Insider's Guide to Jerez

By: Alex Fondren

Our (five hours delayed) train finally pulled into Jerez at 11pm.  Defeated and deprived of the long, sherry-soaked evening of pinxtos we had purposefully carved out in our overly ambitious Spain itinerary, we headed straight to the hotel, resigned to the assumption that the restaurants had long been shuttered.  It was Semana Santo after all – perhaps the holiest week, in one of the more Catholic countries in Europe.  (I had once made the mistake of visiting Rome on Christmas Day and still remember the bitter flavor of ‘rookie mistake’ in every bite of that evening’s Roma Termini Big Mac).

The hotel concierge chuckled when we asked him if there might be anywhere willing to serve us.  Silly Americans.  

Jerez, officially Jerez de la Frontera, is located in southern Spain's Andalusia region. Its old quarter surrounds the Alcázar de Jerez, a Moorish fortress founded in the 11th century. It’s known for three things - horses (it’s home to the famed Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, a famed riding school known for its dancing horses), flamenco music, and sherry.  We came for the sherry.

Jerez is essentially Mecca for sherry lovers (like me). For the uninitiated, sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez. Jerez has been a major winemaking region since 1100 BC when the Phoenicians introduced the practice to Spain. The Moors conquered the region in AD 711 and introduced distillation, which led to the development of fortified wine.

Sherry’s appeal soon gained lasting popularity in Great Britain thanks to its superior ability to withstand the long ship journeys necessary to the prolific colonial power far better than unfortified wines ever could. As was similar with port, the Brits acquired a taste for the unique style and many of the major Jerez cellars were thus founded by British families – an influence that can still be found today.  

The most common misperception about sherry today is that it is always sweet and of a poor quality. Perhaps your grandmother’s supermarket sherry helped influence that opinion.  And while many great sherries can be sweet, sherry earned itself a bad reputation in the United States mainly because of the lack of Spanish wine laws and regulation that would have otherwise prevented bastardized American imitations to label themselves as “sherry,” thus tarnishing the category for over a generation.  See Champagne for a comparative case study of a region that fiercely (and successfully) protected what can and cannot be called Champagne, and whose wines have enjoyed centuries of prestige as a result.

Similarly to Champagne, true sherry can actually only be made in one tiny corner of the world. The unique winds, humidity, soil and seasonal changes in Andalucía give a singular salty, nutty, and aromatic profile character to the wines produced there. A unique phenomenon called flor happens in Andalucía’s warm seaside climate. In barrels of new wine each year, a layer of yeast will form on the surface of the wine and transform its flavors. Flor gives the wine its tangy, salty character as it matures, adding complexity and making it so fascinating to pair with food and use in cocktails.

Sherry comes in many styles, which range from light and crisp (as in fino and manzanilla), to nutty and rich (amontillado and palo cortado) to sweet, high proof and almost bourbon-like (oloroso and Pedro Ximenez aka “PX”).

Perhaps the most noticeable boon for sherry-lovers over the last few years has been the rise in popularity of sherry-based cocktails. Some of the country’s top mixology talents specialize in complex sherry concoctions. San Francisco’s 15 Romolo and Trick Dog both can be credited with helping to propel the movement, as well as Chantal Tseng, who built the sherry and cocktail program at Washington DC’s famed Mockingbird Hill.

Tseng calls fino sherry her ‘spirit drink’ and cites a sherry Manhattan with a dry amontillado as the base as the drink that made her a permanent convert: “I had never tasted any drink like it. Over time, however, I would gravitate to just craving the amontillado rather than the cocktail. It was all already in there: Spice, fruit, herb, sweet, spirit, bitter...sherry is already a bottled cocktail.” Tseng likes to say that you know you love something when, as a bartender after a long shift, you reach for it to close your night. Sherry is that for her. She even named her cat Monty, short for amontillado - her first love.

Luckily, sherry is becoming easier to find on great wine lists in the U.S., whether at La Marcha in Berkeley, Vera in Chicago, Bar Vivant in Portland, or Donostia in New York City. Fino and manzanilla have been having an especially long moment in the United States for the last five years, thanks in part to sommelier advocates who love their versatility with food.  Manzanilla is produced in exactly the same way as fino, except that it’s made in Jerez’s neighboring Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which many say gives the wine a brinier flavor due to its closer proximity to the sea and signature flor yeast character.  If Jerez is Mecca, then Sanlucar is certainly Medina.  

Back to 11pm, where we were gasping for a fino in Jerez in spite of holy week – let’s just say we didn’t have a problem finding one.  Locals young and old overflowed from boisterous tapas bars and onto the streets to revel and participate in the ornate processions, which lasted all night long and well into the early morning.  Though the subject matter of the procession ‘floats’ was certainly quite somber, the atmosphere in the streets was anything but.  And everyone was drinking sherry.  


