Sherry (Vino de Jerez) is a fortified wine which is produced exclusively within a small area in the province of Cadiz known as the ‘Sherry Triangle’. The three towns which make up this area are Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Dry sherries from Jerez are produced using Palomino grapes whilst Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes are used for sweeter wines. Following fermentation the wines are fortified with brandy then aged in the solera system for a minimum period of three years. Once it has been bottled sherry can be consumed immediately as there are no further benefits to be gained from further ageing. Alternatively, it can also be stored for years in a cool and dry place without losing any of its flavour.
Taking a sherry wine tour in Jerez de la Frontera is more than just an opportunity to taste these local wines. It is a journey into the history of Andalucía going back more than 3000 years and travelling through the centuries as numerous civilisations occupied this rich land.
History of Sherry Wine
Wine was being produced in the Phoenician city of Gadir (modern-day Cadiz) as long ago as 1100 BC and 400 years later in their inland settlement of Xera (modern-day Jerez). To this day there are ancient archaeological sites in the region such as the Castillo de Doña Blanca in Puerto de Santa María which provide evidence of the vinicultural practices of this ancient civilisation. Wine production continued under the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans who founded the town of Ceret from where they exported wines to every corner of their Empire.
Under Moorish rule the Roman town was renamed Sherish and alcohol was prohibited so the Caliph of Cordoba ordered the destruction of vineyards. However, this command was partly overturned when the locals claimed that the vineyards were a source of raisins which fed soldiers who were fighting the Holy War. Alcohol continued to be produced and was used as a valuable trading commodity as well as being used in medicines and perfumes.
Under the Reconquista, King Alfonso X of Castile reclaimed the city and it was renamed Xeres “de la Frontera” as it was located on the border between the Christian and Moorish kingdoms of Castile and Granada. Under Christian rule the wine industry thrived with a growing export trade passing through the nearby ports of Seville, Cádiz and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
With Spanish colonial expansion into the Americas came unprecedented demand for sherry wines on ships bound for the New World. It is well documented that Christopher Columbus carried a large supply of Sherry on his 2nd voyage to the Americas which sailed out of El Puerto de Santa María. Ferdinand Magellan was also well stocked for his voyage around the world which left from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
In 1587 Francis Drake attacked Spanish vessels in the Port of Cádiz which delayed the Spanish Armada planned invasion of England for more than a year. During these incursions an estimated 3000 barrels of Sherry were plundered and shipped back to England where the wine proved very popular. By the 17th and 18th centuries demand was such in England, Ireland and Scotland that wine merchants were established in Jerez de la Frontera. Some of these ‘Sherry Barons’ became household names whose bodegas stand to this day such as Harveys, Byass, Terry, Garvey, Sandeman and Osborne. Even today Great Britain remains the main export market for sherry produced in Jerez de la Frontera.
Getting to Jerez from Seville
Jerez de la Frontera lies 90km south of Seville and is easily accessed by road in approximately one hour following the AP-4 from the city.
Sherry Wine Tours in Jerez
Below we’ve listed many of the main wineries in Jerez with a short explanation of their tour and contact details. Tours will usually be arranged on request. Check their websites listed below for up to date information on times of tours in particular languages and entrance fees.
Bodegas Tío Pepe
Address: c/ Manuel María Gonzalez, 12
As producers of the world famous Tio Pepe sherry this is the most famous and most visited of the wineries (it is actually the 2nd most visited winery in the world). The novelty factor of their tour is a miniature train which transfers you around the complex. The tour begins at their most prestigious cellar called La Concha then takes you to a larger cellar where the alcohol smell is quite wonderful.
An audi-visual show tells the story of the company’s development and a visit to the barrel room where celebrities have signed their names in chalk is very interesting. It’s ironic to see Margaret Thatcher’s barrel next to Primo de Rivera, General Franco’s right hand man! And look out for the glass of wine and piece of cheese on the floor which is placed there every day for the cellar mouse. The tour ends with an opportunity to taste the sherry then you leave via the winery shop.
Address: c/ Pizarro, 10
If you’re pushed for time in Jerez this is a good winery tour to select because it’s right next to the Royal School of Equestrian Art where the dancing horses show takes place. Therefore, you can walk from the horse show directly to the Sandeman tour and tasting. The tour takes you into several wineries for their different sherries including Fino and Oloroso then you get to see the bottling area and go for a tasting session.
Bodegas Álvaro Domecq
Address: San Ildefonso, 3
The is Jerez’s oldest cellar where a guided tour takes you through the winery’s history with a audio visual presentation and takes you into Bodega de la Luz where Spain’s first brandy, Fundador, was born. The tour naturally concludes with the best bit .. the tasting and the shop visit
Address: c/ Pintor Muñoz Cebrián
On this tour the guide explains the process of making and ageing Harvey’s sherries in one of their historical cellars along Calle Arcos where the world famous Bristol Cream brand was born. The tour culminates in the tasting of Harveys Bristol Cream in the 19th century Don Ramiro patio.
Bodegas Williams and Humbert
Address: Ctra. Nacional IV, Km.641.75 (Jerez-Puerto de Santa Maria)
A personal favourite purely because they produce Gran Duque de Alba brandy (my chosen brand). This is the largest bodega complex in Europe which has been producing some of Jerez’s finest wines for over 200 years. As well as a tour of their installations there is a horse exhibition on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Address: Ctra. Circunvalación, s/n
A fascinating history of a young man from Dublin who settled in Jerez and sent small amounts of wine back to Ireland and England. His son developed the business as the Bodega de San Patricio which became the city’s largest for over 125 years occupying 30,000 square metres. He was the first to export fino from Jerez and in 1858 was responsible for exporting the first barrel of brandy which sailed from Cadiz for London. You can learn more about this fascinating story and the process of wine and brandy production on the Garvey tour. Full day wine tasting courses with lunch can be arranged.
All the above wineries offer general tours which are open to the public most days. These can get very busy during peak holiday periods. As an alternative you can arrange a Private Tour of their premises with tasting though this will obviously be far more expensive. A cheaper alternative is to go to one of the smaller such as Bodegas Tradición (Plaza Cordobeses, 3) which is less well known so attracts far fewer tourists.