Jerez de la Frontera is an inland Spanish town, 20 km from Sanlúcar. This vibrant town steeped in history and tradition enjoys a worldwide reputation as a centre for wine, sherry, brandy, horses, ham and flamenco, not to mention its numerous festivals.
The actual name of Jerez comes from the Arabic language. Dating back to the time of the Moors, Jerez features a wonderful old town, the ‘casco antiguo’. There you can see squares lined with palm trees. It also features an 11th century partially renovated fortress and another particularly interesting attraction is its church, originally built as a mosque. Those visiting the city will be enthralled with its authentic and sophisticated atmosphere, wide streets, numerous squares and glorious jacaranda trees. These come into their own during the springtime, which is a great time to visit Jerez.
In 2013, Jerez was awarded the European Capital of Wine accolade. The town produces grapes that have yielded famous wines for centuries. Today, some of the world’s best wines come from here. In the early to middle nineteenth century, the González Byass company was set up by Manuel María González Angel. He apparently had a relative living in nearby Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a smaller village. Jerez inhabitants were known to like sweet wines at that time but the inhabitants of this village preferred pale, dry wines. So, when visiting his relative, Angel brought some of his favourite wine. It was soon to acquire the name “Uncle Joe’s wine” (“Tio Pepe’s” in Spanish). In no time at all, it became wine famous throughout Jerez, which was the start of it achieving the worldwide reputation it enjoys today.
Manuel María González was one of a few wine traders from Jerez to be born in the local area. Increasing demand for wine, especially from the UK, along with foreign capital being introduced into the area had attracted some big names from Europe such as Gordon, Terry and Osborne. People had also moved here from northern Spain to work in the wine-producing industry.
Not only did Jerez wine merchants sell wine, they also produced their own wine. The town has always had a close connection to the land. Indeed, a particular type of soil is critical to give the wines their delicacy and body. Named ‘albariza’, Jerez wine-producing soil is like a lime-rich mud which crusts over in the heat, trapping moisture beneath it. The area benefits from sufficient rainfall when it’s most needed. The rains fall during the autumn after the dry summer spells and they also come in the springtime, right before flowering time.
This makes the region absolutely ideal for growing vines such as Pedro Ximènez and Palomino. The white grape of the latter go back to the Phoenician era and are known as the origin of all Jerez wines. Pressing the grapes yields an active fermentation where the sugars are converted to alcohol. This is what gives Jerez wines their characteristic dryness. Their smoothness comes from the strong natural glycerol element. Sweet Jerez wines are often known as amoroso or ‘cream’, with a predominant Palomino base. Their sweetness and chocolaty, spicy and fruity aromas come from the Pedro Ximènez grape. Before pressing, the grapes are left to dry in the sun so they dry out like raisins. This results in a rich and sweet extract.
Superb wines are both nurtured and matured in Jerez. This is achieved through a unique process. A certain amount of young wine is added to a certain amount of mature wine in a process known as the solera system. When a wine is ordered by the customer, the oldest wine (the ‘solera’ – taking its name from the Spanish meaning ‘located on the ground’) is taken and bottled. Then, an equivalent amount from a younger wine is used and the process is continued on a rotational basis. As new wines mature, they replace the mature wines that get used up. The benefit of this process is that Jerez doesn’t suffer from bad vintages. Within each particular type, Jerez wines are uniform in taste, colour and aroma and have a consistent quality. This has helped Jerez wine to achieve its international status. People enjoy Jerez wines with or without food and they cover the whole spectrum from very dry to very sweet.
First-Class Sherry from Jerez, Spain
Jerez sherry production is carried out in the very centre of the town. The locals are particularly proud of their world-famous sherry, which goes hand in hand with a certain amount of aristocratic snobbery that’s survived for centuries.
In Spanish, the word for ‘cellar’ is bodega but it also has a more general meaning, which is ‘wine manufacturing’. Tourists visiting Jerez can go on guided tours of the bodegas. Names such as Domecq, Gonzalez Byass, Pedro and Sandeman have become world-famous and with the influence of the British, many names have Anglo-Saxon origins. Tourists can visit the cellars during the week and enjoy a sampling session afterwards.
Spain’s famous dry pale sherry, known as vino fino enjoys a unique production process. At some point following the first fermentation around the time winter starts, the wine turns clear and bright. Then, it’s placed in oak casks where it starts to develop its original and unique characteristics. A covering or yeast, known as the flor, begins to grow on the wine’s surface. It grows thicker during the autumn and spring. The contents of each cask develop on their own and are then classed depending on the flor proliferation. Alcohol is added to a level that encourages the yeast to carry on developing. If the flor level isn’t sufficient, adding a higher alcohol content makes it disappear. After this, the wine is left to gently mature and turn into a sherry.