Favorite Bodegas: 

González Byass: González Byass is one of Spain's most well-known sherry bodegas. Its origins can be traced to 1835 when it was founded by Manuel María González Angel, who was subsequently joined by his English agent, Robert Blake Byass. Famous for Tío Pepe fino.

Grupo Estévez: Estevez Group owns the prestigious wineries Marqués del Real Tesoro and Valdespino, one of the oldest in the area (their origins date from 1430). Known for La Guita Manzanilla and Fino Inocente.

Bodegas La Cigarrera: Located in the heart of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (about 20-30 minutes from Jerez), this family-owned bodega was founded on 1758, and is thought of as more of a “grower” sherry house ever since cellar master Ignacio Hidalgo began bottling his own (superb) manzanilla in 1997. Ignacio is a ninth-generation cellar master, whose family’s wines were previously sold to famous Sherry houses, including Lustau, for bottling.


Dewey Weddington on Beer

 Culmination Brewing's  Obscured By Clouds -  one of several experiments with New England Style IPA.  (Photo Courtesy of Tomas Sluiter)

Culmination Brewing's Obscured By Clouds - one of several experiments with New England Style IPA.  (Photo Courtesy of Tomas Sluiter)

Being an adult beverage professional comes with a wide range of questions, challenges and concerns. For example, while working in saké the simple task of getting America to taste our product was the challenge. In Oregon wine, it was validating the more expensive cost per bottle for small batch, high quality Pinot Noir. For the past two years I have been leading the charge for a start up brewery, which has had me deep in an array of topics, the funniest of which, is the discussion about New England style IPAs and whether or not they belong on the West Coast, let alone brewed by a West Coast brewery. It seems, in the land of IPA, being a new kid, one with luscious tropical aromas and the drinkability of orange juice, is not as welcome as one might expect.

So, let's be clear, a New England style IPA is hazy, murky, seemingly unfiltered and unrefined. In early days in West Coast brewing, and sometimes today, this beer would simply appear to be unclean, mud. This may be why some eschew the style. But, if you put a fresh pint to your nose you’ll begin to understand their fast growing popularity. Lush tones of pineapple, grapefruit, honey mandarin, papaya and other tropical aromas are common. Let it pass your lips and you’ll find the aroma carries through very well as a fruit salad washes over your tongue. Easy, very drinkable, highly desirable and something that tends to demand you get more when your glass is empty. This is why the beer style is growing in popularity. With New England IPAs you get the aromatic and flavor value of hops without the face sucking effect of high bitterness.

But let’s get back to a West Coast perspective. To keep this interesting, and get the marketing guy out of the conversation, I grabbed a few minutes with my friend. A world-class brewer, consultant, innovator, and owner of Portland’s hot Culmination Brewing, Tomas Sluiter. Here’s a quick one-on-one on New England style IPAs:


Where does the hazy, citrusy IPA of New England fit into the West Coast IPA mindset?

 Breaking this into two mindsets: For brewers, I think we are reluctant to embrace a style that is less shelf stable than some other beers. Anything that has so much protein haze, dry hopping aroma and suspended yeast needs to be consumed fast. For consumers the mindset seems to be: We want this! I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go and this one has been impactful. I even have my distributor in Japan clamoring for this style

Should a Portland, Seattle or San Diego brewery be brewing this style of IPA? Why? Why not?

Sure why not? The great thing about being a small brewery is an ability to follow and explore these trends. It does put the bigger breweries at somewhat of a disadvantage with their brand rigidity and batch investment as well as the shelf life concerns. So far the popular breweries who have built a name with these beers sell them so fast, shelf life hasn’t been a concern. If I had hung my hat specifically on this style and built a large production brew system I would be a little concerned about shelf life in the market if or when the hysteria dies down. I’d at least want to offer a strong lineup of diverse styles to buffer any slowing of the haze-train.

What is your personal experience with this style? 

I am intrigued by the popularity and hype. Count me in the camp of people who didn’t think a mega-turbid beer would be as popular as it is. I think they are fun to brew and our customers love them but personally they aren’t my favorite to drink on a regular basis. 

Tomas is a pretty up front guy. He understands consumer trends and isn’t shy to take the lead with a beer style he sees rising. Culmination Brewing has crafted several variations of the New England style and all have been refreshingly delicious. They sell out fast so they tend to be allocated and hard to get but they blow minds away.

From a business perspective, West Coast brewers who embrace the style will be rewarded with what they need, sales, and, hopefully a lot of new fans. For imbibers, this style brings a refreshing pause in the freakishly hopped IPAs of the past few years. A dynamic set of rich aromas and depth of flavor found in a tropical fruit bowl, but with alcohol, and, it is…an IPA.

