When we were planning this road trip through Andalusia, Córdoba had been near the bottom of his list and near the top of mine. But I can’t for the life of me remember why or what in particular I wanted to see. The road from Cádiz to Córdoba is part motorway, but you can skirt Seville and take the country back roads for quite a ways. The scenery is quite something with massive landholdings all the more notable for their lack of fencing. Popping next door to borrow a bottle opener would entail quite the hike. As we saw on the road to Ronda, the farmland is set with military precision in a patchwork of colours that would do any painter’s palette proud. I had read about the miracle wines of Jerez and that city, on the road from Cádiz to Córdoba, was on the list, too, albeit a late addition.
The miracle occurs in the wine cellar when, without any rational explanation, each cask decides, as though of its own volition, which type of sherry it is destined to be. The chemical composition of two casks laying side by side may be identical, but the trained nose of the vitner will smell out which solera it belongs to. ~ Andalusia in Focus
Denominazione di Origine
Sherry is the anglicised version of the Spanish Jerez, and indeed since Sir Francis Drake nicked a few thousand barrels of the stuff from the port of Cádiz back in the late 1500s and took them home, Sherry has been a stalwart British matronly tipple. Until very recently, the only sherry I knew of was Harvey’s Bristol Cream and I was sure that it was British – but not so. For sherry to be sherry it has to be produced in the so-called sherry triangle between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María, and San Lucar de Barrameda.
I was offered a glass of sherry many lifetimes ago at a private do in Elm Park golf club in Dublin. I was in my 20s and was most upset that the butler could have mistaken me for someone older. In my world, only elderly aunts, and elderly maiden aunts at that, drank sherry. That sweet, sickly taste did nothing for me. But then I discovered the dry, white sherry – Fino – served chilled. Sherry isn’t restricted to creams or Fino, though. There’s also oloroso (medium sweet), amontillado (full-bodied), palo cortado (dark and strong), and the very sweet Pedro Ximenez and more.
Sherry and religion in Jerez
We hit Jerez on a Sunday, the one day that most of the bodegas are closed. Tio Pepe was an exception and I was all for taking a tour until I read on a poster at the ticket office that it was the most visited winery in Europe. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t want to be just another tourist. So instead, we wandered off, thinking we’d fit in a tasting of our own over lunch somewhere.
As luck would have it, the church bells tolled just then and we followed the sound to find mass. I quite like my churches but as a practising Catholic, I resent being charged to go in and light a candle. I’d much prefer to leave a donation. Getting a squint inside while also getting mass was a double win. Iglesia de San Miguel dates back to the fifteenth century and is a solid testament to the craftsmanship of that era. The two carved gothic pillars that flank the altar are so intricately done that we were at the Gospel before I got over marvelling at the fact that someone carved these using a chisel. No electricity. No power tools. Just a chisel.
The Cathedral, too, is another gem, but it was closed. We had to make do with the outside. The city is on the ball though, and well up with the times, judging by the selfie-spot painted on the steps in front. It amused me no end. The city walls are spotted with holy paintings and some interesting statuary. I was particularly taken with one of what looked like a baby Jesus on a cross. After Cristos Negro with the real hair in Cádiz, I am beginning to wonder at the Spanish take on tradition.
Sights and sustenance in Jerez
Spain takes Sunday seriously, with many tourist attractions closed for the day. Still, Jerez is a wanderable city with plenty of interesting squares and buildings to marvel at. The place is heaving with restaurants and it’s difficult to decide where to go. We wanted shade and quiet and something to look out on to. Plus we wanted sherries and good food. And we got it all at Restaurante Antonio Centro on the Plaza de La Asuncion. Spanish is one of those languages in which I can make myself understood and understand quite a bit of what’s being said to me, too. It lacks inhibition. Hand gestures, facial expressions, shoulder shrugs, all beef up the conversation. Getting the recipe for the cold carrot starter was hilarious but I’m primed. We had what was undoubtedly our best meal so far in Spain – a notch or three above the usual tapas. And they’d no problem letting us taste the sherries till we found one we liked.
What we missed
Palacio del Virrey Laserna was home to General José de la Serna y Martínez de Hinojosa, the First Conde de los Andes, who acquitted himself well during the War of Independence, and was the last Viceroy of Peru and Spain in America. It only opens on Sunday from 11 to 2pm. The Alcázar (Moorish palace) tops the list of local sights and is probably a must for those interested in the history of the area. It houses the last remaining mosque of the 18 that once stood in the city. For the best part of 700 years, Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula was strong. When Alfonso VI captured Toledo in 1085, the decline began. Córdoba would fall in 1236, and finally, in 1492, Granada was surrendered to Queen Isabella I. The Christian Reconquista was complete. Fast forward some 500+ years and the Moorish influence is still evident in Andalusia. Those boys knew how to build.