Superb Brandy from Jerez, Spain
Brandy de Jerez world-famous and also has its roots in ancient traditions. When the Moors occupied Spain, distillation grew in popularity and the Moors harnessed this process. However, they couldn’t drink for reasons of religion so they used alcohol to make perfumes. Thereafter, spirits began to evolve, made in wooden oak casks. As early as the sixteenth century, Jerez was known to produce brandy. This fact was discovered by unearthing an ancient financial document showing that Jerez Town Council used tax proceeds from wines and spirits to build a Jesuit college.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, wine spirit production in the region grew into a strong Spanish industry. Much of the alcohol was exported to northern European countries, with Holland being one of the largest markets. It was also exported worldwide. From the early nineteenth century, the English and French aimed to set up direct trade routes with Jerez. They also wanted to establish guidelines for the production and ageing of Jerez brandy and the particular features it should have. The nineteenth century gave rise to several famous brands of Brandy de Jerez, originally created by the Sherry companies of the area. Even today, these brands are still going strong in Spain as well as throughout the world.
Brandy de Jerez is produced using one of two distillation methods using copper stills. Spanish brandy is never subjected to double distilling to preserve its characteristic taste and smell. These can be lost if it’s distilled a second time. One of the two distilling options is the Alquitara method. This uses a traditional copper pot warmed next to an oak wood fire and produces excellent brandy. The other method uses distillation columns and is a very modern and effective distillation method, yielding a stronger spirit. Brandy de Jerez must comply with certain standards and has to be made following established methods set out by the Brandy de Jerez Regulatory Council!
Incredible Horses from Jerez, Spain
Jerez is where the Carthusian sub-breed of Andalusian horses hails from. Anyone who loves horses can watch the superb, classic performance put on by the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. This horse school centres around a magnificent palace (the Palacio de las Cadenas) that Charles Garnier designed. Every Thursday, live performances take place during the summertime. Also, you can take a tour of the premises including the stables and marvel at the cobbled courtyard, fully decked-out tack room and the performing stallions.
The school is also famous for horse and rider training, specialising in dressage and coach driving. Traditional craftsmanship is kept alive in the school’s blacksmiths’ centre and workshops that manufacture and care for harnesses and tack. Anyone who can’t make a Thursday can visit the school any day of the week to watch training sessions taking place. At the beginning of May each year, Jerez hosts a famous annual Horse Fair event. This prestigious event, which is also an agricultural fair, attracts international visitors. Horsemen and women can show off their horses and skills and take part in competitions with prizes. These are held at various delightful major locations right across the town.
In the past, Jerez hosted the fourth World Equestrian Games (in 2002). This was the largest event the equestrian world had seen up to that point. Included were the major equestrian disciplines of show jumping, classic dressage, carriage driving and three-day-eventing. More than 50 countries participated with horses and riders coming from around the world.
Delicious Ham from Jerez, Spain
Jerez is equally renowned for its jamón ibérico. This is a little like serrano ham and is a special type of cured ham. Even Jerez locals consider their ham as the best in Spain. From that, you could draw the conclusion that it’s the best in the world! One of the reasons why Jerez ham is so delicious is down to the pigs used to produce it. These are Black Iberian pigs and during their lifetime they are reared in the open and allowed to roam free. Their diet includes lots of olives or acorns. Apparently, those pigs eating the most acorns produce the best ham! Moreover, Jerez farmers use smart farming techniques to enhance the quality of their ham. For example, they make sure the pigs’ food and water sources are separated by some distance to encourage the pigs to roam between these.
Allegedly, the best time to enjoy the famous Jerez ham is during the fería del jamón. At this time, stalls are set up by local ham producers. The festival celebrates the town’s best dishes. and visitors can move between these and sample the various delicacies!
Vibrant Festivals in Jerez, Spain
Grand Prix motorcycle racing has taken place in Jerez since 1987 and every year in early May bikers flock from around the world. The MotoGP race is said to be one of the most watched races in Europe. In 2014, Jerez became the first Motorbike Capital of the world.
Another major festival is the Feria del Caballo, an extremely popular fair. In May on an annual basis, the festival takes place for a week in the Parque González Hontoria. The main features are food, drink and dancing. It’s open to everyone, which makes it stand out from other Andalusian Fairs, which are only open to members/ card holders.
Jerez is also famous for its celebrations of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is the seven days leading up to Easter. During this time, the town hosts numerous flamboyant religious processions. People belonging to the various religious brotherhoods in the town parade through its streets with wonderfully decorated floats which are set up to display various Catholic religious scenes. These processions are a smaller version of those in Seville but on a more intimate level as Jerez is a smaller town. The ideal view of the processions is from a comfortable seat in a street-side bar, cafe or restaurant, most of all in the Plaza España, the main square in Jerez.
Fabulous Flamenco in Jerez, Spain
Last but by no means least, Jerez is famous for its Flamenco, which is another tradition with a long history. In fact, this is one of the best places in Spain to see this fabulous art form. The Flamenco festival of Jerez takes place in the last week of February and the first week of March. It’s one of the most significant of its kind in the world. Visitors can enjoy two whole weeks of incredible music accompanied by dancers with a world-class reputation.