Veta La Palma, Hacienda Guzman, Flor de Doñana, Cinco Jotas, Bodegas Robles, Gonzalez Byass, The Osbourne Group and The Fishermen’s Association of Sanlucar.