Thirst for Knowledge

 Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School

By: Hillary Lyons

It used to be that wine education lay firmly within the confines of longstanding institutions catering to sommeliers, connoisseurs, or cork dorks as Bianka Bosker so aptly puts it. But in recent years, the phenomenon of wine education for the layman has skyrocketed.

Whether you’re a total novice, or seeking to expand your technical knowledge around your favorite wines or regions, formal education offers invaluable insight into wine and winemaking, enriching our minds and our ability to appreciate this timeless beverage. This month on the All the Swirl, Charles Communications interviews David Glancy, Director of the San Francisco Wine School, to learn more about the rich field of wine education.


 David Glancy - Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School

David Glancy - Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School

Charles Communications Associates: How did you first get into wine?

David Glancy: I’ve always had a passion for food. I started working in restaurants at 15, and at 16 I got the opportunity to spend part of a summer in France. The first thing I learned was how to order beer on a train. It was also in France that I learned to love wine. One day by chance I ordered a Vouvray demi-sec and though it was sheer dumb luck that I chose a wine with minerality and acidity (a wine so different from the overly sweet American wines I was familiar with), I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t until 1993 that I got really serious about wine, while I was working at an Italian restaurant in Macau. The high rollers drank only the best wines, but they never finished the bottle so I got to sample wines I would never be able to afford otherwise, and I started to teach myself the fundamentals of wine tasting. The only wine book I owned at the time was Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, but I bought each new edition and read it religiously.

CCA: What was the most challenging part of obtaining your Master Sommelier?

DG: Well it was the rigor of studying for the certification that finally convinced me to leave the restaurant world and focus exclusively on wine. I think one of the most difficult things is finding mentorship. You have to work in the very best restaurants to be taken seriously - it’s far better to be a busser in the best restaurant than a manager of a mediocre one. Another factor is balancing pragmatism and art. There are plenty of wine geeks who could talk about the merits of a wine or winemaker all day, but who have no idea how to manage wine for profit. On the flip side, there are bean counters who know how to run a successful wine program but could never speak to the soul of a wine. The SF Wine School is well respected because it teaches both.

CCA: Why do you think wine education is important?

DG: There are many very talented people in the industry without certifications, but there are also frauds out there. Credentials help set a universal standard, and teach much more than just wine knowledge. Hospitality is essential to the wine industry, and not everyone is born with the skill and grace to master it. These credentials help ensure that your employees have a well-rounded skill set.

 Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School 

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Wine School 


CCA: What inspired you to make wine knowledge more accessible?

DG: For the longest time, people relied on a handful of experts like Jacques and Julia, Bon Appetit or New York Times to advise us where to eat and drink each week. There was a barrier between the public and these gastronomes, and people assumed they could never hope to reach that same level of expertise.  The Food Network and the rise of the internet democratized this culinary knowledge, and allowed people to pursue these passions. I started my own consultancy service in 1999 and began offering consumer classes so people could tap into this wealth of knowledge. Our role as wine lovers and experts is to welcome new members to the club, no matter their level of expertise or their tastes. It’s not about teaching everyone to appreciate the “best” – it’s about understanding the consumer, and helping them find what will make them happy.

CCA: How have you seen the field of wine education change over the years?

DG: It’s grown tremendously. Independent wine retailers began educational experiences to compete with the big box stores, then the chains followed suit. Courses have continued to expand as consumer demand has increased, especially as sommeliers have reached the status of celebrities in recent years which is both a good and a bad thing. I think the biggest changes I’ve seen are the dissolution of rigid boundaries between different schools of thought, and the rapid proliferation of educational opportunities with the internet.

CCA: What do you think is the biggest challenge to your industry?

DG: I think too many people or companies aren’t willing to invest in their future, both in terms of time and money. The kind of education these programs provide is invaluable. It opens your mind to new flavors, new regions, and working alongside people with similar passions is invigorating. Also, there can be too strong a focus on the celebrity chefs or sommeliers, but you don’t have to be a rockstar somm to invest in wine education. All you need is a thirst to learn.

CCA: What is your favorite wine region right now?

DG: I’ve always been a sucker for Champagne, but right now I’m particularly interested in Tokaji. I was lucky enough to visit Hungary recently, and I am fascinated by the rich history of this region and the metamorphosis these wines continue to go through.


The San Francisco Wine School offers various certifications including WSET (through grape experience), and various global and regional programs that help students on the long journey towards Certified Wine Educator, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. They also teach career specific courses and workshops for enthusiasts from beginners to serious collectors. To learn more about the school and their programs, visit