For a long weekend in wine country, there’s nowhere better than Jerez in Spain, says Sarah Jane Evans MW....
It’s a historic city, whose cobbled streets are filled with bars offering tempting tapas. This is the place to discover just how well Sherry goes with jamon, oxtail and tortillitas de camarones (crunchy little fritters of baby shrimp).
Jerez stands proud on a hill, looking out over the gently rolling slopes of brilliant white albariza soil, a key to the quality of the best Sherries. Its full name is Jerez de la Frontera, recalling its strategic role as a frontier town when the 15th-century ‘Catholic Kings’, Fernando and Isabella, drove out the Moors. Visit the Alcázar, the fortress, next door to the two icons of Jerez’ history: the church, represented by the gothic cathedral, and wine, represented by the González Byass bodega.
Bodegas abound here. If you turn up unannounced you may not gain entry, or may be given only the basic tour. If you are interested in a more serious visit, then book online, or write to the bodega beforehand.
Except for during the hottest months, Jerez life is lived on the street. There’s no need to spend your weekend in museums. Put away the GPS – just allow yourself to wander.
The glory of the old city is getting lost, and coming across something unexpected. It may be a group of men practising carrying one of the religious floats for Easter Week. It might be a bride posing for photos with her husband and 16 of his friends, all in identical dinner jackets. Jerez is like that: its old buildings and its people tempt the photographer and charm the eye.
Sanlúcar de Barrameda
If you can stay an extra day, don’t miss Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a half hour’s drive away. Enjoy a seafood lunch with chilled manzanilla down at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir at one of the restaurants on the Avenida Bajo de Guía. Spend the afternoon walking along the sand, or take the little ferry over to the nature reserve, the Parque Nacional de Doñana.
When to go
Early spring in Jerez offers sun after a cold winter. In May, come for the jacaranda trees, their mauve blooms setting the city alight. Summer is hot, with the fields bleached golden – so make sure to choose a hotel with a large swimming pool. Autumn is pretty, with more comfortable temperatures.
The Feria or traditional Horse Fair (11-18 May 2019) is a terrific, week-long event, featuring flamenco, a funfair and plenty of Sherry. But it’s only really fun if you know an insider who can invite you into their caseta (the colourful booths that line the streets of the Feria site). Holy Week (4-21 April 2019) is another busy time, but for the best Easter processions, Seville is the place to go.
Follow the local timetable. There’s nothing more depressing that turning up too early to eat, or finding the streets eerily empty. Aim for lunch sometime between 2pm and 3pm, which means you will need to stop for a sustaining copita and a tapa with a dose of people-watching around midday. Time for a siesta after lunch. Watch the world returning to life around 6pm. Dinner is from 8.30pm, but in summertime can start as late as 10pm.
Sarah Jane Evans MW is the Co-Chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards. This guide first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Decanter.