Sherry: Raise a glass together

Sherry: Raise a glass together

As we move seamlessly from fino and manzanilla into autumn’s call of amontillado and palo cortado, do our minds turn south to Jerez where today’s temperature is 30˚C as opposed to the UK where it is 15˚C? Do we yearn for Andalucía, flamenco and every day stretching into mañana? You bet.

Covid 19 has prevented many of us from travelling to our favourite places, but when I heard of the new Hotel Bodega Tío Pepe from González Byass, my heart soared. Built in Jerez’ historic old town, it has a trio of dining spaces, wonderful views over the cathedral and alcázar, and a tranquil terrace and garden. I am surprised that it has taken this long for it to happen.

If only the classic and beautiful Valdespino bodega, in the centre of Jerez – which sadly fell into disrepair in the 1990s – had been turned into a hotel instead of (I shudder to remember…) a shopping mall.

Both sherry and port need a lot of storage space for their maturing casks, much more than table wine, which is usually bottled after several years. Sherry and port are often stored in the cellar for decades. But if sales pick up, or if more is stored elsewhere or in tanks, then the cellar space lies empty.

The Fladgate partnership created The Vintage House Hotel in Pinhão, in the Douro Valley, out of no-longer used Fonseca port lodges; then they created The Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia from the no-longer used Croft lodges. Now González Byass have created the Tío Pepe Hotel from no-longer used winery workers cottages.

The irony is that the Yeatman was created during the Financial crisis of 2008, whilst the Tío Pepe opened during the Covid crisis. This takes guts.

In September, I happily took part in a series of Letters to the Editor about sherry in London’s The Daily Telegraph which spanned six letters on four different days. I cannot think of any other wine that touches the English heart so much as ‘a glass of sherry’. This totally random thought was reiterated by a recent article in The Times, headlined ‘The Sherry Triangle, a corner of Spain that is for ever England’, which relates how the 95-year old Dona Luisa González Gordon, from amongst the last of the great Anglo-Spanish dynasties, was taught English by her nanny before Spanish. ‘After all I am a Gordon.’

Trade links between the two countries go back at least 500 years, when the first English wine merchants are recorded residing in the seaport of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, one of the triangle points with Jerez and El Puerto de Santa María. Tim Holt, of Barbadillo, based in Sanlúcar, points out that during Henry VIII’s reign, there were some 300 English wine merchants living here. Now he is the only English flag waver.

With so many activities currently cancelled, or at best postponed, it is a joy to look forward to the seventh International Sherry Week next month, November 2–8th 2020. This worldwide event is wonderfully organized by the Consejo Regulador in Jerez. Do get involved. It will bring a smile to your face when you raise a glass of sherry to your lips knowing that thousands of other likeminded souls are doing the same thing across the globe. More, more!

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