Rather than go on one of the big bodega tours I chose to go to Bodegas Tradicion at 3 Calle de los Cordobeses www.bodegastradicion.es (total cost €20).
Tradicion is one of the new up-and-coming bodegas in town. It was founded in 1998, by a descendent of an old sherry making family, and they make sherry and brandy according to traditional methods (hence the name).
Our friendly German guide explained that sherries are made from three main grape varietals. Dry sherry is made with Palomino grapes, mainly in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO. The other varietals in the region are the very sweet Pedero Ximenez (PX) and Moscatel, which are principally grown in the Montilla-Moriles DO.
She then explained that there are four main kinds of dry sherry; Fino (dry, pale, aged under flor), Manzanilla (light Fino from Sanlúcar de Barrameda), Amontillado (dry, dark, aged under flor then exposed) and, my favourite, Oloroso (aged longer, darker, more alcoholic).
Other types include Palo Cortado (initially aged like an Amontillado for 3 or 4 years but then becomes more like an Oloroso once the flor is killed off) and Cream (a sweet sherry for the British market made from mixing Oloroso and PX).
She also described how the Solera system works whereby wines (or vinegars) of the same age are organized in groups of barrels called Criaderas. A portion of the oldest wine (legally not more than 35% but usually only 10-15%) is removed for drinking and replaced with wine from the next oldest criadera, which is replaced by the next oldest after that, and so on. There’s a more detailed explanation here.
Old wines are either designated VOS or VORS. VOS stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum (or unofficially Very Old Sherry) and applies to wine in the final Criadera in the Solera that has been aged on average for 20 years. VORS stands for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (or Very Old Rare Sherry) and has been aged for an average of 30 years.
At the end we got to taste three different sherries and two brandies . I’d never seen the brandies before and I really liked the ‘Gold’ Brandy Solera Gran Reserva (aged for more than 25 years) so I purchased a bottle to take home, for about €50 I think. I loved the taste of the ‘Platinum’ SGR (aged for more than 50 years) but at around €270 a bottle it was way beyond my means. Needless to say the brandy here is made to top quality standards.
The bodega also has an art collection, the Colección Joaquín Rivero, which you can see free of charge as part of the tour.
Many of the paintings are rather heavy medieval religious pieces but they include an El Greco and a few juvenile drawings on ceramics by a young Pablo Picasso.
Please see my separate posts on Eating & Drinking in Jerez here, and things to see in Jerez here.
The biggest bodega in town is Gonzalez Byass who make Tio Pepe, the world’s biggest selling Fino which actually isn’t too bad (B-).
Two favourites I buy regularly are their ‘Alfonso’ Oloroso (B+) and ‘Nectar’ Pedero Ximenez (B+).