“The sherry industry will still exist in years to come, but it will be small and focus on premium wines”, explained Jan Pettersen of Bodegas Fernando de Castilla, as he dipped his venencia into a cask in his historic warehouse in Jerez, to draw out a sample of his trophy winning Singular Oloroso.
Norwegian-born Pettersen (pictured below) is one of a growing band leading vibrant independent family firms in Jerez, now at the heart of sherry’s current revival. With plummeting sales of sherry over the last 40 years, large volumes of sweet cream blends for the UK market dwindling and Jerez’s vineyard down to just 7,000 hectares, the multinationals have all gone.
Sherry is now back in the hands of mainly Spanish family-owned firms, large and small, focusing on making sherry exciting again with premium dry styles of Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso. Whilst larger producers Barbadillo, Gonzalez Byass, Williams & Humbert, Caballero (who own Lustau), Fundador and Estevez (who own Valdespino) dominate the market, some of the most interesting bodegas in Jerez and Sanlucar to visit are smaller niche players.
Just around the corner from Fernando de Castilla in Jerez, is super-premium Bodegas Tradicion. From the outside the local graffiti might be off-putting, but once inside the superbly renovated cellars and art gallery treasures of this family-owned company make it one of the most interesting. Tradicion, owned by the Rivero family, emerged in 1998 and is a new super-star in Jerez with niche focus on rare old sherry with 20 year old VOS, 30 year old VORS and older.
If you are staying in Jerez town itself, alongside Fernando de Castilla and Tradicion there are other hidden small family bodegas worth visiting or seeking out their sherries in bars – Urium, Cayetano del Pino, Sanchez Romate and Maestro Sierra to name a few.
On the road from Jerez down to Guadalquivir estuary at Sanlucar in the small hamlet of Las Tablas, another family concern have established a surprising niche. Bodegas Ximenez Spinola, run by 9th generation Jose Antonio Zarazana and his English wife Laura, is a discreet rarity here focusing only on Pedro Ximenez grape.
95% of plantings in Jerez are Palomino, with only 300 hectares of PX planted – and the Ximenez Spinola bodegas own 5% of this PX in their Las Tablas vineyard (see above) and Carrascal ‘pagos’ (vineyards). Their range from unfortified Exceptional Harvest, fresh vibrant Delicado late harvest to stunning 1918 solera – all made from PX – were some of the best wines tasted on our trip.
A few kilometres north in seaside Sanlucar, there is one hidden gem which exudes passion and dedication more than any other. Bodegas Alonso is owned by maverick brothers, Fernando and Francisco Asencio who bought up historic bodegas Pedro Romero, Gaspar Florido and Fernando Mendez.
Fernando (pictured above) is a particularly passionate individual: “This is my life project”, he explains. “I have even sold my house and will die with my single cask rare old sherries – all hand crafted, hand bottled with hand-written labels”. Alonso’s 50 year old Oloroso and Amontillado tasted from cask were superb, but you have to persuade the brothers to sell you anything.
Heading due south to Puerto de Santa Maria, one of the most charming of family wineries is Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia. Puerto used to have 40 bodegas in the 1970s, but today there are just three. Run by charming couple Carmen and Juan Carlos Gutierrez (pictured below), this is the epitome of a friendly welcoming family firm with daughter Carmen putting her stamp on the business with a delightfully quirky bistro bar on Puerto’s quayside encouraging food pairings with their excellent range of Finos and Amontillados.
With the new change in regulations extending the original sherry triangle of Jerez-Sherry-Xerez DO, other small family bodegas like Primitivo Collantes and Manuel Aragon in Chiclana and Cesar Florido in Chipiona will now be able to flourish – so we will see more small bodegas emerging into the limelight.
The sherry region is updating itself to survive the future – with new grapes, single vineyard focus and the lifting of the sherry’s mandatory fortification.
VALDESPINO DELICIOSA MANZANILLA
£13.95 Lea & Sandeman
Floral delicate, nutty, hint of salinity, quite minerally
BARBADILLO MANZANILLA PASADA PASTORA EN RAMA
£20 Ocado; Waitrose
Pale gold, pungent, savoury dryness, rich & complex
GUTIERREZ COLOSIA FINO PUERTO
£16 Fine Wine Portobello; Cork & Cask
Vibrant youthful maritime notes, seashell aromas, light pear flavours
TRADICION AMONTILLADO 30 YEAR OLD VORS
Superb intensity, deliciously nutty, orange peel, layers of flavour, lingering length
LUSTAU PALO CORTADO ALMACENISTA CAYETANO DEL PINO
£33 Woodwinters; Luvians; NY Wines; Noble Green
True Palo Cortado with intensity, rich rounded – superb
FERNANDO DE CASTILLA ANTIQUE OLOROSO
Light amber, rich nutty fruitcake notes, smooth rounded, great complexity for 20 year old
XIMENEZ SPINOLA PX VINTAGE 2021
£22 Fine Wine Portobello; Noble Green
Luscious rounded sweetness, figgy raisiny, rich & velvet smooth, great intensity from sundried grapes
By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 24 June 2023
Join Rose’s Sherry & Spanish Charcuterie Tasting in Edinburgh on 9 November to celebrate International Sherry Week www.rosemurraybrown.com